By Stephanie S. Saunders via Beachbody newsletter
One of the most hated words in the English language must surely be cellulite. For the 90 percent of women who are plagued by the "cottage cheese" dimples that can run across the backs of arms and the entire lower body, it can seem like the ugliest thing in the world. Sure, you can hide it beneath clothing, but once bikini season hits, it's all over. From a self-consciousness point of view, it's as if you're back in middle school. You might as well make it a trifecta of humiliation by slapping on some braces and a lime-green prom dress. While there's no way yet to completely rid your body of cellulite, there are a few ways to help improve its appearance.
The term cellulite refers to the dimpled appearance of skin that can occur at any point on the body where the skin is thinner. Under the upper layer of skin, there's a layer of connective tissue that holds fat into place. In most women (and some men), this connective tissue has gaps in it, which allow the fat to push through, creating a bumpy appearance. The difference between fat and cellulite is simply where the deposit lies in relation to these gaps in the connective tissue. That, and the fact that even with weight loss and muscle gain, so-called "normal" fat may disappear, while cellulite seems to want to continue keeping your thighs company indefinitely.
Cellulite can occur in the thinnest of women and men (sorry, guys) and doesn't seem to discriminate based on nationality, financial standing, age, or weight. There are believed to be hormonal and hereditary issues that can contribute to causing cellulite. Other causes may include poor circulation, lack of exercise, and even too-tightly fitting undergarments. But no one really knows for sure why 10 percent of the female population is gifted with not having to deal with cellulite, while the rest of us have rear ends that look like a giant golf ball.
So when faced with the appearance of orange peel on your thighs, what should you do? Well, there's good and bad news. The bad news is that there is no actual way, surgical or otherwise, to get rid of cellulite completely at present. No amount of vacuuming, injections, creams, or painful massage will eradicate it permanently. But there are many things that can potentially improve the appearance of cellulite. The following is a list of options, ranked from the least to most invasive and/or expensive.
Diet. There are several diets out here that claim to remove cellulite from the body. After a bit of research, you'll find that most of them are just healthy eating plans that tell you to reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption, avoid processed foods, and drink plenty of water. This, of course, doesn't really bring anything specific to the table for cellulite. It might help you lose overall body fat, which will reduce the appearance of the lumpy stuff, but no amount of pineapple consumption will completely remove it.
Exercise. Magazines are full of articles on exercises to ban dimpled thighs. Again, these exercises are designed to promote muscle growth and fat loss. Unfortunately, a lot of them are exercises that only target very specific areas, which will not benefit your overall fitness level and are fairly pointless, considering that you can't spot-reduce fat. Hard cardio and a toned physique will go just as far, if not farther, for reducing the appearance of cellulite. Overall, continuing with your P90X or INSANITY® workout plans will do more for you than will any number of leg lifts alone.
Tanning. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has again come out with studies on how horrible the effects of tanning beds and baking in the sun can be. Tanning has now been compared to cigarettes and arsenic. Which is unfortunate, because a little color on your skin can do more to mask extra bumpy tissue than just about anything else. Luckily, there are an abundance of tanning creams and spray-on tans out there that can give you a similar effect without the risk of skin cancer. Just be careful with application, and if you go the professional route, make sure the folks you choose know what they're doing. I once attended a black tie event with hands the color of a pumpkin. Not pretty.
Creams. There are thousands of topical treatments available that can cost anywhere from 10 dollars to several hundred. Most of them have the common "active" ingredients aminophylline, caffeine, and theophyilline. Sad to say, none of these creams can deliver the needed concentration to the necessary depth to make much of a difference in the connective tissue. They're promoted as increasing circulation, but ultimately, you're just using a very expensive moisturizer.
Massage. Massage is another attempt at breaking down connective tissue and increasing circulation in the area. Unfortunately, cellulite is a tougher problem than can be fixed by a single day at the spa. However, there have been studies that consistent, rather aggressive massage techniques can really assist in the cottage cheese reduction process. Before scheduling a daily visit from your massage therapist, though, try intensely rubbing the affected areas on your own with a moisturizer for a few weeks and see if there's any change in appearance. Thankfully, most cellulite appears on areas of the body you can actually reach.
Wraps. Wraps have been around forever and still have devoted followers all over the world. The idea of the body wrap is to dehydrate the area, removing all excess water, supposedly creating a leaner appearance. Wrestlers and ballet dancers alike are infamous for wrapping themselves in plastic and sitting in a sauna for ridiculous amounts of time to try and drop "weight." These results are temporary and will usually return to normal with any intake of water. Wraps may in fact moisturize the skin, but so will a bit of inexpensive aloe vera cream.
Supplements. Supplements can be extremely effective in helping you achieve fitness goals, but like all things I've mentioned thus far, no combination of herbal remedies has been proven effective in the fight against cellulite. Most contain some sort of ginkgo biloba, sweet clover, grapeseed bioflavinoids, oil of evening primrose, fish oil, and soy lecithin. All might assist your metabolism, and possibly your immunity and brain function, but none will make the dimples disappear.
Injections. Here's a cellulite remedy that can cause actual discomfort. Mesotherapy is a series of injections to the cellulite-affected area. Very similar to Botox® for your back end, it's highly controversial and can require up to 10 visits to see any results. The medication injected has been approved by the FDA for other cosmetic issues, but wasn't designed for use on cellulite, and is so new that all potential side effects haven't been discovered yet. Before you choose to go this route, make sure to discuss it thoroughly with your medical practitioner.
Suction massage. Endermology was created in France about 15 years ago for the temporary reduction of cellulite. The machine creates suction, pulling and squeezing affected areas, which eventually seems to redistribute the fat somewhat, but in truth, it doesn't change the fat's makeup. Sessions last about 45 minutes, require 10 to 12 visits, and are rather expensive. Without regular maintenance visits, the appearance of cellulite will simply return.
Lasers. The FDA has approved two different laser options, both used with either a suction device or massage therapy. A low-level laser is radiated on the skin as some type of massage is administered. Both TriActive and VelaSmooth® require as many sessions as Endermology, in addition to continued follow-up maintenance, and can cost thousands of dollars. The effectiveness of laser treatments on cellulite is still unclear, but for individuals with enough cash to spare, this presently seems to be one of the best possible options for cellulite reduction.
Remember, while many of these approaches can improve the appearance of cellulite, none seem to remove cellulite completely or permanently. Until a method is found that will accomplish the total eradication of cellulite, it might be better to spend less money on expensive creams and injections and more on nutritious foods and activities that support a healthy lifestyle. Not only will this help to improve your skin tone, but it'll make you feel better about your whole body, inside and out. And isn't that more important than a few extra dimples?