Today let’s look into a medical condition that is not harmful…except, perhaps, to the ego. It is by far most common among women. When looking in the mirror, it can be infuriating: it’s cellulite. The term cellulite was first used in the 1920s, and began appearing in “beauty” magazines, such as Vogue, in the late 1960s. It isn’t a serious medical condition, but many consider it unsightly, and it certainly makes many women self-consciousness about wearing shorts or a bathing suit. Why do so many women (and a few men) get it, and can you make it go away?
Cellulite is nothing more than fat beneath the skin. It’s caused by fibrous cords that connect the skin to the underlying muscle, with fat lying in between. As fat cells accumulate, they push up against the skin, while the long, tough cords pull down. This creates a puckered, dimpled, bumpy surface.
Perhaps as many as 80 – 90% of women have cellulite. The reason cellulite is common among women is because of where a woman’s fat tends to be distributed – the thighs, hips, and rear; as well as the breasts, lower abdomen and upper arms. Also, estrogen may play a large role, though this has not been definitively proven. Cellulite is also more common with aging, as the skin gradually loses its elasticity. Weight gain can make cellulite more noticeable, but some slender people have it as well. It tends to run in families, so genetics may play the biggest role of all. Other factors associated with cellulite include poor diet, slow metabolism, inactive lifestyle, dehydration, body fat, and rapid weight loss. Note that darker skin makes cellulite less noticeable. Interestingly, a high stress lifestyle leads to an increase in catecholamines, which have been associated with cellulite. Is there anything that stress doesn’t exacerbate?
How is cellulite treated?
·Weight loss — through healthy eating and regular exercise — can be a helpful treatment. Losing pounds and strengthening muscles in the legs, thighs, buttocks and abdomen can improve the appearance of the dimpled skin. The benefits of weight loss alone are limited, however. Although weight loss might make the cellulite less noticeable, it won’t go away completely.
·We’ve seen many products and treatments advertised to treat cellulite. Creams claim to dissolve fat and smooth the skin. There is no scientific evidence that these creams are effective. Most contain aminophylline, a prescription drug approved for asthma that causes constriction of blood vessels, forcing water from the skin and affecting circulation.
·Massage and spa treatments may have a temporary effect on dimpling skin, but any improvements are short-lived; they do not remove cellulite. Of course, massages have other benefits, feel great, and are relaxing, so feel free to indulge!
·Liposuction is a surgical procedure that removes fat deposits. A surgeon inserts a narrow tube under the skin through tiny incisions, and sucks out fat cells. Although liposuction can shape the body, it doesn’t remove cellulite, and may even make the cellulite appear to be worse. This is because the procedure removes deep fat, but not the superficial fat just beneath the skin. Laser-assisted liposuction, which destroys fat cells while tightening the skin, is a newer, less invasive treatment that may be more successful.
·Mesotherapy is a therapy developed in Europe to relieve pain and inflammatory skin conditions. It involves injecting substances such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes into the tissue just beneath the skin. It can break down fat and bring a slight improvement to the appearance of cellulite. Unfortunately, it also carries some risks, such as swelling, infection, and irregular contours.
·Perhaps the most promising cutting-edge medical therapy for cellulite utilizes lasers and radiofrequencies. Stay tuned!
Keep in mind that cellulite is a normal occurrence; it isn’t a serious medical condition; and treatment isn’t necessary. If it concerns you, see a doctor, dermatologist or plastic surgeon.
Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
Published: March 27, 2014 - Volume 12 - Issue 50