There’s no evidence cellulite is unhealthy or bad for you. It’s just one of the ways the body naturally stores fat. However, if you want to know how to get rid of cellulite, we’ve created a guide to the vast array of noninvasive treatments that may help you smooth it out. The question of which is the best cellulite treatment, however, depends on how soon you’d like to see results—some work over a few days, and others take as much as a year—and what process you don’t mind undergoing.
Thankfully, freezing fat or zapping cells isn’t nearly as onerous or uncomfortable as it sounds. Check out our cheat sheet below before your next trip to a med spa.
Can you get rid of cellulite?
It’s not exactly possible to make collagen disappear entirely, but you can reduce its appearance. That’s because it’s a skin condition caused by the way the body stores subcutaneous fat—or the topmost layer of fat—particularly in areas like the thighs and butttocks. (It also tends to affect women far more than men—see a full explanation behind the mechanics of cellulite.)
If you’re bothered by cellulite, though, you can make the dimples less apparent by eliminating or reducing the size of fat cells, which removes the bulk that’s pushing outward into the skin. Alternatively, boosting collagen production can help strengthen the bands that contain the fat cells and smooth out the skin.
In-office noninvasive treatments
Radio-frequency waves heat tissue to reshape its subcutaneous collagen—one of the proteins responsible for youthful skin’s tautness. The treatments also promote fresh collagen production. These two effects together can minimize the appearance of cellulite for a while and produce even longer-lasting skin-tightening effects. Thermage is one of the most well-known brands.
How many sessions does Thermage require? Just one treatment is all it takes to see an improvement in cellulite.
What does it feel like? Early forms could heat skin to uncomfortable levels, but the latest technology includes a cooling mechanism. Pain medication—often administered by the provider beforehand—and the tool’s vibrations help ease discomfort, which has been described as both a stinging sensation and a soreness. Throughout the procedure, the provider asks for feedback on the intensity of the heat. Some areas, such as the face, may hurt more than others.
How long does it last? Up to a year. Results continue to improve in the six months after the treatment as the body produces more collagen.
A treatment known as VelaShape employs radio-frequency waves alongside infrared light and vacuum suction. It takes about three sessions, but unlike Thermage, it should only feel like a warm deep-tissue massage. The results last few weeks; maintenance requires periodic treatments—about 3–4 biweekly sessions. Read more about VelaShape and how it works.
Laser-lipo body contouring
During this noninvasive treatment, laser beams penetrate through the skin and into fat cells. The heat energy purportedly breaks down the walls of fat cells, draining them of their contents. Patients can help their bodies process the contents by exercising. One of the most popular forms of laser body contouring is i-Lipo, which employs laser-emitting pads placed directly against the skin. Read more about i-Lipo and how it works.
How many sessions does i-Lipo require? You’ll need 6–8 treatments for maximum results, but many clients see a difference after only a few appointments.
What does it feel like? It doesn’t hurt, and the most you should feel is a warming sensation where the pads are. Read our interview with the owner of a med spa that offers i-Lipo.
How long does it last? Results last for a few weeks at a time, so multiple periods of biweekly treatments may help maintain them.
Zerona is a similar laser-lipo procedure, except that the client is positioned under the device’s adjustable laser-emitting arms. This allows simultaneous treatment of the waist, hips, and thighs. Read more about Zerona and how it works.
CoolSculpting hits fat cells with a targeted cold front, chilling them until they crystallize. Dead, frozen fat cells are easier to metabolize than those at body-temperature. Zeltiq is currently the only CoolSculpting brand available. It’s the company’s signature treatment, available only via their trademarked, handheld cooling device. Read more about Zeltiq and how it works.
How many sessions does Zeltiq require? Typically only one treatment per area.
What does it feel like? You’ll experience cold and then numbness. Some applicators include suction, so you might feel a pulling sensation.
How long does it last? The slimming process is gradual—full results don’t materialize for two or four months.
So-called lipo massage relies on a device’s motorized rollers to lift and knead the skin. This is meant to stimulate lipolysis, which shrinks fat cells, and increase collagen production. Clients must wear a special bodysuit that facilitates maneuverability. Endermologie is a well-known brand.
How many sessions does Endermologie require? Six treatments are needed to produce a noticeable improvement.
What does it feel like? It’s said to feel like a deep-tissue massage. The manufacturer says Endermologie should never hurt; if it does, the setting is incorrect and needs to be adjusted.
How long does it last? A few weeks. Providers recommend a monthly treatment plan to maintain the results going forward.
Most body wraps follow roughly the same protocol: the spa attendant first administers a body scrub and then applies the wrap’s primary ingredient, typically a moisturizing agent. The next step is to swaddle the client in a thermal blanket and leave them to relax for roughly half an hour. Wraps tend to vary from spa to spa, but common ingredients include seaweed and caffeine, though the exact mechanism by which they work is sometimes disputed.
How many sessions do body wraps require? Just one for the short-term effect.
What does it feel like? Like you’re in a cocoon. You’ll probably feel warm and perspire.
How long does it last? Though the process temporarily minimizes the appearance of cellulite by plumping up the skin, it doesn’t actually affect fat cells. That means body wraps can work well for a special occasion but not for a long-term fix.
In-office minimally invasive treatments
Cellulaze is a minimally invasive laser treatment approved by the FDA to treat cellulite. A laser fiber is inserted through incision sites to liquefy fat cells, stimulate collagen production, and destroy the taut bands that pull and dimple skin.
Mesotherapy involves the injection of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes to encourage fat loss and collagen production.
At-home cellulite treatments
Diet and exercise
Diet and exercise come highly recommended by doctors. Aerobic exercise and strength training—combined with healthy eating—can reduce the body fat that contributes to cellulite. Avoid yo-yo dieting, which can make cellulite more apparent.
Need some exercise inspiration? Check out our guide to martial arts, which are useful for toning muscles and upping heart rates, or read about how women over 50 can ease into a fitness routine.
Many topical creams are explicitly designed to treat cellulite. The key to finding a cellulite cream that works is browsing product reviews before you buy. Anecdotal evidence suggests some creams visibly improve cellulite over two months or so; other creams, however, are glorified water, though you shouldn’t freeze them and put them in a margarita.
Aminophylline creams may help reduce fat deposits or at least dehydrate the skin, pulling it taut and alleviating imperfections.
Retinol creams are also widely used to promote collagen growth for a smoother, more toned look to skin. Read more in our guide to retinoids, the holy-grail of anti-aging skincare.
Infographic by Greyory Blake and Colleen Loggins, Groupon
The manufacturer’s website provided information on Thermage, recommended number of treatments, expected results, what it feels like, and potential side effects. The manufacturer’s website provided information on VelaShape, recommended number of treatments, and what it feels like. The manufacturer’s website provided information on Endermologie and the recommended number of treatments. Information on what it feels like supplied by an Endermologie provider.