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Diet, exercise, and liposuction don't really work very well in treating cellulite. A new, two-hour, outpatient laser treatment option, however, promises lasting results that are visible almost immediately, with just one treatment.

The mere mention of the word "cellulite" is enough to make some women cringe. Dermatologists say that about 4 out of 5 women and even some men will develop cellulite at one time or another in their lives. A new laser treatment technique, however, promises to make cellulite a thing of the past after just one trip to the dermatologist's office.

Older Cellulite Treatment Techniques Painful and Just a Little Scary

For about 50 years, the most common medical treatment for "thunder thighs" of cellulite involves a procedure known as tumescent liposuction. In this technique, the plastic surgeon makes a tiny incision in the skin of the thigh and inserts an instrument known as a hemostat. The surgeon uses the hemostat to make a tunnel underneath the skin through which to introduce a pain killer. Anesthetic is pumped into the site to be treated, and then the surgeon starts making tunnels and cross tunnels through subcutaneous fat, vacuuming out excess fat as the procedure progresses.

Liposuction certainly can change the appearance of the thighs, and it is usually successful for treating cellulite in men (who very seldom ask for or are offered the procedure).

Liposuction is not especially helpful for treating cellulite in women, however, because cellulite isn't really caused by fat. 

Both men and women have three layers of fat on their thighs. In men, the top layer of fat is criss-crossed by a tough layer of connective tissue with cells that "lie down" and hold it in place. In women, the top layer of fat consists of cells that "stand up" and that are held in place by connective tissue that arches upward, forming the dimples that can become large enough to be noticeable as cellulite. (The reason women have this flexibility in their connective tissues is to accommodate the general enlargement of the body in the late stages of pregnancy.)

In women, not just gaining weight but also fluid retention can cause fat cells to "stand up" inside their arches, leading to recurrence of cellulite over and over again, despite treatment.

Unfortunately, Diet and Exercise Don't Work Very Well, Either

For this reason, not just liposuction but also diet and exercise are mostly ineffective against cellulite in women. Even when women cut back on calorie intake and burn fat, the erect fat cells fill out the arches of connective tissue under the skin to cause the orange-peel, dimpled skin effect. The new laser technique, however, promises to get rid of cellulite for good.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Avci P, Nyame TT, Gupta GK, Sadasivam M, Hamblin MR. Low-level laser therapy for fat layer reduction: a comprehensive review. Lasers Surg Med. 2013 Aug. 45(6):349-57. doi: 10.1002/lsm.22153. Epub 2013 Jun 7.
  • Savoia A, Landi S, Vannini F, Baldi A. Low-level laser therapy and vibration therapy for the treatment of localized adiposity and fibrous cellulite. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2013 May 23. 3(1):41-52. doi: 10.1007/s13555-013-0026-x. Print 2013 Jun.
  • Photo courtesy of Lanzi by Wikimedia Commons :
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