Experts weigh in on whether your favorite recovery technique can do double duty.
Ah, cellulite. Pretty much everyone's got it. "Approximately 80 to 90 percent of women will develop cellulite at some point after puberty," says Sonia Batra, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and regular co-host on The Doctors. In other words, it's extremely common and normal. And though most women have it, countless hours are spent trying to figure out how to get rid of it. While we're all for *not* caring about having cellulite, we also get that many women want to try to eliminate it.
One of the most popular natural treatments out there these days? Foam rolling. Yes, self-myofascial release is more of a recovery technique than an aesthetic solution, but it does keep your fascia healthy, which in theory could help reduce cellulite. But does it actually work? Turns out, experts say foam rolling can have an effect on cellulite, but probably not in the way you think. (Related: I Tried All the Non-Surgical Cellulite Treatments I Could Find and Here's What Worked)
First, it's important to understand what cellulite is and what causes it. "Cellulite is caused structurally by fibrous tethers that course through fat and create dimples, fluid and toxin accumulation, and the breakdown of collagen and elastin," says Dr. Batra. In the simplest terms, cellulite is a product of the way your fat is structured (thank your female genes for that one), fluid, and aging. #wompwomp. Those fibrous tethers that cause the puckered appearance of cellulite are attached to your fascia—the "secret organ" that Gwyneth Paltrow is always going on about—so it makes sense that people would look to foam rolling, a practice known to keep your fascia in good shape, to help solve it.
But don't expect immediate results. "Since our bodies are constantly changing, there's some ongoing maintenance involved, meaning you can't foam roll once and expect to never have cellulite again," explains Tiffany Cruikshank, L.Ac., R.Y.T., a licensed acupuncturist and founder of Yoga Medicine. "In my experience, there's a recovery phase that is different from person to person but generally speaking, needs to be anywhere from five to 20 minutes a day until the areas with cellulite have transitioned." Once you've achieved the results you're looking for, rolling a few times a week will be enough to maintain, she says. Cruikshank does acknowledge, though, that if you want to reduce the actual amount of cellulite you have rather than just reduce its appearance, the appropriate diet and exercise modifications must also be made to minimize body fat overall.
Here's why that "maintenance" phase is so important. "Foam rolling may cause some swelling, which can give the illusion of a smoother appearance on the skin, but it does not actually change the fibrous bands that cause the pockets of fat to bulge," explains Constance M. Chen, M.D., a plastic surgeon based in New York. So once the swelling goes down, your cellulite will reveal itself again, making the whole upkeep thing a necessity. Foam rolling can also promote lymphatic drainage and decrease fluid accumulation in areas where you have cellulite, which might make it appear smoother, Dr. Batra says, but again—this is temporary.
In terms of long-term results, there's only one (and it's a maybe): "Since the fibrous tethers that create the dimpled look of cellulite are attached to underlying fascia, if foam rolling strengthens the fascia, the skin may appear more firm," Dr. Batra explains. There's no guarantee that will happen, though, even if you foam roll every day.
And FWIW, not all experts agree on this topic. While many believe that it's possible to reduce the look of cellulite through foam rolling, some say it might actually have the opposite effect. "Foam rolling causes excess force and tension on skin, which stretches it and creates more loose skin, which can subsequently cause deeper tethering," says Douglas Steinbrech, M.D., a plastic surgeon based in NYC and L.A. "I don't think that this would be helpful at all and actually may be making the situation worse."
So what's the bottom line? Instead of actually getting rid of cellulite, foam rolling has the potential to make it less noticeable—if you're committed to it. If you already incorporate foam rolling into your routine, you might enjoy the benefits of a temporary reduction in appearance, but don't expect these results to last beyond a few days.
For something more permanent, Dr. Chen says that non-surgical options are limited. "Cellulite is largely genetic, although age and body type can influence it as well. Thus, a woman who is genetically predisposed to cellulite may not be able to get rid of it completely." That being said, minimizing body fat, exercising, and not smoking can all improve its appearance, she says. Another option? Take a cue from this woman who calls her cellulite "fancy fat" and think of it as a "natural, healthy, built-in decoration."