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Smooth Out Cellulite

Q: I've noticed that a lot of spas are offering new treatments to get rid of cellulite. Do these types of therapies really work?

A: The most important thing to remember when considering cellulite treatments is that, along with proper diet and exercise, they can only improve the appearance of cellulite. "The truth is we still don't have a magic wand we can wave to get rid of cellulite," says dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., co-director of laser surgery at the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, D.C. "We can temporarily improve how it looks, but we aren't yet close to a permanent solution." /00

Cellulite occurs when fibrous bands of connective tissue (which give the skin support and elasticity) pull down on fat, causing the fat to bulge up unevenly under the skin. The less fat you have, the less noticeable cellulite is, which is why diet and exercise play an important role. Be cautious about the claims made by some of the spa treatments listed below. Results disappear once you discontinue treatment, but they can provide a welcome respite just in time for bikini season. Here, what you need to know:

Endermologie uses gentle suction massage to temporarily loosen the connective tissue that gives fat and skin its bumpy look and to increase circulation in the area -- both helping to make the skin appear smoother. A series of weekly treatments over one to two months is recommended to see results. Cost: $50-$150 per session, depending on your location. (Log on to endermologie.com for more information.)

Tri-Active LaserDermology combines mechanical massage (to loosen connective tissue) with a laser that heats the skin and the layers of fat beneath it in an attempt to break down the fat pockets and increase circulation. A cooling mechanism also lowers the skin's temperature to prevent discomfort and swelling from the laser's heat. Ten to 15 sessions are usually required. Cost: $100-$200 per treatment, depending on your location. (Log on to cynosurelaser.com for more information.)

VelaSmooth treatments consist of radio-frequency waves (to break up fat pockets), followed by infrared heat (which warms the area to increase circulation), and massage, which helps loosen connective tissue. VelaSmooth is currently approved for use in Canada and Europe, but Food and Drug Administration approval in the United States is pending. (Click on syneron.com/cellulite.html for updates and information.)

A New Approach To Cellulite
Howard Murad, M.D., Los Angeles-based dermatologist and best-selling author of Wrinkle-Free Forever (St. Martin's Press, 2004), is turning his attention to cellulite. His new book, The Cellulite Solution: A Doctor's Program for Losing Lumps, Bumps, Dimples, and Stretch Marks (St. Martin's Press, 2005), posits that cellulite results from several factors:
1. The cells in the affected areas "leak" essential water into surrounding tissue (a process that's triggered by inflammation and free radicals, which are highly reactive oxygen molecules created by environmental stressors like the sun's rays and pollution).
2. Over time, this water loss damages the connective tissue, says Murad. It's your connective tissue that keeps your skin firm and gives it elasticity, but it's also the connective tissue, when damaged, that allows buoyant fat cells to rise and clump, giving skin the classic cellulite look.
3. This water loss also damages the skin's circulation, which is why, says Murad, "you're more likely to also see bruises and spider veins in areas where there is cellulite."

What you can do to combat cellulite, according to Murad: First, improve your eating habits. Getting the proper nutrients (like glucosamine, essential fatty acids and the B vitamins) in your daily diet can help prevent the initial water loss from cells. "Foods like soy, blueberries and nuts seem to help build proper connective tissue and improve circulation," says Murad. Second, apply topical cellulite and body-firming products to the problem areas; these products should contain circulation-boosting ingredients like cayenne pepper, horse chestnut tree extract and/or gotu kola.

Topical Fixes

Cellulite and body-firming creams can temporarily help dimply skin appear smoother by boosting circulation, helping to eliminate excess water and improving skin's condition and tone. Here are some of the newest options: Shiseido Body Creator Aromatic Salt Scrub ($35) has the signature aromatic scent (uplifting grapefruit, pepper, fennel and tarragon) of the original toning Body Creator gel. It's the perfect preparation for Body Creator Aromatic Firming Cream ($55; both at www.sca.shiseido.com). With regular use, expect to see results in four weeks. L'Oreal Sublime Slim Day Anti-Cellulite + Skin Sculpting Body Firming Gel and Sublime Slim Night Anti-Cellulite + Smoothing Body Toning Gel ($13.89 each; both at drugstores) work in tandem with caffeine and gingko biloba to help stimulate circulation; Par-Elastyl, a patented ingredient, helps firm. Expect results in four weeks. Clarins Total Body Lift ($56.50; gloss.com) is a lightweight gel with caffeine, geranium and cang zhu, a Chinese medicinal herb. Expect results after four weeks of use. Murad Firm and Tone Serum ($65; murad.com) contains stimulating cayenne pepper, cat's claw and horse chestnut tree extract. With intake of the right nutrients (see "A New Approach to Cellulite," page 104) expect results in about eight weeks.

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