4 Different Ways to Conquer Nasty Cellulite

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Photo: AntonioGuillem

A supposed 80 percent of women have cellulite, myself included. "Love your flaws! Embrace who you are! Beauty is in the imperfection!" we all say. But blame magazines, overly Photoshopped images, and a lifelong hatred of cottage cheese: I want my cellulite gone. To see if anything could really help, I tried four different procedures for conquering cellulite.

Popular cellulite treatments run the gamut from gentle to borderline S&M. I tried four. And while I took plenty of before and after pictures during this month of treatments for my own analysis, I will not be sharing any #cellfies here. Sorry, I just can't. So, like that time I tried at-home laser armpit-hair removal, you’ll have to take my word on the results.

Lymphatic drainage: This is one of the more common techniques recommended, particularly by French ladies. According to Dr. Shirley Madhere, lymphatic drainage can be effective for improving the appearance of cellulite because it can address any underlying fluid or circulation factors. She specifically recommends the Vodder technique, a type of manual lymphatic drainage developed by a doctor in — you guessed it — France. Laure Seguin, a lovely and soft-spoken Frenchwoman who trained with an acolyte of Dr. Vodder’s, does at-home lymphatic drainages. She is like the Uber of French cellulite reduction.  

She warned me that “it’s not like American massage.” You can’t do deep-tissue massages for the lymphatic system “because all the lymph ducts run right under the skin,” Seguin says. “So if you go deep on your skin, you cut off circulation.” The massage was quite gentle — more like a caress than a vigorous rubdown, because you need to coax the lymph along. All lymph vessels flow toward the heart, where they dump their contents into large lymphatic ducts, so the massage is done in strokes toward the heart.

It got weird when Seguin went for my belly. Because there are 800 to 1,200 lymph nodes in the abdomen and they’re buried pretty deep, you really have to get down in there to stimulate them. When my belly started gurgling, Seguin let out a happy sound and said, “It’s lovely! I love all this noise!” (Because it’s feedback that means all that prodding is working.)

Optimally, Seguin recommends lymphatic massage three times a week for three to four weeks, then twice a week until you start seeing strong improvement, then once a week, and then monthly for maintenance. She charges $170 per session, or offers a package of ten for $1,400. I only did one for the experience, and as she warned me, I didn’t see any improvement on the cellulite on my outer thighs. However, my belly was delightfully flat and non-bloated for a solid two days, thanks to the abdominal draining. But in general, lymphatic drainage is a high-maintenance and expensive habit, and one you have to keep up in order to continue to see results.

Dry brushing: I decided to use all my newfound knowledge of the lymphatic system to attempt to DIY my cellulite into oblivion in the privacy of my own bathroom. Dry brushing is an easy way to perform lymphatic drainage on yourself and to increase circulation, which plumps everything up temporarily and improves the texture of your skin, making cellulite look less obvious. It’s also cheap and quick. I grabbed two natural-bristle brushes (recommended because their bristles are harder), one from Sonia Kashuk ($6.29) and a posher and slightly rougher one from Elemis ($45), and consulted aesthetician Joanna Vargas.

Start at the tops of the feet and brush upward toward the heart,” Vargas recommends. “Spend extra time on areas that tend to be more stagnant, like the inner thigh, and don't forget to include the backs of the arms and the back.” Note: Don’t scrub your outer thighs until they’re raw.

I’ve been doing this for more than two weeks now, and it’s a procedure that’s going to be a keeper in my daily routine. First of all, it feels really good. Once you get used to the dry prickliness, it leaves a really relaxing tingling, almost-electric sensation on your skin for quite a while afterward. It’s also a fabulous exfoliator — the first time I tried it I was simultaneously disgusted and excited at all the small flakes of skin that came flying off my legs. The downside to that, though, is that dry brushing also removed some of my self-tanner, which had previously been my method of choice to camouflage lumps and bumps. Bonus: Dry brushing feels really good on itchy mosquito bites.

In terms of cellulite, Vargas says that “two weeks straight of dry brushing will give you the bottom you have always wanted, high and smooth.” That hasn’t exactly happened, but after a thorough comparison of my before and after #cellfies, I’ve noticed some small improvement and everything definitely feels smoother to the touch.

At-home gadget: I decided to step things up and bring machinery into my arsenal, in the form of Bliss’s FatGirlSlim Lean Machine ($145). This handheld gadget squeezes sections of skin between two rollers, while simultaneously applying suction, supposedly resulting in better circulation.

There’s a learning curve with the Lean Machine. After you apply the included FatGirlSlim cream to the area you want to treat, you can choose what level of suction and pulsation you want. You also might want to consider doing the treatment behind closed doors, because standing with your bare leg perched on the toilet seat while you roll a gadget that sounds like a small dump truck up and down your leg is not sexy.

I’ve been treating one side for the last nine days and leaving the other as a control, and I’ve noticed that the treated side definitely looks smoother after a treatment than the untreated side, but then it’s back to normal by the next morning. So it may be a good option if you’re (a) a swimsuit competitor or (b) like wearing no pants regularly. It gives a temporary smoothness that is fairly noticeable, at least to someone who’s been analyzing her cellulite on a zoomed-in level for a full month. 

No-expenses-spared spa treatment: When you are offered an anti-cellulite treatment at one of the most chi-chi spas in the world, you accept it. L.Raphael, founded by Ronit Raphael Leitersdorf, has spas in Geneva, Cannes, Moscow, and New York. Mrs. Raphael Leitersdorf, an exceptionally elegant woman who said she was in her 50s, started the business in Israel after a second-degree burn she received as the result of a skin-peel procedure she had in her teens prompted her to devote her life to skin care.

I was there for the Body Sculpturing procedure, which uses a proprietary device that incorporates radio frequency, heat, and suction to smooth out cellulite, “shrink fat chambers, increase blood flow, and enhance lymphatic drainage,” according to the spa’s rep. Mrs. Raphael Leitersdorf deemed that since I was there, I should also try the Oxy Anti-Cellulite service. I was warned by no fewer than three different people, including Mrs. Raphael Leitersdorf, that the treatments wouldn’t be “relaxing or comfortable.” With a sense of foreboding, I found myself in an enormous treatment room with an aesthetician on each leg — Tatiana manned the RF machine, while Aleksandra was in charge of the oxygen treatment.

First off, Tatiana told me that my cellulite “wasn’t that bad.” In fact, it was only a grade 1 out of 4, suggesting to me that maybe perception is worse than reality, and also that maybe I should lay off the magnifying mirror for a while. Aleksandra opened a box containing various potions and ampoules, which she poured into a chamber attached to an oxygen machine with a small cannula attached at the end. She warned me that it was “strong.” Imagine being power-washed with some super-chic serum and that will give you an idea of what it was like. The oxygen and pressure exfoliate the skin, allowing the magical serum to penetrate your skin better. After the not-so-uncomfortable power-washing, though, came a thigh massage that left me with a constellation of purple thumb-print-size bruises. It hurt. A lot.

But luckily, I had Tatiana vacuuming my other leg with her RF suction machine, which took my mind off the pain that Aleksandra was inflicting. I wouldn’t say the heated suction hurt, but it didn’t feel good either, particularly on the inner-thigh area that Aleksandra had lovingly brutalized to help with “drainage.” Both of them told me that I’d have great results in two to three days, and they regaled me with stories of women flying in weekly from places like Texas and Minnesota to get the treatments. My outer thighs and butt definitely felt and looked smoother for a few days (my bruised inner thighs, not so much); four days later, I don’t notice much of a difference. The team recommended that I come for the treatment once a week, then monthly for maintenance. Sadly, the price precludes this possibility: My treatments (which were graciously comped to me) cost a grand total of $3,742. I’ll leave you with that.

If body acceptance is priceless, that’s my new goal.