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Which aesthetic treatments are the most popular for treating cellulite?

Which aesthetic treatments are the most popular for treating cellulite?

Written on 21st February 2020
by Samantha Hathway

Any Google search for how to get rid of cellulite will throw up a huge range of potential treatments – from aesthetic procedures to anti-cellulite diet plans, dry brushing to cellulite workouts and from topical creams to lifestyle changes. Given that some 80-90% of women have cellulite, and the pressure social media places on the population to achieve the ‘perfect’ body, it’s hardly surprising that huge amounts of money are spent trying to improve the appearance of cellulite, if not eradicate it completely. Indeed, recent reports suggest that the global treatment market is set to reach US$1,438.5 billion by 2026. This reflects not just the numbers of people affected but also the sums they are prepared to invest in finding an effective ‘cure’.

But when it comes to cellulite removal, what actually works? Indeed, is it actually possible to get rid of cellulite once you have it? The answer is yes, there are treatments out there that will help minimise and eliminate that troubling dimpling of the skin. However, given that cellulite occurs deep in the dermis, it’s difficult to treat and if you want to achieve significant, long-lasting results then you’ll need to consider investing in an aesthetic procedure. Again, there are many devices and procedures that claim to eradicate cellulite, but which one should you choose? In order to help guide your decision, we’ve compiled a review of the best and most popular types of aesthetic procedures available today. So, starting with the best, here are our top five:

1. Tissue stabilized-guided subcision

This is the only procedure that’s achieved FDA clearance for providing long-term improvements in the appearance of cellulite dimples, and that’s why it makes number one on our list. Indeed, the treatment system has been shown to provide significant benefits that last through 5 years, so this procedure is well worth the investment.

In order to understand why this treatment is so effective, it’s important to understand a little more about the condition itself – what causes cellulite, and the structural changes that take place. Contrary to popular belief, cellulite isn’t only the result of fat accumulation – although putting on weight can make cellulite look worse. The characteristic dimpling of the skin and ‘orange peel’ texture is actually caused by changes within the fibrous connective tissue under the skin, which is why even the slimmest of women can have cellulite. It also explains why women are more likely to develop cellulite than men; in women the fibrous tissue within the fatty layer under the skin is arranged vertically, so when the fibrous tissue tightens, which happens as we age, dimples are formed. In men, this fibrous tissue exhibits a criss cross pattern, so any changes in the connective tissue are less likely to create the same patterning and puckering on the surface of the skin.

Tissue stabilized-guided subcision works by releasing these tightened fibrous bands (known as septae). The device used gently suctions up the area to be treated, allowing an aesthetic surgeon to make precise, tiny incisions under the skin, severing these fibrous cords and allowing the skin to resume its smooth appearance. This is our number one procedure not just because it’s the only one that’s FDA cleared to provide long-term benefits, but also because it’s minimally invasive, requires only local anaesthesia, treatment typically takes just 45 minutes and there’s very little downtime (you can usually return to normal activities within 1-2 days of treatment). Side effects include bruising and temporary soreness, but given the fantastic results achieved and the long-lasting effects of treatment, we feel this one deserves to be top of the list. Also, it’s a one-off treatment and the cellulite is unlikely to reappear even if you put on weight, as the dimple causing fibrous septae have been released.

2. Laser therapy

There are several laser therapies available for the treatment of cellulite; however the majority simply target the fat layer under the skin. So far, results have been temporary at best, typically lasting just 6 months.

In recent years, a new system has been developed that works in a similar way to tissue stabilized-guided subcision, where a tiny laser probe is inserted through a small incision, heating the surrounding tissues and weakening the fibrous tissue. This treatment is also purported to reduce the thickness of the subcutaneous fat layer, and improve skin texture. However, the results are again temporary at best, with any improvements typically lasting just 6 months to a year, and more data is needed to verify these claims. Also, the treatment is less precise than using a needle, so there’s less pin-point accuracy to destroy the connective tissue. Again, this system is minimally invasive and just requires local anaesthesia; downtime is typically 1-2 days and side effects can include pain, bruising and small blistering at the treatment site. The main side effect is swelling and this can take a few weeks to subside. Costs are comparable to tissue stabilized-guided subcision, so in terms of making the right investment for guaranteed long-term benefits, we still advise that guided subcision, rather than laser therapy, is the way to go.

One positive side effect of both types of treatment – guided subcision and laser treatment – is that collagen production is boosted at the wound site, helping the skin strength itself against future cellulite dimple formation and meaning the results get better with time.

3. Radiofrequency treatment

This non-invasive treatment option again uses heat to disrupt the fat layer under the skin, this time using external radiofrequency pulses. The radiofrequency heats the dermis, boosting collagen production and improving blood flow. Radiofrequency travels deeper into the dermis than lasers, so it does get good results in terms of skin tightening, and has been shown to improve the appearance of cellulite and skin laxity.

However, don’t expect immediate results. It takes several appointments to see any improvements; also, as this treatment doesn’t work specifically on the structures that create cellulite, it’s not a long-term fix and treatment cycles will need to be regularly repeated to maintain smoother skin. Side effects include minor bruising, pain and tenderness but again you can expect these to be short-lived.

One new treatment option combines radiofrequency with infrared light and suction massage, to reduce the size of fat cells and improve lymphatic drainage. This is a great option for body contouring but if you specifically need to address cellulite dimples, you’ll only see mild improvements. Again, you won’t achieve long-lasting improvements. Treatment will need to regularly be repeated – typically every 3 months – in order to maintain results.

4. Acoustic wave therapy

Acoustic wave therapy, also known as shockwave therapy, uses sound waves to disrupt internal structures. Initially used for treating kidney and gallstones, scientific attention has now turned to whether this could be a suitable treatment for reducing the appearance of cellulite.

It’s easy to see the appeal – it’s non-invasive, so has no down time, and is very cost effective. There can be a level of discomfort during the treatment, with the pulses feeling like being snagged by an elastic band. However, any pain is usually well tolerated as treatment time can take as little as 5 minutes.

During the procedure, radial sound waves are delivered to the treatment site using a hand-held device (a transducer). Research shows that treatment can improve the appearance of skin, by stimulating collagen production. However, you’ll need at least five treatment cycles before seeing any reduction of cellulite and the results tend to be temporary, meaning treatment will need to be regularly repeated to maintain any results.

5. Cryolipolysis

In recent years, we’ve seen body sculpting surgery move on from traditional liposuction to a new wave of procedures. These include cryolipolysis, which freezes and kills fat cells beneath the skin’s surface. While not specifically indicated for the treatment of cellulite, candidates undergoing this procedure enjoy smoother skin as a result of treatment, so this body contouring technique achieves fifth place on our list.

The process of cryolipolysis freezes and kills fat cells beneath the skin’s surface. Essentially, the procedure involves suction of the treatment area, raising the area to be treated into contact with cooling plates that take the fat cells down to a temperature where they’re irreversibly damaged. This non-invasive procedure has minimal downtime and very few side effects so is incredibly popular for treating small, stubborn areas of fat that can’t be shifted via diet or exercise. Multiple treatments are needed, however, and while skin quality can be improved, this is simply a by-product of the fat removal. There’s no evidence the treatment can actually diminish the structures that cause cellulite, so any such improvements will be temporary at best. This procedure is definitely one for you though, if you’re looking for body contouring and only have small areas of fat accumulation that require sculpting.

We hope that’s helped guide your decision. As you can see, it’s important to really think about what you want to achieve, how much you can budget to spend and how much recovery time you’ll need, as well as whether you want a one-off treatment or are prepared to invest time and money in maintaining any improvements. If surgery isn’t for you, then look out for more posts on alternative therapies, as well as exercise and diet plans that can help minimise cellulite. Please get in touch if you require any further information, you can also use our Find a Doctor resource to find the best specialist in your area.