How to Get Rid of Cellulite

Can weight loss help you reduce cellulite on your thighs?

how to get rid of cellulite
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If you’re like most women, you’d like your body better if you could get rid of cellulite on your thighs, legs and butt. The good news is that there are many cellulite treatments on the market. The bad news is that there are so many cellulite removal methods that it can be hard to find the best one.

Use this guide to compare the different ways to get rid of cellulite and find one that fits into your budget and your lifestyle.

Then use the research notes find out what kind of result you’re likely to get with different methods.

Is It Possible to Get Rid of Cellulite?

Many women hope that losing weight will help them get rid of cellulite. And weight loss may improve the dimply skin condition in some. But in others, weight loss alone doesn't work. So women try other ways to get smoother, tighter skin.

There are hundreds of products on the market that claim to reduce cellulite. Some cellulite creams, rollers and dry brushes are available online or at your local drugstore. Many high-end department stores also offer expensive products to help cellulite go away.  And then there are FDA-approved medical treatments for cellulite that you might find at a doctor’s office or medispa. But do any of them work?

The answer may depend on who you ask. Dr. David Stoll is a board-certified dermatologist who practices in Beverly Hills, California.

He is the author of A Woman’s Skin, has many celebrity clients, and is often called the “the dermatologist to the stars.”  Dr. Stoll does not provide any treatments to get rid of cellulite because he doesn’t believe that they work.

“Results have been disappointing with most approaches to cellulite,” he says.

“To date, there is no universally accepted way of getting consistent results for the treatment of cellulite. Dr. Stoll does offer medical treatments to improve the appearance of the skin, but he does not treat cellulite. “I don’t want to take money from patients, even if they are desperate to get rid of their cellulite if I cannot deliver the results they want.”

But other physicians see a benefit, even if the cellulite treatment is not perfect. Dr. Z. Paul Lorenc is a board-certified plastic surgeon who practices in New York City. He agrees that no cellulite treatment is perfect, but he does see improvement with the procedures that he offers. He says that as long as patients have realistic expectations, they can get both a physical and mental boost when they see their cellulite reduced. “The treatments can provide a benefit, he says, “if they are part of a complete package of healthy living.”

How to Find the Best Cellulite Treatment  

So how do find the best cellulite removal method for you?

You should take several factors into consideration before you choose a treatment.

  • Budget. Some home treatments, such as creams and lotions, are available for as little as $20. Higher end brands may cost much more.  In fact, some firming creams cost nearly $500 at high-end department stores. Home devices, like massage tools and dry brushes may cost $100-200 or slightly less. The most expensive treatments are the ones that you get in a physician’s office or medispa.  When you consider your budget, take into account the number of treatments that you will need to get your desired result and the cost of follow-up treatments if they are needed.
  • Availability. Not all medical treatments are available in all areas of the country. But many different brands of cellulite removal devices are very similar. So if a particular brand is not available in your area, it is possible that a similar brand is. In addition, some cellulite removal methods require that you do follow-up care every year or even every few months.  If your treatment requires follow-up care to maintain the result, you should be sure that you will have access to the center where you get the treatments done.
  • Effectiveness.  Not surprisingly, the cellulite treatments that have shown the most promise are the treatments that cost more.  There are less expensive methods on the market, but they may offer a very short-term result or no result at all.  If your cellulite really bothers you, it may be more cost-effective in the long-run to invest more money in a medical treatment for cellulite rather than spending thousands of dollars on methods that don’t give you the result that you want.

Where to Get Cellulite Removal Information

So where do you get unbiased information about cellulite treatments? It can be hard to find because much of the information is sponsored by companies who are selling the treatments. And if you go to your doctor’s office, you’ll probably get information primarily about the one or two branded treatments that the doctor has chosen to provide based on his expertise, availability, and other considerations. 

There are websites like RealSelf.com that may help you to compare different medical treatments by brand name. But the answers provided by physicians often promote only the particular brand that they are selling. The site may be most helpful in helping you to determine the cost of treatment in your specific area of the country.

As you evaluate different methods, be wary of before and after photos. Not only can photos be modified, but lighting, camera angle, clothing and many other factors can make a result look more impressive than it really is. Even researchers who study cellulite have found that there is no good way to photograph or evaluate cellulite results. 

Home and Spa Cellulite Treatments

If you’ve decided that you want to get rid of cellulite at home, there are different types of popular treatments available.

  • Creams and lotions.  Lotions containing caffeine, retinol formulations or herbal ingredients may be able to smooth your skin to help reduce the appearance of cellulite. There are hundreds of products on the market. One medical review that compared different topical treatments for cellulite found that there was very little scientific evidence that creams and lotions have a positive effect. But another found that some creams may help to improve the skin's elasticity and thickness, making cellulite less noticeable.
  • Home massage devices.  Some women use home massage techniques or dry brushing to get rid of cellulite. There is even a massage device that you sit on to promote cellulite reduction. Manual stimulation of your tissue is believed to help boost circulation, improve lymph drainage and damage fat cells to promote a smoother appearance. So does it work? Again, researchers are unsure that the treatments make a difference because high-quality research is limited. Some studies show a small amount of improvement, but then other studies show no improvement at all.

Medical Treatments to Get Rid of Cellulite

There are FDA-approved medical treatments available to help you reduce cellulite. These treatments are usually offered by a dermatologist, a plastic surgeon or by an aesthetician who works under the supervision of a board-certified physician. You'll notice that the same technology (or combination of technologies) may be sold under several different brand names. 

  • Manual massage.  Similar to home massage devices, massage may be used in a medical setting to treat cellulite. Massage may also be combined with rolling and sucking the skin to reduce the appearance of cellulite.
    Also called Endermologie or endermology
    How it works: The skin is manipulated by massaging, rolling and sucking to improve lymph drainage and change the skin's structure.
    Benefits: The process is non-invasive and was widely available as the first FDA-approved treatment to improve the appearance of cellulite. The treatment is less expensive than many other cellulite treatments.
    Drawbacks: Many (but not all) patients find the treatment to be uncomfortable. Results are not permanent so ongoing treatments are required.
    Cost:  Depends on your location. Price per treatment may be as low as $50-$75 per treatment, but multiple treatments are required.  You may be able to treat your desired area for less than $1000.
    Independent research results: Scientific reviews have determined that current studies do not support endermologie as an effective way to get rid of cellulite.
     
  • Radiofrequency (RF). Many women turn to radiofrequency to reduce cellulite. Sometimes radiofrequency is combined with other methods such as infrared light, suction or massage to make the treatment more effective.
    How it works: Radiofrequency provides heat from electric current. RF is believed to help stimulate collagen production to tighten skin and help to break down the fat cells underneath that produce dimpling.
    Brand names: Devices that use that use RF technology include TriPollar, ThermiSmooth , Reaction by Viora, VelaShape, Velasmooth, Exilis, and Thermage among others.
    Benefits: People who get RF treatments usually find that the treatments are either completely pain-free or only mildly uncomfortable. The treatments are non-invasive so there is no downtime and you can resume normal activities after your procedure is done.
    Drawbacks: Depending on the treatment you choose, you may need 3-6 treatments or more. Results are not permanent. Most doctors recommend that you return every 6-12 months for maintenance treatments.
    Cost: The price of this treatment will depend on the size of the area to be treated, the number of treatments required and the area of the country (marketplace) where you live. But you should plan to invest $1500-$3000 on a complete program. Single treatments usually cost $300-$500 and you will need several before you see real results. And be sure to factor in the cost of maintenance treatments.
    Independent research results: A group of researchers who evaluated different RF treatments found that low-level radiofrequency devices may provide a "medium-high" improvement in the appearance of cellulite, but more quality evidence is needed. 
     
  • Laser treatments. Minimally-invasive laser or light-based treatments help some patients tighten skin and get rid of cellulite.
    How it works: Your physician inserts a tiny, thin laser device underneath your skin after it has been numbed. The laser is used to disconnect the tight fibers that create a dimpled appearance, melt the fat that creates the bulge and tighten the skin to create a smooth surface.
    Brand names: Cellusmooth and Cellulaze are common brands that use laser technology during a minimally invasive procedure.
    Benefits: You’ll only need one treatment per area to get results from these procedures and no follow-up treatment is required. The process may be mildly uncomfortable but many patients feel that it is tolerable. Some describe the treatment as painless.
    Drawbacks: This is the most expensive treatment for cellulite. Treatments may cost $5,000 to $9,500 per area.  In addition, you may get some bruising or swelling from this procedure.
    Independent research results: Not all laser treatments work well for cellulite, but researchers have found that these minimally-invasive treatments work to reduce dimpling and provide a smoother appearance on the skin.
     
  • Shock wave therapies. This non-invasive treatment uses shock wave energy to improve circulation and improve skin elasticity.
    Also called acoustic wave therapy (AWT) or extracorporeal shock-wave therapy (ESWT)
    How it works: Treatments, lasting 20 minutes to one hour, are administered with a hand-held pulse to break up fat cells and promote circulation and lymph drainage.
    Brand names: ZWavePro, D-Actor, Cellupulse, Gymna Shockmaster 300
    Benefits: The treatments are relatively short and most patients say that they are comfortable.
    Drawbacks: Not widely available in the United States.
    Cost: Depends on the size of the area to be treated and the location where you live. But the total cost can exceed $1000 because multiple treatments (as many as 10-14) are required.  Maintenance treatments are often recommended.
    Independent research results: Studies have provided inconsistent results for the treatment of cellulite with AWD. In one review, researchers said that the procedure may work but more studies need to be done.

What You Should Do Before Any Cellulite Treatment

If you’ve decided that you want to improve your cellulite, you’ll find many doctor's offices and spas that offer services. But, not all of them provide the same level of care. Finding a qualified provider can be tricky.

Unfortunately, there is no standardized license that consumers can look for when choosing a technician. Some states provide very strict licensing but others don’t regulate the treatments as much. Dr. Lorenc says that patients can use a 3-point checklist to stay safe.

  1. Check the doctor's qualifications. The physician should be board-certified. Most doctors that provide cellulite reduction are dermatologists or plastic surgeons.  Ask the doctor how much experience he/she has with the treatment you are interested in.
  2. Check the provider's qualifications. If a doctor is not providing the actual treatment, ask questions about who will perform the procedure. Often this is an aesthetician and you can ask if he or she is licensed in the state. Most states have boards that require skin care providers to be licensed.  In addition, check to see how closely the aesthetician is monitored by the physician.  Find out if the physician will be on the premises when the procedure is performed. Lastly, check that the physician and the technician have gone through training with the device manufacturer.
  3. Check the facility's license. If you are having an invasive procedure, you’ll want to take extra steps to make sure that the facility is accredited. You can ask staff to see an accreditation certificate. There are different organizations that certify facilities such as The Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC)  and The American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities (AAAASF).

And lastly, before you invest in any cellulite treatment, be sure to talk to your doctor about setting reasonable expectations. Your result may differ from the ones you see in photos on a physician website or blog. You can't get rid of cellulite completely, but you'll be more satisfied with your result if you feel like you got what you paid for.

Sources:

Collis N, Elliot LA, Sharpe C, Sharpe DT. "Cellulite treatment: a myth or reality: a prospective randomized, controlled trial of two therapies, endermologie and aminophylline cream. " Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery September 1999. 1115-7

Stefanie Luebberding, Nils Krueger, Neil S. Sadick. "Cellulite: An Evidence-Based Review. " Journal of Clinical Dermatology August 2015, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 243-256.

Jeffrey S. Orringer, Murad Alam, Jeffrey S. Dover Body Shaping, Skin Fat and Cellulite: Procedures in Cosmetic Dermatology Series. Chapter 14: Lasers and Lights: Cellulite Reduction. September 2014, pages 115-120

Smalls LK, Hicks M, Passeretti D, Gersin K, et al. "Effect of weight loss on cellulite: gynoid lypodystrophy. " Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery August 2006. 510-6

Irene Zerini MD, Andrea Sisti MD, Roberto Cuomo MD et al. "Cellulite treatment: a comprehensive literature review. " Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology September 2015 Volume 14, Issue 3, pages 224–240

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