Are Cellulite Treatments Effective?

Contrary to the belief that it's only a problem for patients who are overweight, cellulite is an extremely common finding. Unfortunately, it has no simple solution.

Cellulite is caused when the soft tissues of the thigh push out around the tethered vertical attachments of the deeper thigh tissues to the undersurface of the patient’s skin. Contrary to the belief that it’s only a problem for patients who are overweight, cellulite is an extremely common finding. Unfortunately, it has no simple solution.

I recently reviewed an article that promised yet another effective treatment for cellulite. The treatment applies 2 different laser wavelengths to the skin surface as the skin is suctioned between 2 rollers. For the study, sophisticated technologies were used to document the postoperative appearance, namely 3-D photographs and MRI scans performed on all subjects before and after treatment.

The laser treatments were designed to facilitate the redraping and remodeling of the thigh skin over the more uniform depth of the fatty tissue below it, yielding an improved appearance. Though the number of patients treated in the study was small, all of them were happy a month after completing the series of treatments, and many were still satisfied at 6 months follow-up.

The patients reported only minor discomfort with the treatments, though those complaints were self-limited and thought to be associated with the heat of the laser light and the sensation of having the skin suctioned between the rollers. No long-term complications were seen.

Previous cellulite treatments that included infrared light with the use of suction rollers also worked, but the results were only short-term, as the waves and ripples in the skin of the thigh area returned within weeks to months of the procedures. Other treatments include the use of topical medications rubbed or applied to the area, but they, too, have limited long-term effects, if any at all.

So, is it time to think about subjecting thighs to this device to help improve thigh appearance? Well, I think it’s too early to say. The source promising these results is an initial study that needs follow-up in larger numbers of patients and for longer periods of time. It does show that progress is being made towards therapies that may truly have beneficial effects on cellulite, but, again, these are not long-term cures; they are quick fixes that need to be repeated.

Can cellulite be prevented? Unfortunately, the honest answer is no. But the goods news is many of the problems that plastic surgery address can often be linked back to lifestyle choices. Excess sun exposure to the thigh region can accelerate the loss of elasticity and resiliency of the skin, which is a factor in cellulite production. The easiest and least expensive remedy is sunblock, which can protect against harmful UVA and UVB rays and future cellulite.

A cyclical weight shift, which means the gain or loss of significant amounts of weight, taxes the skin in the area and can further contribute to the production of cellulite. Maintaining a regular diet and exercise program can combat this, as well as many other issues that excess weight can cause. Squats, lunges, and focused weight training can be very helpful in building muscle tone and reducing the amount of fat concentrated locally, thereby improving the overall circulation to the skin and deeper tissues.

So, a trip to the plastic surgeon or laser specialist shouldn’t be the first step towards improving the appearance of cellulite. A licensed personal trainer can offer recommendations on workouts that will make the most difference in the long-term battle.

Robert T. Grant, MD, MSc, FACS, is Chief of the combined Divisions of Plastic Surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia University Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center. He is also Associate Clinical Professor of Surgery in the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University and Adjunct Associate Professor of Clinical Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College. For more information about Dr. Grant or to contact him, visit his website at www.robertgrantmd.com.