The aisle in the pharmacy promising cellulite cures, fat burning tablets or weightloss supplements always surprises me. There are so many products all claiming to have the miracle cure. Everyone loves a quick fix, but do these products actually work?
A dimple by any other name
Cellulite is the term for dimpling of the skin, usually located on the hips, buttocks and thighs, resembling orange peel texture. It is often associated with rapid weight gain, but can be found in both overweight and normal BMI people. It is more common in women, and generally appears after puberty. While not a serious medical condition, its associated stigma can cause distress in many people. Hence, the plethora of anti-cellulite creams.
Coffee with cream?
Most anti-cellulite creams contain agents that stimulate and tighten the skin, to reduce the dimpling appearance, while others target fat cells. One study compared a placebo (or dummy cream) with an anti-cellulite cream containing caffeine and ginger root extract, amongst other things. The investigators found no physical differences but respondents reported high satisfaction with the product, meaning that they thought it had worked.
The jury is still out on whether these creams do actually work. There are a huge number of studies out there and the results are inconclusive. Some studies have shown results to the surface of the skin, or to fat cells, while others have not.
In the studies that show a difference, it appears that these creams only work temporarily. Also, it is not known if the active ingredients of the creams actually reach their targets or a just absorbed by the epidermis.
One article wrote that the current theory of the industry is that more is better when it comes to active ingredients, and so the creams will often contain ‘skin firming’ ingredients, caffeine, as well as ‘slimming’ ingredients. In many cases, the positive benefit felt by users is increased skin softness and smoothness, not a reduction of cellulite.
To be perfectly honest, I was quite surprised by the amount of literature available on anti-cellulite creams! Am I sold on the evidence that the creams work? I’m not sure. It appears that many of the active ingredients can reduce the size of fat cells, or tighten skin, but whether these are lasting effects, we don’t know.
It is important to consider that a quick fix is just that, a temporary quick fix that doesn’t address the underlying problem. Although cellulite can be genetic and be found on people with a low BMI, it is exacerbated by fat tissue. This means that lifestyle decisions can impact cellulite. At the end of the day, diet and exercise are a more long-term solution to cellulite reduction.
One article concluded:
Treatment modalities for cellulite range from topical creams to invasive procedures, such as liposuction.
There is no single treatment of cellulite that is completely effective.
Future treatment options for cellulite depend upon our understanding of the molecular basis and hormonal influences of cellulite adipose tissue.
Kahn et al, 2010.
As long as these products do not contain dangerous ingredients, and improve people’s outlook, what is the harm? The bigger problem is that often these products make claims that do not have the evidence to support them. In terms of the pharmaceutical industry, rigorous studies are being conducted, however many of the purely cosmetic products are unregulated and unverified, so I guess the final thought is this: pick your products wisely and assume that they may not work, nor have hard science behind them!
Draelos, ZD. Science and the Validation of Cosmeceutical Formulations. Journal of cosmetic dermatology. , 2014, Vol.13(3), p.167
Khan, Misbah H., et al. “Treatment of cellulite: Part II. Advances and controversies.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 62.3 (2010): 373-384.