By Christine Fellingham
March 26, 2011

For years, youve heard that the only way to improve cellulite is with diet and exercise. Thats pretty frustrating advice, considering that about 90 percent of women—including those who exercise like Olympians—are walking around with unwanted dimples. But all that's about to change.

Research is spurring new treatments that are producing visible improvements in a majority of women. We wish we could tell you that these procedures will magically make all of your cellulite disappear, but that would be stretching the truth. We can say that these are your best bets for making a dent—or fewer of them—in those dimpled thighs.

Lasers that relocate fat
Theyre the latest high-tech take on cellulite removal: painless lasers that smooth the fatty layer for a less-puckered appearance. One, called the TriActive (a laser surrounded by suctioning rollers), recently won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an effective cellulite treatment. A similar, newer laser is the VelaSmooth—which combines radio waves, infrared light, rolling massage heads, and suction—is awaiting FDA review and generating early buzz. Both of these lasers theoretically firm your skin by boosting collagen while melting and rearranging the fatty tissue.

The process: As you lie on a table, a technician passes the device over your target areas. Far from being painful, the sensation is pleasurable—like getting a slightly vigorous massage for half an hour or so. Youll see your best results after 2 months of weekly treatments. (Dermatologists recommend that you get maintenance treatments at 2-month intervals.)

The proof: In FDA clinical trials done by Mitchel Goldman, MD, a cosmetic dermatologic surgeon and medical director of La Jolla Spa MD in California, the TriActive achieved visible results in 100 percent of patients; 75 percent of them saw their dimples reduced by 50 percent or more. VelaSmooth also seems somewhat successful in studies. “We measured an average thigh circumference reduction of 3.3 millimeters (about 1/8 inch) after eight treatments,” Sadick says.

The payout: $150 to $200 for each of the eight to 14 sessions. Go to for locations.

Next Page: Dream creams for firmer skin [ pagebreak ]Dream creams for firmer skin
Plenty of creams promise to cure cellulite. But the only ones with years of clinical data behind them are those containing retinoids, vitamin-A derivatives proven to boost collagen production. You can find retinoids in over-the-counter body lotions (listed on the label as “retinol”), but the most potent are the prescription versions sold under brand names like Renova and Retin-A. “Retinoids create a firmer, thicker skin cover that can help camouflage cellulite,” says Paul T. Rose, MD, who served until recently as professor of clinical dermatology at the University of South Florida.

Newsier, but not-so-proven, are fat-busting creams with ingredients like caffeine, black tea, and theophylline (a form of caffeine). The theory is that these stimulants work to reduce thigh circumference by breaking down fat-cell stores more rapidly.

The process: No matter which formula you use, youll need a good dose of patience. “Cellulite creams should be applied daily for about 8 weeks in order to see results,” Goldman says.

The proof: A study in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology reported that testers who used retinol creams for 6 months saw an improvement in skin firmness—from 11 to 15 percent on average. Early research on fat-burners looks encouraging, too. In a recent Goldman study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, some 76 percent of those using a fat-burning cream (containing caffeine and green tea) lost an average of 1⁄2 inch in their thigh circumference.

The payout: From $12 for drugstore brands to more than $60 for department-store or spa versions (you tend to get a higher percentage of active ingredients in pricier lines). Among your best over-the-counter options: Neutrogenas Anti-Cellulite Treatment, LOreals Sublime Slim Anti-Cellulite + Skin Sculpting Body Firming Gel, Shiseidos Body Creator Aromatic Firming Cream, and Avons Cellu-Sculpt Anti-Cellulite Slimming Treatment.

Devices that roll away ripples
It was big news in the mid-1990s when Endermologie became the first FDA-approved method for the reduction of cellulite. Its now one of the top cellulite procedures at doctors offices and spas.

The process: During any Endermologie session, you squeeze yourself into a skintight nylon/spandex bodysuit. Then a technician runs a device (basically, a vacuuming head surrounded by rollers) over your trouble spots—suctioning, pulling, and squeezing them for 20 to 30 minutes. The newer machines use less suction power and smaller, independently moving rollers, making for a session thats less like torture and more like a massage. Youll get some swelling and redness with either method, but the newer one tends to work much faster—in 10 rather than 14 to 20 visits (doctors usually recommend two treatments per week).

The proof: Endermologie originally received FDA clearance after a clinical study found it to be both safe and effective. “We checked the subjects at 10 and 20 weeks,” says study co-author Lillian Nanney, PhD, director of plastic surgery at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “And we found that while their fat did not disappear, the connective tissue in the treated area became thicker, giving the appearance of firmer skin. These results improved with each new treatment.”

The payout: Endermologie can get pricey, running between $80 and $150 per session. Go to to find a doctor near you.