Dimples are cute—unless they’re on your butt or thighs. Then, they’re the bane of bikini season and summer shorts. And what’s worse, no one really agrees on what causes the lumps and bumps of cellulite. Some theories point to sluggish circulation, poor diet, accumulated toxins, fluid retention or excess estrogen. Others say cellulite (in medical terms, adiposis edematosa) is plain old fat, but with a twist: fibrous bands, called septae, connect the skin to underlying muscle fascia, or connective tissue. When those bands tighten irregularly, they pull down on skin, and the normally smooth-ish fat layer under the skin pushes upward in uneven lumps and bulges, resulting in that orange-peel look we know as cellulite.
Pricey, spa-style approaches, like radiofrequency, light-based laser protocols and herbal wraps, have decent results. But plenty of at-home treatments that enhance circulation, strengthen skin, and flush out toxins and excess fluids can get rid of cellulite on the cheap. And they don’t take long. With a little dedication, you can ditch your dimples in about six weeks—just in time for skin-baring summer. Here’s how:
1. Make a Skin-Strengthening Smoothie
Collagen acts as skin’s matrix, providing strength and structural support, and most theories agree cellulite results in part from a breakdown of collagen. When collagen is depleted, skin loses strength, elasticity and thickness, and can’t contain fat cells in a compact, uniform pattern. The result: lumps, bumps and dimply bits. For the next six weeks, start your day with a skin-strengthening smoothie made with collagen powder; in one study, women who used collagen peptides reduced cellulite and increased dermal thickness. Add papayas, strawberries or oranges—they’re high in vitamin C, shown to stimulate collagen production. Include antioxidant-rich blueberries, guava and mangos to protect against collagen-depleting damage from the sun and free radicals, and spinach; some research suggests chlorophyll can enhance college production. For vegans: use a collagen booster that contains plant-based amino acids plus antioxidants, biotin, silica and other skin-building nutrients.
2. Focus on Flow
Some theories link cellulite to a compromised lymphatic system—your body’s network of tissues, vessels and organs that maintains proper fluid balance and transports toxins and waste products. Less-than-robust blood circulation can also contribute. Give your skinny jeans and tight yoga pants a break; snug clothing can hamper lymph flow, encouraging toxins to accumulate in and around fat cells. The same goes for pantyhose, tight underwear, cycling pants or anything with a snug waistband can interfere with flow, especially since they specifically cover the most cellulite-prone areas on your body. Swap figure-hugging pants and shorts for looser, flowy garments, and be sure your undies aren’t tight around the crease of your thigh; lymph glands are concentrated in the groin area. And uncross your legs; sitting with your legs crossed impedes blood and lymph movement. If your circulation’s already sluggish, try flow-boosting herbs; ginkgo biloba, hawthorn, gotu kola, motherwort and ginger are thought to stimulate the movement of blood and lymph.
3. Jiggle and Bounce
Almost any kind of physical movement promotes circulation, enhances lymph flow, strengthens muscles that support skin and helps trim body fat. But exercising on a vibrating platform (also called a Power Plate workout), can really amp up your efforts to get rid of cellulite. The vibrating movement of these pulsating platforms stimulates lymph and circulation, and it’s thought to disrupt fat cells and even encourage collagen formation; some research suggests Power Plate workouts are better than aerobic exercise for lessening cellulite (and, bonus, reducing belly fat). You’ll find them in most gyms, or invest in one (around $150 online) for an at-home bump-busting workout. Do squats, lift weights or jog in place on the platform for at least 10 minutes a day. Or jump on a trampoline; the vertical, up-and-down movement promotes lymph flow. And if bouncing’s not your thing, any kind of exercise—running, cycling, swimming, yoga, brisk walking—enhances circulation, encourages fat loss and helps smooth cellulite.
4. Pass on the Salt
A high-sodium diet makes your body hang on to more fluid, causing swelling and puffiness, and exacerbating the appearance of cellulite. Packaged, processed or fast foods are also loaded with artificial ingredients, damaged fats and inflammatory, allergenic foods. Some theories say food sensitivities and toxins prompt the body to hang on to water, to dilute toxins and keep them in check. For the next six weeks, minimize salt; opt for herbal, low-sodium substitutes, and season food with herbs and spices, especially cayenne pepper—it relaxes blood vessels and encourages circulation. Avoid sodium-rich processed, packaged and fast-foods, and emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables, especially spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe and tomatoes; they’re high in potassium, to balance out sodium (plus, collagen-boosting nutrients). And stay super-hydrated; adequate water intake flushes out excess sodium and supports the removal of waste products, and staying hydrated enhances skin’s elasticity.
5. Rub and Scrub
Massage stimulates circulation, promotes lymph flow and lessens fluid retention. And manipulating cellulite-prone areas helps release tight, fibrous bands connecting skin to muscle that can make fat layers bulge and dimple. Aggressive techniques, like vacuums and hard rollers, aren’t necessary (and can make matters worse by damaging skin structure); gentle, self-massage techniques are easy and effective. Try this six-week, bump-banishing protocol: before you bathe or shower, start with dry brushing, long used to simulate lymph flow and remove toxins and cellular waste. Using a soft brush with natural bristles, lightly stroke cellulite-prone regions, moving in the direction of your heart. Follow with a warm bath or shower to enhance circulation, and add a gentle body scrub—exfoliation smooths skin and increases the turnover of cells, minimizing the appearance of cellulite, and it’s thought that the mild irritation triggers collagen production. After your bath, when tissues are still warm, massage dimpled areas in a circular motion for 5 to 10 minutes. Use a blend of sweet almond or jojoba oil with a few drops of circulation-boosting essential oils, like rosemary, lemongrass, fennel, cypress or geranium.
6. Change Your Relationship with Coffee
Your morning latte may be promoting dimply deposits: caffeine increases levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can encourage the body to hang on to fat, and coffee’s diuretic actions dehydrate skin and worsen the appearance of cellulite. Even worse if you’re adding milk or cream; some research suggests added hormones in milk and other dairy products up your body’s levels of estrogen, thought to play a role in the development of cellulite. Take a six-week break from coffee, and switch to green tea. Some research suggests it suppresses collagen breakdown. Or choose an herbal tea blend made with dandelion and other herbs to lessen fluid retention and promote circulation. But don’t completely ditch caffeine; just change how you’re using it. Topically, it dilates blood vessels, prevents the accumulation of fat in cells and triggers lipolysis (the breakdown of fats). Look for natural creams and lotions fortified with caffeine and other cellulite-banishing botanicals.
7. Support with Supplements
As part of your six-week, cellulite-banishing protocol: try natural herbs and supplements that encourage fat breakdown, strengthen connective tissue, and boost circulation and lymph flow. Research suggests conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) can improve cellulite and reduce thigh circumference, and chokeberry juice—rich in polyphenols, also found in other berries—markedly reduced the appearance of cellulite. Other supplements and traditional herbs with promise: gotu kola, hydroxycitrate, kelp, ginkgo biloba and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) from green tea. Or use a topical cellulite cream with natural ingredients shown to maintain skin’s elasticity, promote circulation and enhance lipolysis. Caffeine, retinol, forskolin (Coleus forskohlii), sacred lotus, carnitine and horse chestnut have well-documented anti-cellulite activities.