I’ve had cellulite longer than I’ve worn a bra – that’s more than three decades of dimpled thighs. It attached itself to me in my teens and I’ve been miserably dragging it along on beach holidays ever since. I don’t think of myself as a particularly vain person but cellulite is the one affliction that has always bothered me.
My cellulite was always described as ‘fairly mild’ by the experts treating me, but this didn’t stop me hating it. You could see the larger hollows through pale-coloured yoga pants (I’m a yoga teacher) and I’d taken to wearing mini board shorts on holiday to spare others the sight of my motley rear. It doesn’t help that I’ve spent a third of my adulthood in Asia, where far fewer women are affected by orange peel skin.
Over the years, I’ve attacked my butt and thighs with pricey creams, restrictive diets, detoxing, targeted exercise, dry-skin brushing , suction devices, ultrasound, radiofrequency and mesotherapy (where a cocktail of vitamins, minerals and mild pharmaceuticals is injected into the flesh, promoting circulation, boosting collagen and allegedly dissolving fat). Only mesotherapy delivered a degree of smoothness, but this was short-lived.
Like me, many women persevere with cellulite ‘cures’ that fail because they witness minor improvements straight after a treatment and their hopes are raised. “But most treatments give results by generating soft-tissue swelling, which masks cellulite and temporarily smooths the skin,” explains cosmetic surgeon Mr Apul Parikh, who carries out non-surgical cellulite treatments at London’s PHI Clinic.
Previously, liposuction was regarded as the only permanent solution to cellulite, but this surgical procedure removes deep levels of fat without addressing the more superficial problem of cellulite. In short, you’ll end up as a thinner version of your dimpled self. Liposuction can also leave you with wonky body contouring, scars and changes in skin sensation – so it’s not a procedure to be taken lightly.
Many non-surgical cellulite treatments are based on the idea that cellulite results from water and/or toxic fluid build-up and that by flushing out this stagnant matter through pummelling and brushing, the problem will be solved. Dr Parikh is unimpressed by this ‘drainage’ theory. “There’s no link between cellulite and poor circulation,” he says. “For a short period, deep massage can make the skin look better by moving lymph, but stop massaging and you’ll soon be back where you started.”
We see this as the future of cellulite treatments – because it worksAs a yoga teacher, biology graduate and health writer, I’d grown dissatisfied with the ‘toxin’ explanation for cellulite even before meeting Dr Parikh. I’d made it my mission to drill down to the bottom of the matter (pun intended) and unearth its true causes and find a treatment based on the science of cellulite. I came across Cellfina and it simply made sense.
How Cellfina snips your cellulite
Cellfina is an FDA-approved cellulite treatment kicking ass across America and is now available in eight clinics across the UK. It attacks the biological scaffolding of cellulite, fixing the problem at its root. It doesn’t suction away fat but instead cuts the connective bands that cause the dimpling effect. These bands (called septae) lie at right angles to the skin surface, anchoring the skin to underlying tissue in an arrangement that resembles a 3D picket fence, shunting the fat into a quilt-like pattern. We need these bands of connective tissue – they hold everything in place, stopping our entire fat load sinking to our feet. But when they contract and harden, which can start in adolescence, they tug on the skin, pulling it down and creating the dimpled appearance of cellulite.
“Cellfina is very new to the UK and there has been very little publicity, but news is reaching women from America and we’re already treating around one patient every week,” says Dr Parikh. “We see this as the future of cellulite treatments – because it works.”
Using a tiny scalpel that pierces the skin, Cellfina destroys some of the fibrous bands that create those unsightly lumps – but not all of them. The challenge is to cut enough bands to make a visible different but not so many that your layers of subcutaneous tissue lose their structural integrity. It’s a one-off procedure that takes up to an hour and is designed to give permanent results, though follow-up data has only been available for three years post-procedure, as the treatment is so new.
A typical treatment involves the ‘release’ of 20 to 50 fibrous bands covering the backside and thighs. It describes itself as ‘painless and minimally invasive’, however it is a medical procedure involving an operating table and a medical team in scrubs and the recovery, as I discovered, takes time.
Anaesthetic, scalpel, suction… what Cellfina feels like
First, Mr Parikh assessed my ass to see if I was a good candidate. “This treatment works best on women who are not overweight and have moderate cellulite with no skin laxity,” he explains. Skin laxity (i.e. sagging caused by age or major weight loss) appears as wavy lines on the flesh and is often mistaken for cellulite. An over-abundance of cellulite would require the destruction of so many fibrous bands, the skin’s integrity would suffer. Turns out, I qualified.
At a second appointment, I was marked up with a sharpie – a circle drawn around each dimple, amounting to 35 circles on my bum and the back of my thighs. I was then injected at each dimple site with local anaesthetic. Most people find the numbing injections the most uncomfortable part of the procedure but I didn’t notice these at all.
Dr Parikh then set to work with the Cellfina. A vacuum chamber was centred over the first lump and my skin was suction-cupped into the chamber, creating a taut dome of flesh. A micro-scalpel (more of a needle) was then inserted into the centre of the dome (the needle goes in to between six and 10mm) and through rapid oscillations of the blade, the fibrous bands were cut, releasing the overlying skin.
Mercifully, there’s no sensation when the scalpel does its work. What did make me wince (and occasionally whimper) was the strong action of the vacuum cup, but apparently I’m alone here – no one else seems to mind having their flesh vacuumed.
It took 45 minutes to treat all my dimples. Once done, I was covered in gauze and squeezed into compression pants to be worn for two weeks and designed to contain bruising and swelling. The bruising and swelling, I was told, would appear over the next few days.
I made the foolish mistake of going about my day as though nothing had happened – I pounded the streets, met with a friend, ate out. My legs were so inflated by the time I got home, I could barely bend at the knees. Note to self: next time you set out to traumatise your legs, don’t wear skinny jeans.
The recovery – black and blue for weeks