Got cellulite? So does just about every woman, no matter what size she is. Some men have it, too.
Some people make their peace with it, comfortable knowing that paparazzi aren't vying to take photos of them in a bikini any time soon. Others wage war against it. Half the battle is knowing what cellulite is and what your weapons are.
How Cellulite Is Like Your Couch
Cellulite is a little bit like upholstery, says Boston dermatologist Molly A. Wanner, MD. Picture pillowy fat attached to the skin by bands called septae.
In women, the septae pull straight down like a button on a cushion, making dimples. Men's septae come in at an angle, disguising them. Guys also have thicker skin than women, helping to hide their cellulite.
"There's no cure," says Neil Sadick, MD, a Manhattan dermatologist who recently reviewed the science behind some of the most popular treatments. "But there are definitely new things out there that can help."
Gaining weight can add to your cellulite by making your fat cells bigger. More fat under the skin can make your legs look lumpier.
Losing weight can reduce the look of cellulite, especially in women who have a lot of extra pounds to lose.
“If you have less fat, you're going to have less cellulite, potentially," Wanner says.
Weight loss isn't the right approach for everyone, though. For women who are already at a healthy weight, dropping a few pounds can loosen skin, making cellulite even more noticeable.
Caffeine and retinol are two ingredients in creams that aim to reduce cellulite.
In test tubes, caffeine and related ingredients shrink fat cells. Still, there's scant evidence that these treatments work when applied to the skin, according to recent research. Any improvement is likely to be temporary and minor.
The Personal Care Products Council, an industry trade group, declined to comment for this story.
Retinol may help boost the amount of collagen in the skin, making it thicker and more elastic. Thicker skin helps make cellulite less noticeable.
In one small study, a cream with .03% retinol improved cellulite when used for at least 6 months. The study found it increased skin thickness by an average of 2 millimeters on a treated leg compared to the skin on an untreated leg.
A study funded by Johnson & Johnson that tested an unnamed anti-cellulite cream with active ingredients including caffeine and retinol found that the cream reduced the size of the stomach, thighs, and upper arms slightly more than a placebo gel when both were used twice daily for 12 weeks.
A treatment for cellulite called endermologie uses rollers and suction to knead the skin, improving circulation.
Treatments last for 10 to 45 minutes and are typically repeated twice weekly for several months. A package of 10 to 12 sessions runs $1,000 and up.
Despite the hefty price, Wanner and Sadick say there's little evidence that it works against cellulite.