Cellulite Treatments

Reviewed by Grant Stevens, MD, FACS

We would zap it.

We would knead it.

We would even wrap it (and knead it).

There's really nothing we wouldn't try to get rid of cellulite — the fat that causes that dimpled, cottage cheese appearance on our thighs, buttocks, abdomen or hips. The market is brimming with special massages creams, compression garments and devices that promise to banish cellulite, sometimes for good. Women in the U.S. reportedly spend millions of dollars every year on new ways to eradicate dimply, cottage cheese thighs and buttocks.

But do any really deliver on this promise? To understand what works and what doesn't, it's important to understand why cellulite occurs in the first place.

Cellulite is an architectural skin disorder. When fat cells grow, they push up against the skin, and tough, long cords of connective tissue pull down. This push-pull environment creates an uneven surface, or dimpling.

Cellulite affects both sexes, but women are more prone to develop it than men.

Exactly what causes cellulite is not fully understood. Hormones may play a role as cellulite tends to affect women during pregnancy, menopause and even the initial months on birth control pills. Contrary to popular opinion, cellulite is not related to weight or weight changes. Thin, normal-weight, overweight and obese individuals can all develop cellulite.

Most available treatments address cellulite's dimpled, orange-peel look by enhancing skin tone, tightening skin and/or promoting lymphatic drainage. Below are some of the most popular cellulite treatments on the market.

Cellfina is the latest device approved by the FDA for the treatment of cellulite on the buttocks and thighs. It targets dimpled skin with a vacuum-assistd tissue release that breaks up the bands. It's a one-and-done procedure, the results of which are visible after only three days and last upwards of three years. A single Cellfina treatment session costs approximately $4,500.

Cellulaze goes after cellulite with a laser. Without fail, a new treatment emerges from the pack each year. This year, the media — and legions of women desperate to say sayonara to their cellulite — can't get enough of Cellulaze.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Cellulaze in January 2012. It is widely touted as a one-time cure for cellulite. Yes, cure. Your doctor numbs the area to be treated and makes some small incisions. He or she then passes the laser under the skin in various directions. Cellulaze is different than other approaches because it targets the fibrous bands beneath the skin, preventing them from pulling down and causing the dimpled appearance. Cellulaze may also stimulate the production of collagen, the main structural protein found in skin. The skin's collagen supply tends to diminish as we age, and this process tends to worsen the appearance of cellulite.

Only one Cellulaze treatment is required. Cellulaze can cost $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the body parts treated.

Endermologie combines massaging, rolling and suctioning of the skin's surface to break up the fat cells that cause cellulite to occur. Results are noticeable after seven or eight sessions, and the maximum effect takes hold after about 14 sessions. Prices range from $100 to $150 per session.

Ultrasound employs sound waves to smooth and firm cellulite. Multiple treatments are needed, and the effects last for a maximum of four months. Treatments may cost upwards of $2,000 per session. Some suggest that liposuction, when paired with laser or ultrasound energy, may also have skin-tightening, anti-cellulite effects.

Body Wraps may help exfoliate, cleanse and soften skin, which results in a smoother appearance. Price can range from $65 to $100 per treatment.

Creams and gels such as xanthenes, retinoids and alpha hydroxy acids may cause temporary irritation and swelling which can temporarily disguise the appearance of cellulite. Prices and results vary.

Massage increases circulation and lymphatic drainage. Sometimes kneading and rollers can help penetrate deep into the affected area. This boosts circulation and also encourages drainage of the lymphatic system. Prices as well as results vary.

Lipodissolve and Mesotherapy are fat melting injections that may reduce the appearance of cellulite. These cost about $1,250 per injection.

So are these treatments worth the shot, zap, blast or roll?

The best place to start is to schedule a consultation with a board-certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist and discuss the available options and which may be right for you.

Start your search for a local doctor now.

About the Reviewer of This Article

Grant Stevens, MD, FACS, is the medical director of Marina Plastic Surgery Associates in Marina del Rey, CA. He is a board certified Diplomate of the American Board of Plastic Surgery and a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the International College of Surgeons. Dr. Stevens is the director of the USC Aesthetic Surgery Fellowship and Aesthetic Surgery Division. He is on the editorial board of Aesthetic Surgery Journal and is on the board of directors of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery . He is past chairman of the California Medical Association Advisory Panel on Plastic Surgery and has received the Special Congressional Certificate of Recognition and the Distinguished Service Citation from the Medical Board of California.