My fight with cellulite

I tried a couple of concoctions and a wobbly pair of shoes. Here’s what worked for me

My fight with cellulite

Source: Best Health Magazine, Summer 2009

Ah, such glorious weather! Time to strip off the long pants and flash a little thigh. Except’uh-oh’the thighs in question are a touch flabby. A bit dimpled. Hmm. Kinda have the texture of a mattress…. Damn. A pox on cellulite.

The 411 on cellulite

Thin women, plump women, teens, moms: Most of us are susceptible to these teeny deposits of fat beneath the skin. The truth of the matter is that about 85 percent of adult women develop cellulite on their hips, thighs and bums at some point in their lives.

Just how prone we are seems to be a matter of genes, which is why some women remain smooth-skinned regardless of diet, exercise or other factors. Most of us aren’t that lucky, as those humiliating celebrity bikini shots in gossip magazines often attest. Cellulite, quite simply, is a natural part of being female.

In part, this has to do with hormones, which prompt women to conserve fat so that we can nourish our young. But we are also thinner-skinned than men. Fat can bulge outward in little pockets between the fibrous cords that anchor our skin to the underlying muscle wall, whereas men’s thicker layer of dermis keeps that same fat tamped down.

Nevertheless, it drives us up the wall, so cosmetic companies are constantly developing treatments to vanquish cellulite, and we are constantly’and hopefully’trying them.

Test-driving cellulite treatments

In that spirit, and on a quest to freshen up for summer, I decided to do a test run of some of the newest offerings on the market. First on my list was a set of creams by Vichy Laboratoires of France, one for day and one for night. Collectively called ‘Cellu Metric,’ the creams come with a brochure featuring a picture of a woman who has the legs of a racehorse. I wouldn’t think she counts as inspiration: I haven’t looked like that since I was 12. At 45, the best I can aim for is somewhat less saggy-looking skin.

Prudently, that’s the sort of claim Vichy makes for the Cellu Metric treatment. The user, the company says, should see a 20 percent reduction in the appearance of dimpled skin after two weeks of twice-daily application, as well as a one-centimetre reduction in thigh circumference.

The cream comes as a box of 28 single-dose sachets, half of which contain a fat-burning gel made with caffeine and rutin (a flavonoid found in citrus) to rub on at bedtime. The other half contain a ‘lipo-fragmenting serum’ made with caffeine and manganese (a trace mineral).

The idea is that these ingredients have been matched to the body’s 24-hour metabolic cycle for a better effect (a principle that Biotherm is also applying in its new cream Celluli Laser Intensive Night).

Dr. Doris Hexsel, a Brazilian dermatologist who consulted with Vichy and is one of the world’s leading cellulite experts, explains that the body burns or stores fat in concert with our metabolic activity: ‘At night, the body is at rest and uses less energy. We store more lipids [fats] at night and can also gain more weight by eating in the evening and then going to bed, than in the morning.’

With this process in mind, ‘Cellu Metric uses the right active ingredients at different times of the day, in order to use the body’s behaviour or biological cycle to increase their activity,’ in the same way that corticosteroids are more effective if taken in the morning, she argues. Vichy calls this ‘metabolic slimming.’

I call it confusing science’but let’s just see if it works. I volunteered my right leg for the treatment and reserved the left for a ‘before and after’ comparison.

Add in some "FitFlops"

It seemed to me I should try everything I could to prepare my legs for summer shorts, including improving muscle tone. So, in addition to using the cellulite treatment, I began traipsing around in a pair of FitFlops. You may have heard of these engineered shoes? Designed in London, England, at the request of Canadian fitness entrepreneur Marcia Kilgore, they use something called ‘micro-wobble board’ technology in the sole to keep you a teensy bit off balance. They look fairly normal, but you engage your leg and bum muscles more actively while you’re just going about your day.

Meanwhile, after two weeks of smoothing the gelid, faintly tingly Vichy lotions onto my right thigh, I sat on the floor with my legs stretched in a V to examine the difference. The first thing I noticed was’could it be?’a visible smoothing of my right thigh. It looked, you know, somewhat less dimpled than the left. (The circumference remained the same, so far.) Applause to Vichy, and remember: They aren’t promising a dramatic reduction.

Greek Island Laboratories, on the other hand, makes a very dramatic claim with its new Adonia LegTone Serum, which was featured at a red-carpet event at the Oscars. This Arizona company boasts that its product reduces the appearance of cellulite by 47 percent’in nine minutes. Unsurprisingly with that kind of claim, it’s been flying off the shelves.

The Adonia serum uses various Greek botanicals and plant stem cells to smooth out your skin for ‘up to 12 hours.’ (Aha: So it’s not a permanent cellulite buster, but something, like a lip plumper, that will do you for
a day at the beach.) The trouble is, this serum didn’t work on me. I tried it on my untreated leg, twice. Nothing changed in nine minutes. So I gave my bottle to a friend to see what her results would be. She phoned me just now: ‘Tried your stuff. Didn’t do a thing.’ Oh, dear. Perhaps the serum doesn’t work on everyone, or maybe the company is a touch optimistic.

‘The best of the currently available treatments have, at most, shown mild improvements in the appearance of cellulite,’ says dermatologist Dr. Mathew Avram of Harvard Medical School, ‘most of which are not maintained over time.’ According to research published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, some topical treatments are showing promise, but the research concludes that if you want to look your best overall, you will still get more bang for your buck through diet and exercise.

Fair enough, then; I’ll keep up with my gym membership’and see things through with my FitFlops. I look forward to spending the summer in them. I can tell you that although these shoes force you to constantly concentrate on keeping your balance, they are exceedingly comfortable, and rather fun to wear. You can feel your muscles adjusting as you walk, and the soles are almost bouncy. Will they conquer my cellulite? Likely not.
But they are helping me firm up my muscles and tone my legs, and are putting a spring in my step.

On balance’or is that off balance?’it’s my opinion that if you’re going to invest in leg improvements this season, a blend of approaches will probably do you best.

This article was originally titled "My fight with cellulite," in the Summer 2009 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!’and make sure to check out what’s new in the latest issue of Best Health.