Does Laser Treatment for Cellulite Work?


Cellulite is one of the most common skin conditions troubling women and is estimated that as many as  85% to 98% of all post-pubescent females are affected by it. Contrary to the common assumption, fat by itself is not the primary cause of cellulite; rather the structure of overlying skin and underlying connective tissue actually determine who does and does not get cellulite. This is also the main reason why low-fat diet and intensive exercise geared towards reducing fat are not often enough to make cellulite disappear. These days, a lot of discussion has been generated by laser technology and its claims of being able to treat cellulite. So what does laser treatment of cellulite entail and how effective is it really?

Laser-assisted liposuction

The first thing to understand about treating cellulite is that it cannot be made to disappear by simply removing fat deposits. Cellulite appears when the connective tissues beneath the skin are arranged in such a way that fat deposits are pushed up while the fibrous bands called septae pull the skin downwards. This results in the skin acquiring the uneven, dimpled look that is associated with cellulite. As such traditional liposuction which focuses on removing fat deposits from beneath the skin are not only ineffective but in fact can even worsen the appearance of the skin by creating more skin depressions and further damaging connective tissue. However some researchers have come up a new kind of laser-assisted liposuction; while  the traditional technique used suction to remove the fat, in laser lipolysis the cannula housing the laser is inserted into the area and used to liquefy the fat. Then the liquefied fat is drained from the body through very tiny incisions in the range of 1-2mm. in the US, Smart Lipo is one of the brand names that promotes laser-assisted liposuction to treat cellulite.

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Laser-assisted liposuction is performed under local anesthesia. Patients can expect low to moderate levels of pain and discomfort for the first 24-48 hours following surgery, and most patients are able to return to work in 24 hours.

The ideal candidates for this type of laser-based cellulite treatment are those who have no more than thirty pounds over their ideal weight, and who are in generally good health. The patient should also have maintained a stable weight for more than a year and have good skin elasticity in the areas being treated.

The main advantage of laser-assisted liposuction over traditional liposuction is the fact that it is less invasive. Smaller canulas not only mean smaller incisions but also less scarring and discomfort. Also because of the heat generated by this method, the body’s own healing response causes tissues to contract, leaving skin tighter and smoother in the treated area.

However like all surgical procedures, even laser-assisted liposuction has its share of disadvantages. The procedure is best carried out only on smaller areas; thus patients with extensive cellulite-affected areas do not stand to benefit much from this procedure. Among the most common risks and complications that are likely to occur are bruising, infection, scarring and hematoma where blood collects underneath the skin, giving it a bluish or blacking appearance. Less commonly associated with the laser-assisted variety but possible in traditional liposuction is complications like excessive bleeding, shock, and burns of the skin or underlying tissues. Moreover the cost of this laser treatment for cellulite can be prohibitive to many since expenses can range from $2000-$4000 per treated area.

Laser-assisted massage therapies

Yet another way that laser can be used to treat cellulite is to combine it with certain massage techniques. One of these is patented under the name of Velasmooth in the United States. This treatment is performed by a device that incorporates mechanical suction-and-roller-assisted massage along with the added technologies of infrared light and radiofrequency energy. According to the developers of Velasmooth, the machine heats the skin and increases the elasticity; this is done by light and lasers both, in combination. During a Velasmooth massage, the radiofrequency penetrates deeply into fatty tissues below the skin and heats it up, allowing better circulation and more oxygen exchange which results in increase fat cell metabolism. The results are smoother, more defined skin and ultimately decrease in appearance of cellulite. The Velasmooth website claims that  along with tighter and smoother skin, this treatment gives you added benefits like body contouring, improved circulation and relief of muscular aches and pains.

The primary advantages of such laser-assisted massage procedures for cellulite treatment seem to lie in their comparatively safer and gentler techniques. Unlike surgical procedures, these are not invasive and thus do not hold the possibility of complications like scarring, burning or bleeding. Reduced healing time and quicker recovery are other plus points highlighted by proponents of laser-based massage treatments for cellulite.

However even the developers of the laser-based massage anti-cellulite treatment agree that such options involved repeated sessions and relatively longer time for results to show. This is because such treatments largely offer temporary fixes unlike surgical procedures like laser-assisted liposuction, subcision or fat-grafting where results are likely to last for  a longer length of time. Thus a patient would need to go for several sittings for the laser-assisted massage treatments in order to combat cellulite. But more than that, the treatment would have to be continued indefinitely to maintain any improvement experienced. And this automatically translates into higher costs as well larger investment of time and resources.

Yet far more serious objections to this kind of cellulite treatment arises from the very limited nature of studies on their effectiveness. There is simply not enough data - and more importantly objective data - to support that such treatments based on use of laser and massage work in the long term to reduce cellulite. Thus before you give up your hard-earned money to companies who promise you smooth thighs within a month, take look at all the options available for treating cellulite. It is best to be guided by a competent professional like a dermatologist before taking a final call.