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Health Conditions

General Description

Cellulite is a cosmetic nuisance of great concern to millions of American and European women. The condition has engendered a number of nonmedical books and articles on the subject, as well as a billion-dollar industry that is in the habit of proclaiming that cellulite can be simply “melted away.” Laypersons who treat cellulite with a variety of creams and mechanical devices are doing a thriving business in a growing number of spas.

Cellulite is not a disease but the result of a naturally occurring process that affects the thighs and buttocks of many women as they age. With the passage of time, the fat cells in these areas become less organized and lax, giving rise to the lumps and depressions so characteristic of cellulite. Cellulite is not associated with physical discomfort; the only pain is psychological. Men are not affected because of the lesser amount of fat (adipose tissue) in the locations where cellulite typically forms.

Causes

Two factors contribute to the appearance of cellulite: heredity and obesity. If your mother has cellulite, chances are good that you will too. Your risk of cellulite appears to be enhanced if you are overweight and out of shape.

Medical Treatments

No magical cure exists to reverse the pits and depressions of cellulite. A variety of enzyme injections, rice diets, and external suction devices are currently being used by estheticians for this purpose. The great diversity of these treatments, as well as the need for mass-media, hype-oriented advertising, attests to their ineffectiveness.

Persons with cellulite are advised to lose weight and exercise. Some middle-aged women have experienced an improvement in their condition with careful weight reduction. Crash dieting is to be avoided because the drastic loss of weight will actually worsen the cosmetic appearance. Regular exercise and massage (stroking the skin with the hand or a brush) may also prove beneficial. Do not be deceived by the incredible “cures” so heavily promoted in women’s journals.

Use of a pressure devise (a procedure called endodermatology) as well as application of creams containing aminophylline may improve some cases of cellulite, as may liposuction. However, results are disappointingly short-lived and liposuction may actually cause worsening in some cases.

A device called TriActive combines a low-energy diode laser, a cooling mechanism, suction, and massage and is said to enable clients to obtain “firmer, smoother skin.” VelaSmooth combines infrared light, radiofrequency, suction, and massage. This device is claimed to “loosen the fat-collagen bands under the skin and firm up the top layers of the skin.” SmoothShapes combines laser and light along with suction and massage “to treat the cause of cellulite by restoring the adipose cells and improving the fibrotic fibrous septae.” Studies to date show modest improvement in some patients, but the duration of benefit, when it is noticeable, is questionable. A recent Wall Street Journal article on the subject offers an apt summary: “the latest cellulite treatments sound too smooth to be true.”

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