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J Cosmet Laser Ther 2005; 7: 1–5# J Cosmet Laser Ther. All rights reserved ISSN 1476-4172DOI: 10.1080/14764170410003057 Cellulite: a review of its physiologyand treatment tation. This greatly complicates theability to treat or improve it. The fourleading hypotheses that purport to states and in those patients receiving estrogen therapy forprostate cancer. Interestingly, the cellulite becomes more Cellulite describes the orange peel or cottage cheese-type severe as the androgen deficiency worsens in these males.
dimpling of skin seen most commonly on the thighs and Cellulite can be located in any area of the body that buttocks.1–3 The term ‘cellulite’ has its origins in the French contains subcutaneous adipose tissue.4 Certain areas are, medical literature of more than 150 years ago.4 Synonyms however, more susceptible, such as the upper outer thighs, include: adiposis edematosa, dermopanniculosis defor- the posterior thighs, and buttocks. Cellulite can also be mans, status protrusus cutis, and gynoid lipodystrophy.5,6 found on the breasts, the lower part of the abdomen, the The term ‘cellulite’ has penetrated both the medical upper arms, and the nape of the neck – interestingly, all literature and lay media. There is no morbidity or areas in which the female pattern of adipose deposition is mortality associated with cellulite and, therefore, it observed. Although cellulite may be found in any area cannot truly be described as a pathologic condition.5 where excess adipose tissue is deposited, obesity is not Cellulite remains, however, an issue of cosmetic concern to Despite its high prevalence, there have been few scientific Between 85% and 98% of post-pubertal females display investigations into the physiology of cellulite. There have some degree of cellulite. It is prevalent in women of all only been a few dozen peer-reviewed articles devoted to races7 but is more common in Caucasian females than in cellulite in the medical literature in the past 30 years. There Asian females.7 There appears to be a hormonal component is no definitive explanation for its presentation. This greatly to its presentation. It is rarely seen in males and almost complicates the ability to treat or improve it.
ubiquitous in post-pubertal females.1,4 It is seen morecommonly in males with androgen-deficient states such as The four leading hypotheses that purport to explain the Correspondence: Mathew M Avram, MD, JD, 2700 Neilson Way, physiology of cellulite include: sexually dimorphic skin Apartment 222, Santa Monica, CA 90405, USA.
architecture, altered connective tissue septae, vascular Tel: (z1) 310 403 6185 / (z1) 310 664 6765;Email: The Charlesworth Group, Wakefield +44(0)1924 369598 metabolic and structural events that lead to celluliteformation (referred to as gynoid lipodystrophy). According The ‘anatomic’ hypothesis of cellulite is based on gender- to their theory, the process originates with deterioration of related differences in the structural characteristics of the dermal vasculature, particularly in response to altera- subcutaneous fat lobules and the connective tissue septa tions of the pre-capillary arteriolar sphincter in affected that divide them. According to this theory, originally detailed by Nu¨rnberger and Mu¨ller, the appearance of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) in the dermal capillary walls cellulite, i.e. ‘pits’ and ‘dells’, or dimpled skin, is caused by and within the ground substance between collagen and herniations of fat, termed ‘papillae adiposae’, that protrude elastin networks. Increased capillary pressure leads to from the subcutis through the inferior surface of a increased capillo-venular permeability and the retention of weakened dermis at the dermo-hypodermal interface.8 excess fluid within the dermis, inter-adipocyte and inter- These herniations of fat into the dermis are a characteristic lobular septae. GAGs, which have hydrophilic properties, of female anatomy and their presence has been confirmed raise the interstitial pressure and additionally attract water.
by ultrasound imaging as low-density regions among Edema causes cellular changes that ultimately result in vascular compression, vessel ectasia, decreased venous In a study using sonography to examine full-thickness return and tissue hypoxia. Hypoxia, coupled with the wedge biopsies from affected and unaffected portions of the increased proteoglycan deposition in dermal collagen and thigh, Rosenbaum and co-workers attempted to determine elastic fibers, triggers fibroplasia, collagenesis and capillary whether the dimpling of the skin seen in individuals with cellulite results from fat herniations into the dermis.2 They hemorrhage are noted histologically at this stage.
examined seven healthy adult females with cellulite as well Increased lipogenesis, presumably triggered by estrogen, as three healthy unaffected controls, consisting of one prolactin and diets rich in carbohydrates, in concert with woman and two men. Affected female subjects and the increased lipolytic resistance caused by hypoxia, leads to unaffected female control both demonstrated an irregular adipocyte hypertrophy.6 Enlarged adipocytes, together with and discontinuous dermo-hypodermal interface character- hypertrophy and hyperplasia of the peri-adipocyte reticular ized by protrusions of fat into the dermis, whereas the fibers, leads to the formation of micronodules, or enlarged, dermal-adipose tissue connective tissue border in male grouped adipocytes surrounded by clumps of protein fibers. In time, continued edema, vascular congestion andhypoxia lead to thickening and sclerosis of the fibrous septae in the superficial adipose tissue and deep dermis,causing a padded appearance.
Although the Nu¨rnberger and Mu¨ller hypothesis maintains Although Lotti and others support the finding of that the presence of cellulite is determined by fatty increased edema and abundant GAG deposition at the protrusions through the dermal-hypodermal interface,8 lower dermal/subcutaneous junction in affected patients Pie´rard and co-workers found no correlation in their with cellulite,3,4 this observation has not been replicated by study between the extent of these protrusions and clinical evidence of cellulite, thereby questioning their relevance inthe physiology of the condition.3 In a study using autopsyspecimens from the thighs of 24 previously healthy 28–39- year-old women with cellulite and a control group Based on the subjective reporting of tenderness upon consisting of 11 men and four women without cellulite, compression in some patients with cellulite,4,12 several the authors reveal important distinguishing characteristics authors have suggested an inflammatory basis for its within the micro-architecture of the subcutaneous con- pathophysiology.1,12 In a perspective on cellulite, Kligman nective tissue strands, well below the level of the dermal- has reported the diffuse appearance of chronic inflamma- hypodermal interface.3 Thirteen of the women in the study tory cells, including macrophages and lymphocytes, in the group demonstrated overt dimpling without pinching, or fibrous septae from biopsies of cellulite.12 According to ‘full-blown cellulite’, whereas the remaining 11 women Kligman, the septae are the source for a low-grade exhibited cellulite only with the application of pressure, a inflammation that results in adipolysis and dermal atrophy.
phenomenon termed ‘incipient cellulite’ or ‘cellulite- Others, however, find no evidence for inflammation or prone’. The authors conclude that persistent skin dimpling adipolysis in patients with cellulite.3,4,8 results from continuous and progressive vertically orientedstretch within these hypodermal collagen fibrous strands, aprocess that weakens the connective tissue buttress and There are numerous therapies that have been advertisedand employed to ‘treat’ cellulite.1,6 Despite multiple therapeutic modalities, there is, at best, little scientific In a review of cellulite, Rossi and Vergnanini describe a evidence that any of these treatments are beneficial. In fact, multifactorial basis for the etiology of cellulite.6 Based on much of the evidence is anecdotal, subjective or based descriptions by Curri10,11 and others, the authors detail the upon patient self-assessment. Other data rely on subjective The Charlesworth Group, Wakefield +44(0)1924 369598 assessment or patient satisfaction. In fairness, evaluation of attributed to weight loss secondary to diet and exercise therapeutic interventions for cellulite is difficult secondary rather than to skin kneading. Although the authors to confounding factors, such as diet and exercise, as well as conclude that Endermologie is not effective in the treat- the absence of standard criteria used to assess treatment ment of cellulite, one commentator has criticized the response.6 Some of the studies utilize thigh measurement 10-minute length of the Endermologie treatments in the and photography to assess improvement, which are far study as ‘not adequate’ and suggests 15–20-minute from precise. The best objective and standardized tools to treatments as more appropriate.15 Furthermore, self- accurately assess response to cellulite treatment are assessment is not a standardized, objective criterion for ultrasound and MRI imaging, which should be employed Treatment modalities can be divided into four main Liposuction. Liposuction is another method for treating categories: attenuation of aggravating factors, physical and cellulite.17 Although standard suction lipoplasty has been mechanical methods, pharmacological agents and laser.6 purported by some as an excellent means to improvebody contouring,18 others have reported an increaseddimpled skin appearance after liposuction.19 Whereas ultrasonic liposculpturing may perhaps emerge as a Cellulite-aggravating factors include stress, weight gain, superior, potentially safer, less destructive technique for sedentary lifestyle and hormonal contraceptives.6 Although cellulite reduction than traditional liposuction,20 liposuc- weight loss, diet and exercise have been cited as means of tion is still not a recommended treatment for cellulite improving cellulite,6,8 there are no studies to date that given the potential for a poor cosmetic outcome.
Many patients confuse weight gain with the appearance of cellulite. It is important to note that obesity does not employed to improve cellulite.21 It purports to correct cause cellulite. Adipocyte volume alone does create the anatomical structure of subcutaneous fat that pro- cellulite. Cellulite is present in nearly all lean females and duces cellulite by severing fat septae. In subcision, after very few obese males. Still, cellulite becomes more clinically injection of local anesthesia, a 16 or 18-gauge needle is apparent with weight gain. Moreover, weight loss does inserted into the subcutaneous fat and then directed in a diminish the appearance of cellulite even if it does not alter parallel direction to the epidermis. It is then used to the physiological reasons that produce it. Therefore, diet and exercise should be encouraged as an initial step in the Hexsel and Mazzuco investigated subcision as a treat- ment in 232 patients aged 18–52 years with clinicallyapparent cellulite.21 Over 78% of patients were satisfiedafter one treatment, 20% were partially satisfied and 1% were unhappy. There were no objective criteria by which to Endermologie. The basis for various massage-suction tech- assess improvement limiting the value of this study. Side niques used for cellulite treatment rests on the premise effects were not insignificant and included pain, bruising that the condition is caused by impaired circulation.
(3–6 months), hyperpigmentation (2–10 months) and skin Endermologie ES1 (LPG Systems, Valence, France), or skin kneading, is a non-pharmacological treatment devel-oped in France in the 1970s, which employs mechanical Phosphatidylcholine. Phosphatidylcholine injections have means to mobilize the subcutaneous fat in affected areas been used to treat localized fat accumulation in such dis- of the body.14 This technique utilizes a patented, electri- orders as HIV lipodystrophy and lipomas.22 Rotunda and cally powered hand-held machine used specifically for the colleagues have identified sodium deoxycholate, a deter- purpose of cellulite reduction. As the machine is moved gent that produces non-specific destruction of cell mem- over affected areas of the body, folds of skin protected branes, as the major active ingredient in this therapy.22 by nylon stockings are sucked into the machine and There is no current scientific evidence to show its effi- kneaded between two revolving rollers, a process that is claimed to improve the disorganization of the subcuta-neous tissue structure and improve lymphatic drai-nage.1,14 This procedure can be performed during twice- weekly visits consisting of sessions that last 10–45 min- Pharmacological agents used for the improvement of utes.1,14,15 Despite the high cost of Endermologie, there cellulite include xanthines, retinoids, lactic acid, and is little evidence to support its efficacy.16 herbals.1,6 Although there are numerous topical treatments Collis and co-workers conducted a 12-week, rando- that are available over-the-counter at pharmacies, spas and mized, controlled trial of 52 women to examine the boutiques1 and via the Internet at cellulite websites,23 there effectiveness of either Endermologie or aminophylline are no large-scale studies demonstrating the effectiveness of versus a combination of both.14 There was no statistical any of these therapies. Only two agents, aminophylline and difference in the thigh measurements between the patients.
retinoids, have been critically evaluated. Aminophylline, a While 11 of 35 patients using Endermologie showed xanthine, is a phosphodiesterase inhibitor, which stimulates improvement by self-evaluation, these benefits were beta-2 agonist receptor activity. The agent has been The Charlesworth Group, Wakefield +44(0)1924 369598 employed as a therapy for asthma as well as a diuretic.14 lecithins and evening primrose oil, has been marketed Recently, it has been recommended for use in its topical internationally as a ‘miracle cure’ for cellulite. A parallel form as a treatment for cellulite.16,24 Applied directly to the placebo-controlled clinical study comparing the effects of affected areas of dimpling, aminophylline cream is Cellasene with those of a control cream on the appearance purported to migrate into the subcutaneous fat and of cellulite in 24 women aged 25–45 years failed to reveal cause a local lipolysis of adipocytes, thereby reducing the significant changes after a 2-month course.29 Of note, seven size of hypertrophic fat cells and disrupting adipocyte of the 11 women using the study cream gained weight. It is clumping. Collis and co-workers, who evaluated the important to note that many of the ingredients in effectiveness of 2% aminophylline with 10% glycolic acid purported topical treatments for cellulite are not known cream, concluded that this therapy was not effective in and thus the risk for adverse effects may be increased. In improving the appearance of cellulite. Patients using one study, there were 232 ingredients in the 32 different aminophylline treatment showed improvement in only ‘cellulite creams’ examined, with botanicals, emollients and three of 35 cases by self-evaluation.
caffeine predominating.30 One-fourth of these materials Based on the hypothesis that cellulite appears as a consequence of a weakened dermis in concert with anexpanding fat tissue mass that protrudes through, Kligman and others have suggested a role for retinol in thetreatment of cellulite. Tretinoin has been shown to increase The next frontier in the treatment of cellulite may be lasers.
the deposition of collagen in the photodamaged dermis of Currently, there are numerous investigations into the mice and humans.25,26 A thicker, stronger dermis may possibility of non-invasive correction of cellulite. One ofthese systems is the VelaSmooth system (Syneron Inc, restrict movement of the more mobile fatty tissues below, Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada). It combines near- thereby preventing herniation. Kligman and co-workers infrared light at a wavelength of 700 nm, continuous- performed a small, double-blind study, which examined the wave radiofrequency and mechanical suction. Twice-weekly effects of a pro-drug, topical retinol, on the treatment of treatments for a total of eight to ten sessions have been cellulite in 20 healthy women.27 Topical retinol was placed recommended. There are no large-scale studies demon- twice daily on one thigh for a period of 6 months. Placebo cream was placed on the other thigh. Thirteen of 19 (Cynosure Inc, Chelmsford, MA, USA) is another system patients reported subjective improvement of the feel and that is FDA-approved for the treatment of cellulite. It appearance of their cellulite on the thigh treated with study combines six near-infrared diode lasers at a wavelength of drug. The investigator’s ratings were in concordance with 810 nm, localized cooling and mechanical massage. Treat- 12 of the 13 who reported a beneficial effect. Another 6- ments three times a week for 2 weeks and then biweekly month randomized, placebo-controlled study of topical treatments for 5 weeks are suggested. Again, there are no retinol treatment for cellulite in 15 patients aged 26–44 data to support its efficacy in patients. Still, laser therapy years showed no clinical efficacy in treating overt cellulite, may hold promise in the possibility of effectively treating but did show some improvement in the patients with ‘incipient cellulite’, or the mattress phenomenon-typecellulite. A shift in the phenotype of connective tissuecells in retinol-treated patients was evidenced by a two- to fivefold increase in factor XIIIAz dendrocytes in thedermis and fibrous strands of the hypodermis.28 However, In summary, there is currently no scientifically proven without objective means of measuring clinical improve- treatment for cellulite. There are currently hundreds of ment, including the use of MRI and ultrasound, it is devices and medications that purport to treat cellulite.
difficult to recommend retinoids as an effective treatment Most of the evidence supporting their efficacy is anecdotal, subjective or non-existent. There are many opportunities The herbal product Cellasene, a product containing for further investigation, including non-invasive forms of Gingko biloba, sweet clover, sea-weed, grape seed oil, Draelos Z, Marenus KD. Cellulite etiology and pur- Lotti T, Ghersetich I, Grappone C, Dini G. Proteogly- ported treatment. Dermatol Surg 1997; 23: 1179–81.
cans in so-called cellulite. Int J Dermatol 1990; 29: Rosenbaum M, Prieto V, Hellmer J, et al. An exploratory investigation of the morphology and biochemistry of Rossi ABR, Vergnanini AL. Cellulite: a review. J Eur cellulite. Plast Reconstr Surg 1998; 101: 1934–9.
Acad Dermatol Venereol 2000; 14: 251–62.
Pie´rard GE, Nizet JL, Pierard-Franchimont C. Cellulite: Draelos ZD. In search of answers regarding cellulite.
from standing fat herniation to hypodermal stretch marks. Am J Dermatopathol 2000; 22: 34–7.
Nu¨rnberger F, Mu¨ller G. So-called cellulite: an invented disease. J Dermatol Surg Oncol 1978; 4: 221–9.
J Dermatol Surg Oncol 1978; 4: 230–4.
Salter DC, Hanley M, et al. In vivo high definition The Charlesworth Group, Wakefield +44(0)1924 369598 ultrasound studies of subdermal fat lobules associated Ultrasonic liposculpturing: extrapolations from the with cellulite. J Invest Dermatol 1990; 29: 272–4.
analysis of in vivo sonicated adipose tissue. Plast Curri SB. Cellulite and fatty tissue microcirculation.
Hexsel DM, Mazzuco R. Subcision: a treatment for Curri SB, Bombardelli E. Local lipodystrophy and districual cellulite. Int J Dermatol 2000; 39: 539–44.
micro-circulation. Cosmet Toilet 1994; 109: 51–65.
Rotunda AM, Suzuki H, Moy RL, Kolodney MS.
Kligman AM. Cellulite: facts and fiction. J Geriatr Detergent effects of sodium deoxycholate are a major feature of an injectable phosphatidylcholine formulation Lucassen GW, van der Sluys WLN, van Herk JJ, et al.
used for localized fat dissolution. Dermatol Surg 2004; The effectiveness of massage treatment on cellulite as monitored by ultrasound imaging. Skin Res Technol Hu W, Siegfried EC, Siegel DM. Product-related emphasis of skin disease information online. Arch Collis N, Elliot LA, Sharpe C, Sharpe DT. Cellulite treatment: a myth or reality: a prospective randomized, Artz JS, Dinner MI. Treatment of cellulite deformities of controlled trial of two therapies, endermologie and the thighs with topical aminophylline gel. J Plast Surg aminophylline cream. Plast Reconstr Surg 1999; 104: Schwartz E, Crueckshank FA, Mezick JA, Kligman LH.
Kinney BM. Cellulite treatment: a myth or reality: a Topical all-trans retinoic acid stimulates collagen prospective randomized, controlled trial of two thera- synthesis in vivo. J Invest Dermatol 1991; 96: 975–8.
pies, endermologie and aminophylline cream. Plast Kligman AM, Grove GL, Hirose R, Leyden JJ. Topical tretinoin for photoaged skin. J Am Acad Dermatol 1986; Hamilton EC, Greenway FL, Bray GA. Regional fat loss from the thigh in women using 2% aminophylline. Obes Kligman AM, Pagnoni AStoudemeyer. Topical retinol improves cellulite. J Dermatol Treat 1999; 10: 119–25.
Karnes J, Salisbury M, Schaeferle M, et al. Hip lift.
Pierard-Franchimont C, Pierard GE, Henry F, et al. A Aesthet Plast Surg 2002; 26: 126–9.
randomized, placebo-controlled trial of topical retinal in Gasparotti M. Superficial liposuction: a new application the treatment of cellulite. Am J Clin Dermatol 2000; 1: of the technique for aged and flaccid skin. Aesthet Plast Lis-Balchin M. Parallel-placebo-controlled clinical study Coleman WP, Hanke CW, Alt TH, et al. Liposuction of a mixture of herbs sold as a remedy for cellulite.
Cosmetic Surgery of the Skin: Principles and Practice. BC Decker Inc: Philadelphia, PA, 1991: 213–38.
Sainio EL, Rantanen T, Kanerva L. Ingredients and safety of cellulite creams. Eur J Dermatol 2000; 10: 596–603.
The Charlesworth Group, Wakefield +44(0)1924 369598


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