Does CoolSculpting® work on cellulite? Before we can discuss the effect of CoolSculpting® on cellulite, we first need to talk about what cellulite is and how it affects people.
When we have clients seeking CoolSculpting® in Dallas for a leg transformation, one of the first questions we ask is about skin texture. Are you happy with the overall shape of the leg? The quality of the skin? The texture?
Regardless of whether you’re searching for inner thigh, outer thigh, or under the buttock (aka the banana roll) treatment, you should understand the effects that do and the effects that don’t occur with CoolSculpting®, especially around the topic of cellulite.
Cellulite is one of the most common beauty-related concerns for people of all ages, especially women. Dr. Phillip Dauwe, our board-certified medical director thinks it’s important to keep in mind that “cellulite is not always the sign of aging, and it is not always a sign of being overweight. Some of the healthiest people I know have cellulite in various places, and so does my 7-month old baby girl.”
What Is Cellulite?
Cellulite is the term for “lumpy, dimpled flesh on the thighs, hips, buttocks and abdomen” according to Mayo Clinic. It’s most common in adult women, and it’s not a serious medical condition. You don’t need to seek treatment by any means, but we do understand that it can impact the way you feel about yourself. Most people don’t love the look of dimpled skin, especially on the back of the leg.
Dr. Dauwe defines cellulite as “a deformity of the surface of the skin created by multiple components below the skin.”
But it’s not a health concern. Cellulite has to do with the fibrous connective cords that tether the skin to the underlying muscle (with subcutaneous fat sandwiched in between). As the fat accumulates and grows, the fat cells push up against the skin and the long, tough cords pull down. Basically, that causes an uneven surface (aka dimpling) on the skin and you’re left with cellulite.
Take a look at this photo. As the fat cells enlarge (due to weight gain), the connective tissue puts pressure on the surface of the skin and you see the “dimpling” most commonly called cellulite.
(photo credit: https://www.zwivel.com/blog/cellulite-removal-treatments/)
“At least 90% of women have cellulite,” says Dr. Gregory LaTrenta, a NYC-based plastic surgeon to Zwivel on their blog covering cellulite. Dr. Joseph Russo, a plastic surgeon out of Boston reported that “the causes of cellulite are complicated and likely have more to do with genetics than anything else.” And Dr. David Bank, a board-certified dermatologist out of Mount Kisko, NY also spoke on the causes of cellulite:
“We know that cellulite is caused by the interaction and vicious cycle of swollen fat cells, impaired lymphatic drainage, and basic skin anatomy, but the biologic process behind [it] is not completely understood”.
When we asked Dr. Dauwe to dive deep into the anatomy and science of cellulite, he explained the multiple components below the skin that can lead to cellulite. “The first component is a tethering band of connective tissue that connects the subsurface of the skin to the underling tissue called the fascia. The second component is a layer of superficial adipose cells, or fat cells, that create volume under the skin. The third component is interstitial fluid, or swelling” says Dr. Dauwe on cellulite.
An ice cube analogy to explain cellulite
We’re a sucker for any analogy, especially when it refers to cold. Dr. LaTrenta likens skin impacted by cellulite to an ice cube tray (and we love it).
“Fat under the skin’s layers are the ice cubes and the septae are the dividers in the tray. When fat builds up in the lower legs, as happens with age, pregnancy, and weight gain – you’re more likely to see cellulite. It’s as if the water in the ice cube tray fills and covers the tops of the dividers, or septae.”
Why women have more cellulite than men
The reason cellulite is more common in women than in men is because of basic anatomy. Women typically have more subcutaneous fat and fewer septae. While you may see cellulite in women in their twenties, it’s most common in women as they reach their forties and fifties as their skin loses some of its elasticity.
Let’s talk about what works & what doesn’t to get rid of cellulite:
You’re not going to like this next statement. The simplest and best way to get rid of cellulite is: diet, exercise, and hydration. There’s no quick fix, there’s no easy way out. Not even CoolSculpting® cellulite, which we’ll explain more below. Cellulite can’t be prevented, but it can be minimized through healthy choices. If you’re overweight, healthy eating and regular exercise can improve the appearance of dimpled skin. Weight loss and exercise won’t make it go away completely though… which brings me to the next thing.
“Not all cellulite is the same,” says Dr. Dauwe, “and the types of cellulite have been classified by various medical journal manuscripts. The two large types of cellulite are ‘wavy’ and ‘dimpled’. The ‘dimpled’ type is characterized by a collection of discreet dimples that are created by a single band under the skin that can be cut. This type is more easily treated and is often successful. The ‘wavy’ type has less discreet bands tethering the skin and therefore is more difficult to treat. Unfortunately, this is the more common type of cellulite. The bottom line with cellulite treatment is that it is a very difficult condition to treat successfully, and CoolSculpting® cellulite may or may not work.”
Non-Medical Options to Get Rid of Cellulite
Massage / Manual Manipulation to decrease cellulite
Some treatments are based on the concept of vigorous massage that increases blood flow, removes toxins and reduces excess fluid in cellulite-prone areas. Have you heard of those fascia blasters? We’ve had a few clients have great success while using them. We’ve also had patients see massage therapists regularly to help with blood flow and lymphatic drainage, which seemed to help during the time they were actively having massages. Let us know your experiences with massage, fascia blasters, or manual manipulation of the tissue? We’d love to update the blog with more detail here (email firstname.lastname@example.org). If you’re going this route, you’ll probably notice slight improvements, but your results are likely short-lived.
Another cheap fix? Camouflage
Got Spanx? Support hose or tights? Compression can help prevent cellulite from forming by limiting fat accumulation. You’ll need to chat with a doctor to dive deeper here, because it depends on where, why, age, and many other factors. But yoga pants? Throw them on, wear them often. Tell anyone who says tights aren’t pants to talk to the hand & that you’re fighting cellulite.
Spray tans and self-tanners (but PLEASE for all that’s good in the world protect your skin and don’t sacrifice it to the sun gods because of cellulite) can make the dimpling less obvious too. It basically just makes your skin look better, making imperfections a little bit less noticeable. That’s also why Jessie gets a spray tan before she goes on vacation! (Let’s get real, that’s why every woman gets a spray tan before vacation at this point.).
Medical Treatments to Improve Cellulite
Perhaps the most promising option besides weight loss is using medical intervention in the form of lasers, light, pressure, radiofrequency, etc. We’ve yet to see anything get rid of cellulite forever, but here’s the options.
Surgery is probably the most well-known option for body-contouring. During liposuction, a plastic surgeon (like Dr. Dauwe) inserts a narrow tube under the skin and suctions out the fat. Liposuction won’t technically remove cellulite, and depending on your body, skin type and skin integrity, and the surgical plan, it might even worsen the appearance of cellulite. You’ll need to see a plastic surgeon to wrap your head around this one….
Lasers, Topical Treatments, and Devices (OH MY!)
If you’re desperate for a fix for cellulite, here’s what we know. The FDA classifies the treatment options into a few categories: topical treatments, non-invasive, and surgical options. People have tried everything… seriously. Take a gander down the rabbit hole of google.
A few of our colleagues have tried a twice-daily application of caffeine and retinol-based creams, which apparently can be effective until you wash it off or stop using it. This cream option can be semi-successful in the eyes of our peers, but don’t break your bank on this. Forget about the claims that herbal extracts will help – they won’t. It’s difficult for anything topical to work because it has to be absorbed, and none of the creams or ointments we tried were able to penetrate the skin’s outer layer deep enough to impact the fat underneath. The retinol and caffeine both help boost collagen levels and makes the skin look firmer and tighter but won’t remove cellulite altogether.
Most creams don’t work, they cost a lot of money and they can harm you if you don’t use them properly. Make sure you chat with a medical professional before you try any topical treatments.
Lasers and Devices
Endermology machines are one option of Class 1 devices that “suck up the skin and iron it out” according to LaTrenta, who has had some success using endermology when combined with diet, exercise, and hydration. It seems to be the same idea as the vigorous massage but uses a device to assist in the process. What’s the downside? You must keep doing regular treatments to maintain smoother skin.
Class 2 devices include Vanquish, Triactive, and VelaSmooth. You aren’t required to be a physician to operate these devices, but you do require training (and you should meet a doctor before you’re treated, just like CoolSculpting®). We weren’t impressed with the results on any of these options when we looked at long term results, so we’re just breezing right along.
When you upgrade to Class 3 devices, you’ve got Cellulaze and Cellfina. Most patients need a sedative or be put to sleep to be comfortable in these procedures, and you should expect some downtime. We have a few friends who’ve elected to have Cellfina a few years ago and their results seem to be somewhat more permanent. (They were coached from their provider that the septea will eventually reform, but it can take 5 to 10 years.) Cellulaze uses a laser to cut the fibrous bands that constrain the skin and cause dimpling. Cellfina severs the same bands but uses a precise oscillating blade. Good thing you’ve got anesthesia, right?
Does CoolSculpting® Work on Cellulite?
Cryolipolysis is the non-invasive procedure we all know and love, commonly referred to as CoolSculpting®. The FDA shows promise in improving the appearance of cellulite along the sides of the body by freezing the fat cells. But there’s not as much promise in CoolSculpting® cellulite in the legs if you want our opinion. Of course, if there’s less fat, it’s less noticeable. But we wouldn’t recommend seeking CoolSculpting® for cellulite. If you’re unsure of whether it’s cellulite or excess fat, that’s why our consultations are free and you can book online here.
Special Thanks to the Knowledge and Resources Used in this Article
We want to thank Drs. Bank, Russo, LaTrenta, Mendieta, and Giese for their expertise, as well as Zwivel, LLC for their incredible article on cellulite.
And as always, special shout out to Dr. Phillip Dauwe for his clear medical direction, knowledge, and insight on cellulite for the team at Element Body Lab.
Happy freezing! ❄️
Element Body Lab, the Dallas CoolSculpting® Experts