Cellulite is NOT an itis…

On the left, cellulitis; On the right, cellulite – big difference!

I can’t tell you how many times, when discussing “trouble spots” with a client they refer to their cellulitis. What they mean to say is their cellulite, but the term they choose has nothing to do with the aesthetic appearance of their wobbly bits (see image above). It is understandable that for some women, the look of cellulite can feel like a serious medical condition. With summer unexpectedly here, they become acutely aware of their “imperfections” and panic; rushing to the spa for any firming, toning and detoxifying treatments available in the hopes that they can bare their flesh without fierce judgements. Cellulite doesn’t happen overnight, though. We are all born with a certain amount of fat cells that are distributed throughout our bodies according to our genetics. As we enter puberty, hormonal fluctuations affect our metabolism and shifts the distribution of the fat underneath our skin. The same thing occurs as we age and enter into menopause. In 80 to 90% of women, some level of cellulite will be visible; however the following factors greatly influence its widespread formation. Take notes:

  • Poor circulation and lymphatic drainage

The tissues in your body need to be fed and then flushed of the by products and toxins left behind after the fact. However, if you have a genetic or pathological insufficiency, the “toilet water” sits and festers, causing the breakdown of the matrix that holds the fat cells in their proper place. Since it all has to get flushed up and out, the areas most affected are the extremities. Exactly where you don’t want to see the cellulite.

  • Increased levels of stress hormones in the blood

We all know a high stress lifestyle can take a toll on our health, but it also has an affect on our fat distribution and connective tissue. Cortisol and catecholamines are stress hormones release by the adrenal glands as part of our “fight-or-flight” sympathetic nervous response. The body instinctively slows its metabolism and increases its “padding” of fat as it reacts to survive. The presence of the hormones over long periods of time can start to break down connective tissue, which as mentioned above, creates the matrix that holds the fat cells at bay. Once the matrix is damaged, the fat cells push up against the lower layers of skin, which is the puckered look that we all recognize as cellulite. The slowed metabolism also causes weight gain, which swells the size of the fat cells, making them pucker up even more.

  • Yo-yo dieting

Weight fluctuations occur as a result of physiological and hormonal changes. Step on the scale in the morning and again at night, and you could see your number rise or fall by 5-8 lbs. This is normal. Patterns of weight loss and gain over long periods of time of more than 20 lbs, damages the elasticity of the skin and connective tissue matrix. Out pops the cellulite.

  • Liposuction

Remember how we are all born with a certain number of fat cells? This procedure removes them from specific areas of the body also referred to as “re-contouring.” Once the fat cells are gone, they are gone. However, should the individual gain weight, the fat cells that are left redistribute the bulk in places the individual never had before. This is why the best candidates for liposuction are those who lead an active lifestyle and have a consistently clean diet.

And speaking of active lifestyles and clean diets, let’s segue into how one can address cellulite. Certain treatments and topical applications can produce visible results if the person remains consistent with modifications to their diet and exercise. Here are some of the one’s I can vouch for in my professional and personal practice. Still taking notes, I hope :-).

Dry brushing per day keeps the cellulite at bay…

Dry Brushing – One of my favorites is dry brushing. The practice consists of lightly brushing the surface of the skin in long upward strokes, starting at the lower limbs and moving upwards toward the heart. The brush bristles should be made of natural fibers and the brush itself easy to grip in order to properly handle it. Not only will you exfoliate the top layer of skin, but the increased blood flow to the capillary networks renews and tightens the skin’s surface. The movement towards the heart promotes proper circulation and flushing of the tissues via the lymphatic system. Done daily, it’s a great way to diminish the dimples.

Flushing and tightening

Caffeine, topically applied – As a little girl in Greece, every female relative young and old swore by their CLARINS cellulite cream and slathered in liberally in all corners and crevices of their bodies. What many creams geared toward cellulite contain is caffeine and what they do is act as a diuretic for the tissues, flushing out excess fluid and helping to tighten the surface of the skin. The cellulite puckers less; happy times on the beach. What I have seen work best is an application of caffeinated cream prior to a workout. The combination of an exercise induced sweat and that of the caffeine is like a one-two punch, firming and flushing. Also, since tissue repair happens during sleep, an application at night can be effective as well.

Courtesy of “8 Kilos to 50” Tumblr (You go girl!)

Get your sweat on and build muscle Recall how earlier we talked about people having a predisposed amount of fat cells that are distributed under the deepest level of skin in different ways dependent on genetics, hormones and age. These factors are sort of written in stone; however what you can control is how much a fat cell can swell. Therefore, the amount of lean muscle you build will reduce the size of the fat cells and help spike your metabolism, as muscle requires more calories than fat for maintenance. Reducing your overall body fat % will counter the factors you cannot control. A wonderful little exercise known as the Bulgarian Split Squat can do a whole lot to diminish the look of the dimples that many women have directly under their gluteal fold. At least, that’s what I have found within my own workouts. A tiny addendum to this bit on exercise is to make sure you are hydrating properly to flush your system out while also maintaining a balanced diet that is specific to your activity level and overall bodily needs. Consulting a registered dietician or certified nutritionist for advice is a great way to make sure you are eating right for you, cellulite or not.

It is also important to keep in mind that within that 80-90% of women who have cellulite are the fashion models, actresses and popular girls we gush(ed) over and/or envy. It’s a fact of physiological life that we can address to a certain extent, but inevitably must come to accept. Be good to your body through all its transformations and transitions and hopefully, it will be good to you.

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Scrubs beyond skin deep

One of the most common body treatments offered at spas is the body scrub. It consists of a head to toe exfoliation followed by a shower and moisturizer application. Outside of the spa setting, body scrubs are available EVERYWHERE. Just walk down the bath-and-beauty isle of any drugstore and you will see numerous brands of scrubs for the body and face (remember St. Ives Apricot Scrub…available since forever). Specialty shops like The Body Shop or Bath and Body Works also carry them in a variety of flavors and consistencies. With all this choice, how does one pick the right scrub and how can you tell the difference between them all?

Universally speaking, body scrubs will improve circulation by way of the tiny capillary networks that feed the skin. The friction of rubbing the scrub into the surface of the skin causes these networks to flood the surrounding tissues, making you turn a little red. The boost of “nutrition” helps the fresh skin cells in the deepest layer of skin known as the dermis to migrate to the surface. The lifetime of a skin cell is 30 days. Once it migrates to the surface it officially “dies” and becomes saturated with keratin, a protein whose fibers coil and bind to form a protective layer over the skin to keep the outside elements from damaging it. Keratin does the same thing for hair and nails. Age and hormones (for women) will change how the cells turnover, making skin uneven and rough.  The scrub itself is exfoliating away the surface layer of dead cells, helping along the natural order of things. In addition, it can unclog pores, helping skin to breathe as well as keep the naturally acidic pH in check, so you will smell fresh.

Now that the science behind exfoliation has been explained, let’s take into account what is going on with your skin. Are you prone to oiliness? Do you shed like a lizard? Do you have sensitive, reactive skin prone to breakouts? Do you want to prevent ingrown hairs and bumps? These are all important factors in choosing a scrub. Here is how I would break down your decision.

SUGAR OR SALT

Most scrubs on the market are either sugar or sea-salt based. Sugar based scrubs are more moisturizing than salt based because sugar molecules bind to water, thus retaining moisture in whatever state they are present in. The sugar exfoliates and holds moisture, so that skin will feel hydrated post scrub. This molecular action enhances the job of the moisturizer, helping to keep the skin properly hydrated. If your skin is the type that flakes off when the seasons change or has a tendency to remain dry no matter what the weather, sugar based it the route to go. Sugar is also best with skin that is highly sensitive, as it is not as abrasive in texture as salt.

Salt based scrubs, aside from being the most aggressive texture for exfoliating, draw everything out of the skin, including water. These types of scrubs can effectively address rough patches and clogged pores because the properties in sea salt ionically bond to positively charged impurities that would be found on the surface of the skin and lodged in pores. Reference my post on DETOX treatments  for a more in depth chemistry lesson. Often, the salt based scrubs will have eucalyptus essential oil added to them, which acts as an antiseptic and antimicrobial agent on the skin. Salt based scrubs are potent; therefore skin absolutely needs to be moisturized well post treatment in order to ensure hydration.

Addendum: Other scrub bases can consist of fruit seeds, ground nut shells and oatmeal (St. Ives anyone). People with allergies, especially nut based ones should be wary of the seed and nut shell varieties, dependent on their level of reactivity. The oatmeal based scrubs are super gentle and not very abrasive at all. They are often used to relieve the itch and discomfort of chicken pox, mosquito bites, hives, sunburn and for a gentle exfoliation of the face.

SCENTS and FLAVORS

Marketing, marketing and more marketing. Flavors and scents of various scrubs on the market are designed with the buyers’ eyes and noses in mind. However, certain essential oils, as the aforementioned eucalyptus oil described above, can have therapeutic affects on the exterior and interior of one’s body. Scrubs with lavender, vanilla or chamomile essential oils are soothing to the skin, helping to neutralize redness, prevent bacterial growth and tone down the itch and irritation of such conditions as dermatitis, eczema and acne. Also great for congested skin are lemon and orange scented scrubs, as the essential oils of both help the lymphatic system do its job of clearing out toxins. They also control excess oil production and aid mature skin to retain moisture. Lastly, mint oils like spearmint and peppermint have similar therapeutic qualities as the eucalyptus oil. They boost circulation to the skin through the menthol component that cools on contact and then vasodilates those little capillary networks. Best of all, they stimulate the nervous system, which can leave you feeling completely invigorated.

With the above in mind, you can now expertly peruse your spa menu and/or drugstore beauty aisle armed with the therapeutic knowledge of a beauty practice that is beyond skin deep. You can also make your own scrub, using the information above to tailor it for your specific need. Some recipes for homemade scrubs can be found here:

http://www.fromnaturewithlove.com/recipe/recipes.asp?category=16

http://wellnessmama.com/3628/luxurious-sugar-scrub-recipe-easy/

Here are some of my favorite Over-The-Counter Scrubs:

Ignore the marketing label. This scrub smells amazing and has been a godsend in the heat and humidity of Summer thus far. I don’t use a moisturizer after because the sugar and oils in its recipes do the work effectively.
Another one that is super hydrating, even though it is salt based. It has an extremely clean after-feel on the skin and the scent is not overwhelming, just fresh.

and lastly,

Forget the product description. This scrub is saturated with essential oil of eucalyptus and super effective at removing heaps of dead skin, especially near the bikini area. Goodbye ingrowns.

SOURCES:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exfoliation_%28cosmetology%29

Worwood, “The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: Over 600 Natural, Non-Toxic and Fragrant Recipes to Create Health – Beauty – a Safe Home Environment” (1991)

The skinny on Detox treatments

On almost every spa menu you encounter, there is at least one or more treatments offered that promise to detox the body. Often these treatments are also listed as “slimming.”  They run the gamut of simple to downright high tech in their descriptions and promises. In order to really understand how these treatments work, or don’t in some cases, it’s important to clearly define what toxicity is and how our bodies naturally deal with it.

The lymphatic system is your body’s sewage drainage system. It’s a complicated network of small vessels that run alongside your veins, ferrying fluid laden with cellular waste products and toxins into nodes that filter the fluid and eventually dumping into an enormous vessel that brings everything back into the heart for re-use. Any part of this network goes awry and your body gets backed up in its own toilet water. The physical repercussions of minor back ups are bloating and swelling in the extremities, usually caused by diet and lifestyle (i.e. too much salt and sitting). Major back ups can manifest in a condition known as lymphedema, most commonly occurring when lymph nodes have been removed or blocked by infection. The system fails in such a way that the extremity swells to incredible proportions. Often the skin around the area will begin to break down and get infected if the lymph fluid is not manually moved by highly trained professionals specializing in a form of massage called MLD . Really scary. Really toxic. See below for a tame example:

A typical case of Lymphedema

Detoxification treatments deal with the minor backups. In Chinese medicine, the skin is referred to as the third Lung, as it is a living breathing organ, drawing in Qi (energy) from the air through its pores. Issues with one’s skin were often indicators of a systemic condition that would be treated with tonifying, detoxifying herbs and heat. In keeping with this theory of outside manifests inside, detoxification treatments are applied to the skin in order to draw out internal toxicity. The application of “sea” mud or clay is used to assist in this process. What is interesting about these mineral rich organic compounds is that they have a negative charge. To spare you all the chemistry lesson on the quick, toxins including viruses and other impurities have a positive ionic charge. The negative attracts the positive up to the surface. When they meet, a reaction takes place that neutralizes the toxin. Tingling of the skin and warmth are byproducts of this reaction. Apparently the medicinal property of clay/mud has been known since the time of the ancient Egyptians and even prior. Clay was used by the ancients as an anti-inflammatory/anti-septic both topically and internally, where it had a laxative affect on the GI tract. It was also found that the presence of clay chokes the air out of Candida (yeast infections) and dries out boils, acne and other skin eruptions. Most spa treatments involving a mud or clay application are followed by a wrap in some kind of heat sealing foil, which promotes sweating. Sweat combined with the ionic neutralization of toxins really double teams the release of impurities for what can be a more thorough detox through the skin. There is a nominal amount of water weight lost from the detox wrap, which is where the “slimming” effect comes into play, but you will need to hydrate in order to replace lost electrolytes after the treatment. Will your skin feel taut and brighter? Yes, temporarily. Will you need to do this every week? Depends on your lifestyle. I believe a clay/mud wrap detox can be done once every 6 weeks, much like a facial, to help eliminate impurities if you actively upkeep your system between treatments. Hydration, exercise and a diet rich with enzymes from fresh fruits and vegetables are what I would suggest to keep things on track. If you know you are the type that is prone to excess (too much of anything is never a good thing), perhaps the detox should be done more often; however the more you do on your own to restore balance to your body and keep the drainage system working well, the more effective these treatments will be for you.

Here are the things to be wary of when choosing a Detox or Slimming Treatment:

  • Promises of ridding your body of fat/cellulite: You are born with a certain amount of fat cells that can get bigger if you gain weight or shrink in size when you lose. They can pucker close to the surface of the skin, which is what we call cellulite, with the loss of collagen associated with age and/or lack of muscle tone. Only liposuction, an invasive treatment performed by a surgeon, removes fat cells. At best, the look of the puckering might be smoothed out by the drawing up and out of fluids in the spaces between the cells. Also, there may be a small reduction in weight, which we know is water loss, that can make the client feel lighter and tighter, but only temporarily….
  • Promises of  permanence: Any loss of inches, weight and/or tightness of the body is only temporary. Once you drink or eat anything post treatment, the “weight” will be back on. Diet, proper hydration and exercise can build up muscle tone  and shrink fat cells for a permanent result, if maintained.
  • Any detox treatment that encourages the purchase of supplements and/or diet packs: There is a commercial incentive here. They are selling the product more so than the detox. There are plenty of dubious supplements on the market that are not subject to FDA regulation for fat burning, weight loss and detoxification. If you have such an interest in the internal detox, consult a nutritionist or Chinese herbalist who will assess your diet and lifestyle in order to recommend what is best for your individual systemic needs.
  • Detox treatments that involve anything other than a clay/mud application: Some places will advertise applications of coffee, chocolate, honey and herbs, etc. None of these have the ionic relationship that the mineral clay/mud has with impurities; therefore, scientifically speaking, how can they effectively detox? They may feel nice, even luxurious, when rubbed onto the skin, but actually pulling toxins and water out? Not so good.