Dermatologists Shed Light on Treatments for Cellulite
Library: MED
Description: Over the last three decades, society's definition of beauty for women is a body with well-defined muscles and very little body fat. This has led to the identification of the medical condition known as cellulite, and marketers everywhere are capitalizing on women's attempts to remedy this unsightly condition. (ACADEMY 2002)

Karen Klickmann
(847) 240-1735

Jennifer Gale
(847) 240-1730

Julie Bremer
(847) 240-1743


NEW YORK (August 2, 2002) -- Everyone knows that dimples are cute on babies. But ask any woman whether she thinks the dimples associated with cellulite are cute, and you're likely to get a very different answer. That's because over the last three decades, society's definition of beauty for women is a body with well-defined muscles and very little body fat. This has led to the identification of the medical condition known as cellulite, and marketers everywhere are capitalizing on women's attempts to remedy this unsightly condition.

Speaking today at ACADEMY 2002, the American Academy of Dermatology's summer scientific meeting in New York, dermatologist Mitchel Goldman, MD, Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Dermatology, University of California at San Diego, discussed four types of cellulite treatments -- creams, mechanical massage, diet, and exercise -- and whether any are effective at reducing the appearance of cellulite.

Cellulite is the body's natural way of storing fat in post-adolescent women to ensure that the body has enough calories available for pregnancy and lactation. Almost all women who are not severely malnourished have cellulite. Men, on the other hand, do not have cellulite unless feminization occurs by excessive estrogen production and decreased testosterone production. Typically, fat storage in women occurs in the buttocks and thighs due to estrogen production but can also occur in the inner knees, hips, lower abdomen and under the arms.

"To determine how much cellulite you have, all you need to do is pinch the skin of your thigh between both hands and it appears as a dimpling of the pinched skin," explained Dr. Goldman. "In very thin women, cellulite is only visible with pinching. But for the average woman, some degree of cellulite is visible without pinching and that can make her self conscious about wearing certain clothing in public such as shorts or a swimsuit."

In women, the presence of fibrous membranes between masses of soft tissue work to sequester fat into discrete pockets. These bands of connective tissue are oriented vertically and are anchored from the dermis to the deep layers of connective tissue that separate muscle from various structures and organs of the body. This structure allows the skin surface to dimple and become irregular with expansion of the fat chamber.


Since the first report in 1987 of the ability of topical creams to decrease cellulite, dozens of companies are now marketing cellulite-reducing thigh creams. There is a vast range of ingredients in these creams that claim to reduce the appearance of cellulite -- from caffeine and avocado oil to seaweed and yeast extracts. While Dr. Goldman reports that these types of ingredients may work temporarily to some extent, they would only work when they are used continually since there is no known cure for cellulite.

Currently, no controlled studies have been conducted to test the effectiveness of individual ingredients in cellulite creams. When several of these ingredients are combined in one cream, it is nearly impossible to determine which individual ingredient is responsible for reducing the appearance of cellulite. Dr. Goldman recommends that consumers ask their dermatologist for advice in determining which products are right for them.

"Some women report an improvement in cellulite using these over-the-counter creams and others do not," said Dr. Goldman. "What makes one product work over another is really unknown at this point. I would encourage women who want to try one of these products to test it on one leg to see if they notice any improvement over a period of a few months before using it all over their body. If they don't see any improvement, that's really when they should see their dermatologist for other treatment options."

Mechanical Massage

One well-known method that is marketed to temporarily improve the appearance of cellulite is the use of suction massage treatments, also known as endermologie. Endermologie was introduced in the United States in 1991 from France and is advertised to minimize cellulite. Endermologie may work by pulling the patient's skin upwards into a set of rollers under a low pressure vacuum. This is thought to stretch the vertical connective tissue fibers resulting in a smoother appearance of the skin.

"Studies to determine the effectiveness of endermologie are ongoing, but results seem to vary by the number of treatments, the person's age and amount of body fat, hormonal influences and diet and exercise," said Dr. Goldman. "In addition, studies are also currently being done to determine whether using endermologie following liposuction helps reduce cellulite."


Cellulite forms as a result of complex physiological changes, despite attempts to exercise regularly and follow a well-balanced diet. Since it is estimated that 80 percent of women have some degree of cellulite, even women who eat a low fat diet and maintain a normal weight are not immune.

"Foods really do not have an impact on whether a woman has cellulite or not," explained Dr. Goldman. "Even a woman who radically changes her diet from high fat foods to low fat foods would still have cellulite. Consumers should be wary of any diet plan that claims to reduce the appearance of cellulite -- it is simply not credible."


While health care professionals can't stress enough the importance of a well-balanced diet and regular physical exercise, the health benefits of exercise can also play a role in reducing the appearance of cellulite.

"If someone loses a lot of weight and exercises regularly to tone up, this person would likely find an improvement in cellulite," said Dr. Goldman. "It's important to remember though that results of exercising will vary from person to person, and the same is true about how exercising could affect cellulite. The best advice is if it works, stick with it."

Although there are no permanent solutions for cellulite, dermatologists recognize that this is an important problem for many women. "It's encouraging to see that cellulite is no longer being treated as an 'invented disorder,' but a real medical condition," said Dr. Goldman. "I'm confident that as more research is conducted in improving cellulite, more effective treatments will be available to women in the near future."

The American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of over 14,000 dermatologists worldwide, the Academy is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical, and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin. For more information, contact the AAD at 1-888-462-DERM or