Is it obesity? Heredity? Plain bad luck? Whatever the cause, cellulite makes an enormous amount of money—literally billions of dollars for purveyors of all manner of treatments: body scrubs, dietary supplements, firming creams, endermologie, and even acupuncture.
“Skinny, fat, young, and old—cellulite affects everyone,” says Kacy Duke, a personal trainer whose celebrity-filled client list keeps her jetting between New York and Los Angeles. “Even really thin models have it.”
Despite raging controversy and ridiculous-but-ardent promises (one new pill, Cellasene, claims to reduce cellulite all by itself, without diet or exercise), the hope of erasing dimpled skin keeps people lining up at cosmetic counters, spas, and specialists nationwide.
“The creams and pills are just hope in a bottle,” says New York plastic surgeon Dr. Sherrell Aston. “They don’t work.”
“I use cellulite treatment products twice a day, and I can see a real difference in my body,” says Ann Marie Cilmi, a licensed massage therapist and spa educator at Bliss—a downtown Manhattan hideaway for models and actors in need of pampering. “When it comes to spa treatments and cellulite creams, you need two things: exfoliating and the right active ingredients, like caffeine and seaweed.”
“If it were that easy to melt cellulite, wouldn’t we all bathe in it?” says Dr. Tina Alster, a Washington D.C. dermatologist who doesn’t believe the hype. She recently appeared on Oprah to discuss the newest treatment option—endermologie—that uses a vacuum device to reduce cellulite and reshape the body. “When it comes to cellulite, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.”
Indeed, even endermologie is controversial. “It doesn’t work”, says Dr. Aston. “All you get is swelling in the tissue so the skin appears smoother. The cellulite isn’t gone, it’s just disguised.”
Whether a treatment “works” or not also depends on how long an area has been treated. “Most people want an instant fix,” says Manhattan-based acupuncturist, Phyllis Shapiro, who has her own private practice and does treatments at New York City’s hyperchic Equinox Fitness Clubs. “I’ve gotten great cellulite-reduction results with acupuncture and electric stimulation, but it doesn’t happen overnight.”
The experts do agree on one thing: Diet and exercise are crucial. “Cellulite creams and pills are bullshit,” says Duke, who works as a creative consultant to Equinox. “But I do know that fat, jiggly skin comes from overeating and not exercising—even if you’re thin.”
“Nothing is a cure-all,” adds Cilmi. Although she believes in the power of a good firming cream (unlike the rest of our experts), Cilmi is a realist. “Everything must be done in conjunction with diet and exercise. Slapping a cream on your thighs isn’t enough to get rid of cellulite.”