By Erika Stalder, Refinery29
.Orange peel syndrome. Cottage cheese thighs. Hail damage. There are a lot of pet names for cellulite, each of them unappetizing enough to make us not want to talk about the phenomenon at all. That Photoshop magically smoothes the skin of every woman professionally photographed, well, that means as a society, we don't have to look at it either. But, amidst all this if-you-ignore-it, it-will-cease-to-exist mindset, lie many myths about who gets cellulite and why - and an estimated $62 million industry that makes devices to banish it.
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Do any of these devices work? Is cellulite the deserved curse of those who gain a bit of weight?
We talked to three leading dermatologists who specialize in cellulite research and treatment: Dr. Cheryl Karcher, a New York-based aesthetic medicine expert and cellulite researcher who also holds masters degrees in nutrition and metabolism, Dr. David McDaniel, director of the Institute of Anti-Aging Research and Assistant Professor of Clinical Dermatology at Eastern Virginia Medical School, and Dr. Jeannette Graf, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and author of Stop Aging, Start Living, to melt a few myths on not-so-smooth skin.
Myth: Only Overweight People Get Cellulite
Karcher and McDaniel say about 98% of women have cellulite. "You can be skinny-skinny-skinny as a rail and have cellulite. Supermodels have it," Karcher says. While weight gain can lead to the development of more cellulite, it's not the sole cause of dimpled skin. Who is this magical 2% of women who don't get cellulite? Karcher says it's likely women with thicker skin - a trend she has seen among women of African descent.
Myth: Cellulite Is Chunks of Fat
Cellulite is actually the disharmonious co-mingling of fiber and fat. Beneath the skin's surface are fibrous strands, or compartments that don't always contain the fat cells. Bloated fat cells and lymphatics trapped in the fibrous compartments can protrude, while the fibrous strands indent, causing bumpy skin.
Myth: Only Women Get Cellulite
This one is mostly true. Men rarely get cellulite unless they have a genetic or sex chromosome anomaly, according to McDaniel. Why are women so cellulite-prone? Researchers are looking into ideas surrounding hormones and the sympathetic nervous system, but Karcher, McDaniel and Graf have their money on this theory: Women have vertical fiber strands that connect the top of our skin to the muscle. When these strands get really tight, divots between the fiber strands take shape while fat pockets pooch out, causing bumps. Men, on the other hand, are believed to have a criss-cross or X patterned fiber strands, a construction that doesn't allow fat pads to protrude. While there's still much to be learned about the surefire causes of cellulite, ultimately, Karcher drives home that, "it's genetic and hormonal. There's nothing we [women] did to deserve this."
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MYTH: If You Lose Weight, Your Cellulite Will Disappear
While Karcher does advise healthy eating, sleeping, and exercise, she can't ensure that weight loss will result in cellulite loss. "Oftentimes, if you lose weight, your cellulite will get better because you can decrease the fat pads that are protruding out. But sometimes, it makes the skin hang a little more."
MYTH: If You Use a Topical Cream, Cellulite Will Disappear. No matter how pricey, topical creams will do nothing to minimize cellulite, according to Karcher and McDaniel. What they can do, however, is create the illusion of smoother skin. "They can make the appearance of cellulite a little better by coating the skin. The light reflects off of it so the divots don't shadow so much and the cellulite looks better," Karcher says, adding that spray-tanning products can also create a similar illusion.
MYTH: If You Get Surgery, Your Cellulite Will Disappear
The newest treatment on the market, Cellulaze, is an hour-long surgery that is designed to get rid of cellulite. Doctors use a laser to blast fat cells in the superficial layers of the skin. After the procedure, which costs about $10,000 or more, recovery requires little downtime. As of now, it's commonly regarded by professionals as the most effective treatment, but isn't guaranteed to give perfectly smooth skin.
MYTH: If You Undergo Laser or Other In-Office Treatments, Your Cellulite Will Disappear. There are a lot of choices when it comes to non-surgical procedures, such as ultrasound acoustic wave therapy, radiofrequency therapy, and using a laser and light source that melts the fat and remodels the fibers. Each treatment requires weekly visits for about six weeks. These treatments can minimize the appearance, but likely not wipe out all of the dimples and protrusions.
So, is there anything we can do to eliminate cellulite?
McDaniel theorizes that UV light, along with smoking, may contribute to the severity of cellulite, as he thinks these things may "damage collagen, skin thickness and skin elasticity." While this theory, among many others, require more research, it doesn't hurt to take good care of your skin by wearing broad-spectrum sun protection and laying off the cancer sticks.
Aside from undergoing office-based procedures, Dr. Graf suggests eating right as a way of minimizing cellulite's reach. "Avoid acid-producing foods such as cola, diet cola drinks, and sugar and follow a largely Mediterranean Diet with high fiber and lots of color. Drink plenty of water and add lemon to enhance alkalinity," she advises, noting that exercise can play a role as well. "Exercise stimulates lymphatic drainage as well as deep tissue massage, which helpful in alleviating cellulite symptoms," she says.
While future treatments could include non-surgical injectables that target the fat or fiber strands, thus likely providing more effective treatments, there's only thing that fully works when trying to eliminate the bad vibes that come with dimpled skin - a brain reframe.
Karcher reminds us that having bumps in the thighs, butt, and even abdomen area is the norm. "Quite frankly, it should be considered a normal thing, not a problem," she says. "Yes, it's not attractive in this day and age, but long ago it was [considered] attractive."
Which isn't to say you should skimp on taking care of yourself. But, once you put this into perspective, along with the notion that as of now, there is no cellulite "cure," it's easier to accept your perfectly un-Photoshopped ass and put energy into the things that do matter.
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By Erika Stalder, Refinery29