Cellulite: Fighting it, 'Jean' Therapy to Creams (cont.)
One of the best-known cellulite treatments is Endermologie, a "deep-massage" approach to reducing cellulite developed in France. It uses a device that suctions the skin with a vacuum and kneads it with a set of rollers.
"Some studies have shown the deep-tissue massage can break up some of the fibrous bands, help circulation, and improve the appearance of the skin," says Tanzi. She says that while it works for some women, the effects don't last. You'll need regular maintenance treatments to keep up appearances.
Tanzi estimates that individual sessions cost anywhere from $100 to several hundred dollars. They're usually done weekly and take about an hour.
"If you've got a lot of disposable income, I think Endermologie is the best way to go," says Donofrio. "It's going to cost some money, but some people will get pretty nice results. A lot of people will get no results, but at least they're not going to get hurt."
Another cellulite treatment originally developed in France, mesotherapy, involves a series of injections into small pockets of cellulite. They contain a solution -- a cocktail of homeopathic medications and supplements -- that supposedly break down fat and flush it away.
"It's pretty well accepted by women in Europe," says Tanzi. "But it hasn't been studied scientifically here. There's a lot of skepticism."
She also points out that any cellulite treatment that requires injections -- in this case, a lot of injections -- heightens the risk for side effects and problems. It's also very expensive, with individual sessions costing perhaps hundreds of dollars.
"I consider mesotherapy a snake oil," says Donofrio. "If you look at the literature, there just isn't good evidence that it works and it can also cause really serious infections."
The fact is that no combination or herbs or vitamins is known to have any effect on cellulite whatsoever. If you want to try one anyway, check with your doctor first, since some can cause dangerous interactions with other medications. Remember, just because a remedy is "natural" or "traditional" doesn't mean it is safe, let alone a good cellulite treatment.
You might think that if cellulite is just fat, liposuction is just what you need. But that's not the case.
"We get a lot of patients who think that liposuction will help," says Tanzi. "We try to correct them very quickly. Not only does liposuction not help, but it can actually make cellulite look worse."
The problem is that liposuction can really only get at fat that's deep down beneath the skin. Cellulite is generally too close to the surface for liposuction to help. Besides, it's the fibrous bands that really give cellulite its appearance anyway -- getting rid of fat alone wouldn't really do much.
A number of cellulite-treatment devices have been developed that combine deep tissue massage with other features, such as light and radio frequency therapy.
Tanzi is taking part in a clinical trial of one such device called the VelaSmooth, manufactured by Syneron. Although the results won't be known for a few months, Tanzi is optimistic about the treatment.
"In general, I think the future of cellulite treatment is very promising," says Tanzi. "In the future, we're going to have treatments that, if not permanent, will certainly be longer lasting than what we have now."
But Donofrio says that future is a long way off.
"We're not even close," she tells WebMD. Donofrio likens treating cellulite to changing your hair color: You might be able to get a temporary effect, but there's no way to do anything permanent. Achieving that would require genetic changes -- a lot more than dyes or creams can do.
What Can Be Done?
Obviously, there's little evidence that any of these cellulite treatments will do much. Until that miraculous cure appears, if it ever does, we'll all just have to muddle through. If you're dying to try something -- and provided the therapy you want has no risks -- both Tanzi and Donofrio say you can give it a shot. However, keep a level head: at best, the results are going to be modest. Think hard before investing too much money.
If you're considering treatment in a doctor's office, Donofrio recommends shopping around. Don't sign on to a treatment after only talking to one doctor. Donofrio observes that some doctors who have ponied up for an expensive cellulite-treatment machine might be tempted to use it even in cases where it probably won't work. If you do decide to get a series of treatments, make sure you understand how many you'll need and how much you're paying.
Since the war on cellulite is unlikely to be won any time soon, you may need to learn to change your attitude a little too. The next time you're looking over your shoulder, staring unhappily at the reflection of your backside in your bedroom mirror, remember this: Celebrities, the demigods of our society, have cellulite too.
So think of cellulite as the great leveler. Despite her wealth and the army of dermatologists, plastic surgeons, personal trainers, and make-up artists at her beck and call, even J. Lo has cellulite, according to the tabloids. And if professional sex symbols can have cellulite, why can't you?
Published July 12, 2004.
SOURCES: Lisa M. Donofrio, MD, associate Clinical professor, dermatology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; also in private practice, The Savin Center, New Haven, Conn.; and Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York. Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, co-director, Laser Surgery, Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery, Washington. Sainio E. European Journal of Dermatology, December 2000; vol 10: pp 596-603. The American Academy for Dermatology web site.
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