Combat the Fat

Dimples on the cheeks: cute. Dimples on the butt cheeks: not so cute. Nothing is more frustrating for women than lumpy, bumpy cellulite that accumulates around the hips, thighs and buttocks. Nearly 90 percent of the female population battle the “orange peel” syndrome and no one is safe — skinny women get cellulite too. What’s worse is, men are generally excused from the dreaded little dimples because of the way their connective fibers are formed (men’s connective tissue is angled while women’s is vertical). As always though, the spa industry is forever trying to please our every need and is constantly developing new ways to beat the cottage cheese battle. Here’s the latest.

But first, we have to understand the enemy.

“Cellulite is actually compartmentalized fat that’s right under the dermis,” explains cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Susan Van Dyke of Van Dyke Laser & Skin Care. “When you have water or fluid retention, it’s going to look lumpy or bumpy because those little packets are swollen.” Genetics are the leading factor in cellulite formation while lifestyle and hormones also play a role. And although new cellulite treatments seem to emerge every day, massage and technology-based therapies that stimulate the body’s lymphatic system (the part of the circulatory system that drains fluids and metabolic waste from tissue) are generally believed to be the best at shrinking the fat.

Most experts agree that out of all the massage modalities available, deep tissue massage combined with lymphatic drainage is the most effective method of decreasing the appearance of cellulite. “You can actually smooth out the fat pockets with a lymphatic drainage type massage by moving the fluid out of the little packets. They’ll flatten out and look pretty good for a while,” says Dr. Van Dyke. But yes, unfortunately, it’s a temporary solution unless you can commit to a series of treatments.

An established, technology-based cellulite treatment, endermologie is an FDA-approved massage therapy system developed in France. During the process, a technician uses a handheld roller device to suction and smooth the area. The rollers apply pressure while the vacuum process applies a negative force, essentially doing the same thing as massage but in a more aggressive fashion. “Endermologie is milking the fluid out of the little fat compartments. So it’s very much like lymphatic drainage massage and, in fact, a lot of people believe that lymphatic massage is just as helpful. It’s a machine doing it rather than the therapist,” Van Dyke says. She has witnessed some bruising from the process but nonetheless believes it’s an effective treatment.

While new therapies such as the controversial mesotherapy are promising, Van Dyke is not convinced that the research is fully conclusive on how and why it works. She recommends instead keeping an eye on the emerging Thermage therapy. Currently used for facial wrinkles, Thermage (or ThermaLift) uses a radio frequency to heat the skin resulting in tighter, firmer skin. Studies have shown that if the machine is reconfigured, it can deliver heat to fat, breaking it down and causing it to atrophy. Currently unavailable in the states, the company is actively making hand pieces and doing more studies to establish its effects on cellulite. “I’ll be the first one doing Thermage when they get the hand pieces. On myself!” she adds. (See, doctors get cellulite too.)

With all these therapies, the person who gets the best results is the one who’s eating properly and exercising, says Pamela Springer, executive director of The Skin & Makeup Institute of Arizona. “Massage coupled with a healthy lifestyle will help decrease cellulite,” she says, “but we live in a microwave generation, where people want to put in 30 seconds and be done. Everyone’s looking for the quick fix.” Very true. And what better attitude to have than the words of “Beauty, the New Basics” author Rona Berg, who wrote this about cellulite: “After all, if 80 to 90 percent of all women have it, doesn’t it make it normal?” I couldn’t agree more — at least until a better treatment comes along.

Spa treatments that de-dimple:

Products that combat the fat:

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