Aging, hormones, and weight changes can all play a role in the appearance of unsightly cellulite. "These factors can cause connective tissue bands under the skin to stiffen and the fat cells they surround to become larger and push up into the skin — which creates the 'cottage cheese' effect we all loathe," says Natasha Sandy, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist practicing in New York City and Maryland.
While you can't control whether you get cellulite, you do have new options on how to deal with it — and most of them are a far cry from the major plastic surgery used for decades. "Liposuction never really worked on cellulite — while it did deal with the amount of fat under the skin, it didn't address the tight, fibrous bands that create the dimpling look," explains Babak Dadvand, M.D., a board-certified plastic surgeon based in Beverly Hills, California. The procedures, products, and tricks below, however, do work.
1. TOPICAL CREAMS
The quickest way to improve the appearance of cellulite is with a lotion or a cream containing caffeine, which has a temporary tightening effect. Plus, the act of massaging a cream in daily (or twice a day) may improve circulation to the area to minimize bumps, says Sandy.
Try Frownies AromaTherapy Cellulite Cream ($49; frownies.com), which is made with essential oils, natural caffeine, and plankton, or Art Naturals Anti-Cellulite Kit ($13; artnaturals.com), which includes a massager and cream that will diminish fatty acid deposits as well as firm and smooth skin.
If you want a quick, temporary solution to concealing cellulite, try slathering on some self-tanner or getting a spray tan at a salon. "The tanner creates the appearance of even skin tone and has a slimming effect," says Sandy.
Try Xen-Tan's Clean Collection Fresh Tanning Mousse ($48; amazon.com) which gives you quick color with the first application, and then creates a gradually darker tan. The quick-absorbing mousse also contains peptides to build collagen and aloe vera to retain moisture.
"Massage boosts circulation and plumps the skin, creating a smoother look that lasts for days," says Shelley Bawiec, director of spa education for Aveda. Her fast D.I.Y. technique: In the shower, apply a body scrub like Bliss Hot Salt Scrub ($36; bluemercury.com) in vigorous, sideways back-and-forth motions. After you've dried off, use a body oil (try Neutrogena Body Oil, $10; neutrogena.com) for a two-minute deep massage: First, smooth your palms in long strokes down the backs of your thighs, then use your fingers to apply pressure in slow, circular motions.
"Strong muscles make cellulite less obvious," says trainer Lacey Stone, who has worked with Nicole Kidman. Just squeeze in these squats to tone the area while watching True Blood: Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, stick your butt out as you bend your knees to a sitting position; hold for two seconds, then return to standing. Repeat15 times, three days a week.
5. THE ANGEL TRICK
Victoria's Secret models seem immune to cottage-cheese syndrome, but makeup artist Stephanie Flor, who preps them at the brand's runway show, says even they get a little help: "If you attract light to the rest of the legs, cellulite is less obvious." Dust a shimmery bronzer like NYC New York Color Bronzer ($5; amazon.com) down the front of your legs. For medium or dark skin, use a body oil instead.
Not all cellulite looks the same — some is dimply and cottage cheese-y in appearance while other times, the skin is just wavy and texturally uneven, explains Sandy. If you don't have dimples but want the skin on the back of your thighs, arms, or tummy to be less lumpy, lasers offer a permanent solution. After your doctor makes a small incision, a laser (such as LipoLife by Alma or Cellulaze) is passed under the skin to release dimples, melt the fat, and thermally heat up the skin, which helps stimulate collagen and elastin production. While just one treatment will create significant improvement, you should expect some recovery time, says Sandy.
"Non-invasive with little to no downtime, radiofrequency technology basically heats up the fat cells to help liquify and reduce the appearance of cellulite," says Dadvand. The procedure takes about 30 minutes and feels like a warm massage. You should see results in a few weeks, and while radiofrequency — also called ultrasound or ultrasonic fat cavitation (brand names include Velasmooth and Velashape and the newer BTL Exilis Ultra) — isn't permanent, after about six or so treatments, you'll see long-term but temporary results (the results wear off in a few years).
If fat reduction and skin tightening isn't your issue — but persistent dimpling is — check out the new Cellfina, which lasts longer than radiofrequency but doesn't have the recover time of traditional lasers. Minimally invasive, the in-office procedure works like this: First, your cellulite dimples are marked by your doctor and local anesthetic is applied. Then the Celfina machine suctions the skin up while small needles go under the skin and cut the tight fibers to release the upper layer of fat from the skin "The pressure from the suction and release of the tightened fibers results in a softening of the cellulite dimples," explains Sandy.
Endermologie, which has been around for decades, is basically deep massage which opens up the lymphatic system to help get rid of swelling. "Lots of celebrities do endermologie before an awards or red carpet event," says Dr. Davand. Kind of like a super-charged lymphatic drainage massage, the procedure uses what is basically a roller massage machine. The results are fairly immediate — but temporary. "After an in-office procedure such as Cellulaze or Cellfina, endermologie can also help reduce any further swelling," says Dr. Davand.
10. EAT A HEALTHIER DIET
It might seem easier to apply a cream rather than change your diet, but nothing is going to get rid of cellulite quicker than filling your body with nutritious meals. Processed and artificial foods, sugar, fat, and sodium aren't doing you any good when it comes to your health — and they can also explain why it's hard to shake the unwanted dimples. Instead, fill your plate with fruit, veggies, and healthy fats and grains to help prevent and get rid of cellulite.
11. DRINK LOTS OF WATER
When you're not keeping yourself hydrated, it shows all over your body, butt, and legs included. According to Amy Shapiro, M.S., R.D., being dehydrated makes cellulite look more visible. To combat it, try to avoid super salty foods and get in your eight glasses of water a day. The fluids will help replenish your body, making the skin look less dimpled and lumpy.
12. CUT OUT DAIRY
Cellulite or cheese — that is the (unfortunate) question. Because dairy is full of hormones, the extra estrogen your body is taking in can cause cellulite to form on your legs and butt, says Shapiro. By switching to non-dairy cheese and milk — like soy or almond — you'll rid your body of any added hormones and see a smoother backside in the process.