By Adam Welsch
If you’re a woman over the age of 25, chances are that cellulite is already a part of your life or soon will be. The Mayo Clinic reports that at least 4 out of 5 women have it. Much has been written about the subject over the last four decades, and many treatment solutions have been offered. Everything from diet & exercise, surgery, and infrared light, to creams, injections, and massage therapies are available. In the last few years, companies have even developed shapewear they claim can actually reduce cellulite. Do any of these solutions work? Can cellulite really be beaten just by slipping on the right shaper?
Before looking at the answers, let’s quickly look at the problem. What exactly is cellulite? The key point is that it’s not so much a “thing” as it is a “condition.” And, as WebMD states, though it involves fat deposits, it’s less a fat condition than one of the skin and connective tissue. Below your top two layers of skin, there are three layers of fat cells. The uppermost of these resides in the hypodermis. It’s the structure of this layer that’s the primary cause of cellulite development in women.
According to the American Skincare & Cellulite Expert Association, a combination of factors come together to produce cellulite. Strands of connective tissue run from the skin down through the hypodermis, creating vertical pockets of fat cells. As women age and hormone levels change, fat cells swell as the amount of fat stored in the hypodermis increases. Blood vessels become more permeable, causing a build-up of fluid. At the same time, the increase in size of the fat cells, combined with the increase in fluid, constricts the blood vessels and reduces the supply of oxygen and other nutrients to the area. The strands of connective tissue also start to stiffen. These factors produce an upward expansion of the fat cells, a downward pull on the skin by the strands, and a decrease in the skin’s elasticity. The result is a “cottage cheese” or “orange peel” appearance of the skin. The reason that cellulite is so uncommon in men (perhaps occurring in only 1 in 10) is that the male hypodermis is organized differently, with fat deposits grouped in a grid pattern of smaller units, most of which aren’t adjacent to the skin.
So what can be done to eliminate cellulite? Treatments mostly target the outer skin and hypodermis, and try to achieve an increase in circulation, a reduction in the build-up of fluids, and the shrinkage of fat deposits. According to the Mayo Clinic, the treatments have varying degrees of effectiveness. A combination of massage, infrared light, and radio-frequency application can be used to improve appearance, and may last as long as six months. Liposuction, on the other hand, hasn’t been found to be effective. The reason is that the procedure isn’t targeted at the hypodermis, due to the side effects of swelling and bleeding. Vigorous massage is another alternative. Though its goal is to increase blood flow and remove fluids, its benefits have been found to be minimal. Mesotherapy, or the injection of cocktails of enzymes, vitamins, hormones and other ingredients directly under the skin, hasn’t been proven to be effective and may produce unwanted side effects. Creams containing similar ingredients are also unproven and may cause rashes.
Many believe that the best treatment is simply diet and exercise. Though helpful, even they won’t eliminate the problem. Hormones, rather than diet and exercise, dictate how fat is stored and broken down in the hypodermis. And, if diet and exercise were the solutions, only those who were overweight would have cellulite. But thin people have it too.
So what option is left?
Shapewear can be a great way to cope with the presence of cellulite. Most silhouettes made for the lower half of the body will improve the look of tummies, hips, or buttocks plagued by it. If the problem area lies a bit lower, a thigh slimmer may be the perfect solution. And for those ladies with cellulite around their knees, pantliners (sometimes called leggings) offer hope. There’s even shapewear made specifically for the upper arms, called arm shapers, if cellulite has created bat wings.
Of course, such standard shapewear products don’t remove or reduce cellulite; they simply control it. More controversial apparel exists that promises to do much more – actually reduce the amount of cellulite in the body. Some, for example, claim that the weaves of their fabrics produce a constant massage for the hips, thighs, and rear end that helps stimulate blood flow to, and promote the drainage of excess fluid from, the outer layers of skin and hypodermis. Others claim that their fabrics are made with certain additives that actually increase cellular metabolism and blood flow in the affected areas. Do these products work? Their manufacturers certainly claim they do. You’ll have to try them for yourself.
It would seem that when battling cellulite, many options are available. The most conservative strategy is straightforward, if not curative. Eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly should reduce its presence, and wearing the appropriate shapewear will improve your body’s appearance under your favorite clothes.