Cellulite Treatment

Although cellulite is considered a normal condition, it can have a negative impact on self esteem and body image for many women. In most cases, risk factors for developing cellulite (e.g., gender, heredity, age, fluctuating hormone levels) cannot be controlled. However, lifestyle modifications can improve overall health and may help to reduce the appearance of cellulite.

The following measures may be helpful:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Get proper amounts of rest
  • Exercise regularly
  • Quit smoking

Weight gain often increases the appearance of cellulite. Diet and exercise cannot eliminate or reduce cellulite, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle through proper nutrition and regular exercise may help to lessen the severity of the condition.

There are several treatments that claim to reduce the appearance of cellulite, but many of these claims are false or unproven. Cellulite treatment options include the following:

  • Body wraps
  • Cellulite creams, gels, and lotions
  • Endermologie
  • Herbal supplements and homeopathic remedies
  • Laser therapy (e.g., SmoothShapes with Photomology, VelaSmooth, TriActive)
  • Liposuction
  • Vigorous massage

Body wraps involve covering the trunk, legs, arms, and neck with elastic cloths soaked in a special mixture of herbs and minerals. Body wrapping is designed to remove excess fluids and toxins from the body and help improve the skin's texture and appearance. Although these treatments often are relaxing and they may soften the skin, their effect on cellulite, if any, is minimal and temporary.

Several cellulite creams, gels, and lotions are available. These products usually are applied to the skin in the affected area of the body and manufacturers claim that they can help to reduce the appearance of cellulite. Creams, gels, and lotions may contain a number of ingredients, including

  • chemicals called methylxanthines (present in caffeine, aminophylline, theophylline, and theobromine), which may help to stimulate fat metabolism and promote fluid loss;
  • retinoids, which are vitamin A derivatives that may help improve circulation to the skin and reduce fine lines; and
  • alpha hydroxy acids (AHA; e.g., lactic acid, glycolic acid), which are found in certain foods, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, apples, and grapes, and may help reduce fine wrinkles.

Cellulite creams, gels, and lotions do not effectively treat the underlying cause for the condition and they do not have a proven or lasting effect on cellulite.

Endermologie was the first treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reduce the appearance of cellulite. Endermologie is a non-surgical, non-invasive treatment method that involves using a mechanical device with motorized rollers and controlled suction to manipulate (e.g., pull, squeeze, fold, unfold) the skin and underlying (i.e., subdermal) tissue. Endermologie can help to redistribute fat cells, reducing the appearance of cellulite temporarily.

Each Endermologie treatment lasts between 30 minutes and 1 hour. Approximately 10–12 treatments are required to achieve noticeable results. Regular treatments are necessary to maintain results and help prevent cellulite from reappearing.

Several dietary supplements and herbal remedies claim to reduce cellulite, but this has not been proven. Some of these supplements claim to boost metabolism, improve circulation, prevent cell damage, and help the body metabolize (break down) fats, but these effects are difficult to evaluate.

Nutritional supplements and homeopathic preparations are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products can cause side effects, interact with other over-the-counter and prescription medicines, and pose additional health risks. Dietary supplements have not been proven to reduce cellulite.

Laser/light therapy can be used to reduce the appearance of cellulite temporarily. These treatments combine low-level lasers or light-therapy devices with suction, manipulation, and massage. Laser therapy and/or light therapy require multiple treatments to achieve noticeable results and regular treatments to maintain these results. SmoothShapes with Photomology, VelaSmooth, and TriActive have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat cellulite.

SmoothShapes with Photomology combines laser and light therapy, manipulation, and suction to treat the underlying cause for cellulite. In this treatment, suction is used to position the skin and a special device is used to massage and apply laser and light energy to the affected area. The laser penetrates the tissue and liquefies fat and the manipulation of the tissue using special rollers promotes absorption of the fat by the body's lymphatic system.

In most cases, SmoothShapes produces noticeable results in 6–8 treatments, which are given twice per week for 4 weeks. Each treatment session usually lasts about 10 minutes per area being treated.

VelaSmooth utilizes electro-optical synergy (ELOS). In this treatment, suction is used to position the skin, specially-designed rollers are used to manipulate the area, and a combination of radio frequency energy and infrared light energy is applied to the tissue. This energy heats the tissue, improves blood flow (circulation) to the cells, and increases fat metabolism, which reduces the size of fat chambers and the appearance of cellulite.

Each VelaSmooth treatment lasts about 1 hour. For noticeable results, treatment must be administered twice per week for 6–8 weeks. Results are temporary and without regular maintenance, cellulite usually reappears within 2 months.

TriActive therapeutic massage is another treatment that is FDA approved for reducing cellulite. This treatment utilizes vacuum (suction) massage; laser energy to warm deep tissue, improve circulation, and break down fat; and a cooling mechanism to prevent discomfort and swelling. The results of this treatment are temporary and 10–15 sessions usually are necessary to achieve noticeable results.

Liposuction, also called lipoplasty or suction lipectomy, is a surgical cosmetic procedure used to remove fat. During liposuction, fat is removed using a hollow device called a vacuum-suction cannula or a probe that uses sound waves to break up fat into small pieces and removes it with suction.

Although liposuction can improve body contouring, it is not performed in the subcutaneous layers of fat that contribute to cellulite because of severe side effects (e.g., excessive bleeding, swelling, scarring). For this reason, liposuction is not used to treat cellulite. In fact, the procedure actually can worsen cellulite and lead to a more uneven appearance.

Vigorous massage (e.g., deep tissue massage) can help improve circulation and help eliminate excess fluids, but has little effect on cellulite. Massage using a mechanical device (e.g., Endermologie) may help reduce the appearance of cellulite temporarily.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 13 Nov 2008

Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015