Body Care

Ask a Plastic Surgeon: Can I Get Rid of My Cellulite?

Women Standing in a line with their hands on their hips

Even the most beauty-savvy individuals would love to get insider intel from a plastic surgeon. But sometimes, it’s hard to ask a doctor your most burning questions — maybe you believe your concern is too trivial, or you’re embarrassed to get the answer in a face-to-face appointment. That’s why Spotlyte brings you Ask a Plastic Surgeon, a regular column where we have professionals provide the answers to your questions, no matter how big or how small. In this installment of Ask a Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Z. Paul Lorenc gives us the 411 on cellulite — and if you can actually ever get rid of it, once and for all.

The human body is an incredible machine — it can scale mountains, solve complex equations, and even create life. All of these characteristics can help put self-perceived flaws into perspective, but we still understand how frustrating they can be. (And luckily, modern science has created some correcting treatments, such as acids to fight acne and other imperfections.) For many, cellulite is one of the most vexing body issues — and improving its appearance remains a challenge.  

Cellulite is fat, pure and simple, but the reason it looks different than regular fat is because it accumulates between connective tissue under the skin — especially on thighs, but also on the butt and/or stomach. Compare that web-like tissue to fishnet stockings — because the fat is between and beneath it, it looks like visible dimpling and lumps.

Interestingly enough, no one is really sure what causes it. However, “there seems to be a solid correlation between cellulite and genetics, race, and gender,” explains Dr. Z. Paul Lorenc. “In 1978, surgeons Nurnberger and Muller first defined cellulite as a result of differences in the structure of skin and subcutaneous tissue in men and women.”

As you may have picked up on already, whether or not you have cellulite is largely out of your control. According to Dr. Z. Paul Lorenc, genetics are a major factor and your gender also is to blame: “About 90 percent of all women develop cellulite and only 10 percent of men report having cellulite,” he explains.

Preventing it from forming could be possible with fitness and nutrition. “A good exercise regimen and healthy eating could help the chances of not developing fat and decreasing the likelihood of cellulite developing,” Dr. Lorenc says, adding that “maintaining a good BMI will keep fat from distributing itself around muscle.” But  once you have it, don’t look to spin classes or Reformer machines as a solution — according to Dr. Lorenc, there is “no guarantee” that weight loss and muscle toning can help improve the appearance of cellulite. Though many believe massages help, Dr. Lorenc also disproved that belief, so don’t be fooled by your local spa’s monthly special.

It’s not all bad news, though. You can temporarily smooth out the way these dimples look with some topical treatments — Dr. Lorenc says to look out for products that include caffeine or plankton extract on the ingredient listing. Both of these are said to help speed up tissue metabolism and firm the look of skin, but again, the tightening effects are not permanent.  

If you’d still like to give a topical treatment a go, try ZO® Skin Health Cellulite Control ($98) — it contains both of these ingredients, plus carageenan extract and glycerin to help smooth. We’re also big fans of Lush Cup O’ Coffee ($12), a face and body mask that’s loaded with actual coffee grounds to exfoliate and create a taut look.

For in-office treatments, you have a few options, depending on the level of invasiveness that you’re comfortable with. According to Dr. Lorenc, the less invasive route would be a procedure called ThermiSmooth®. “This uses radiofrequency to stimulate collagen over the course of several treatments,” he explained. Most patients need four to six appointments for best results, and describe the experience similar to getting a “warm massage” (sounds amazing!) with no downtime.

“The more aggressive approach would be a laser treatment called CelluSmoothTM,” continues Dr. Lorenc. “This also targets skin irregularities and laxity, and will lead to an overall smoothness of the skin.” The laser for this treatment works by breaking the connective tissue that causes the dimpled look of cellulite and melting down the fat itself. Your body will then naturally excrete the fat as waste. Most patients only need one appointment for results (which appear anywhere from two weeks to two months), but this treatment is a bit more uncomfortable and can cause bruising and swelling — and many practitioners advise wearing compression clothing for several weeks to achieve the best outcome.

As effective as these in-practice treatments can be, the cost could be prohibitive: your ThermiSmooth sessions could cost around $750 each for areas such as the thighs or stomach, while a CelluSmooth session may ring in at $7,500 (depending on where you live, who is administering the treatment, and how big of an area you’re treating). But if price is not an object when it comes to treating your cellulite, it’s definitely worth contacting your local plastic surgeon or dermatologist about these treatments.

Above all, though, Dr. Lorenc advises you to keep cellulite at bay by being — and staying — fit. “Cellulite is extremely difficult to get rid of,” he warns, “and your best bet is a healthy lifestyle.” We’ll consider that our motivation to skip the elevator and take the stairs today!