NEW ORLEANS -- One of the most dreaded cosmetic problems has been one of the hardest to treat. Yet still women have spent a lot of money just trying to temporarily get rid of cellulite.
Now there is finally a treatment that doctors believe is better and more long-lasting than all the others of the past.
Kimberly Usher is into fitness. But at 41, she found out something all mothers know: pregnancy changes your body.
"My husband, he can't see it, but you know, I can see it," said Usher. "You're your own worst enemy I guess."
When her baby girl was only 16 weeks old, Usher had already lost 30 pounds of pregnancy weight. But with nine more pounds to go, she noticed something different about her thighs, cellulite.
"I will not put on a pair of shorts. I will not put on a bathing suit, whatever, and people think that I'm crazy, but I see it," she lamented.
Nothing made it go away.
"I work out six times a week. Me and husband are very active and we're always out in the sun. And it's just something that I don't want to deal with. It's not a lot but it's a lot to me," said Usher.
So Usher has turned to plastic surgeon Dr. Kamran Khoobehi and a new device. It's the first FDA approved treatment for cellulite.
"This is the hardest thing to fix, the banana roll," said Dr. Khoobehi, pointing to the roll of skin that women have between the buttocks and upper thigh as he marked Usher.
But first, it's important to understand what cellulite is.
Weight Loss Wednesday has been reporting on cellulite treatments since 1998. There have been supplements and creams, even people who swore they could brush it away through the lymphatic system. There were massage machines that you had to do frequently.
There were even devices that infused carbon dioxide gas under the skin to get rid of cellulite. More recently, external devices that use radio frequency or laser and light energy have promised to reduce the appearance of cellulite after multiple treatments.
"They were not giving lasting results, (number) one. And they were not giving as much as improvement. They were giving some improvement," said Dr. Kamran Khoobehi, who is a clinical professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at LSU Health Sciences Center. Dr. Khoobehi also serves as the director of training for aesthetic students at LSU and is in private practice in Metairie.
Cellulite makes tabloid headlines. The rich and famous who can afford top fitness experts are pictured with cellulite. And yes, even super lingerie models get called out for cellulite.
It's on the fat and the thin. People claim they want to look natural, but cellulite, doctors say, is natural.
"Cellulite is purely genetic. Cellulite is often worsened by routine liposuction. Cellulite is inherited basically. It is women in child bearing years that we see it the worst. The buttocks and the thighs and the hips are the predominant areas that we see cellulite," explained New Orleans dermatologist Dr. Mary Lupo.
And women mistakenly think tanned cellulite will make it look better.
"Cellulite over time will be worsened by ultraviolet A, because it further deteriorates the collagen level that's above the cellulite, that's trying to hold it down. You disrupt that collagen with UVA, especially tanning beds, and that pucker will become more noticeable over time," explained Dr. Lupo.
"The worse thing they can do is to try to tan. You know, everybody thinks that tan fat looks better than white fat, but it's not true. The tan is further breaking down the collagen. That's the supporting structure for the fatty layer as well as for the skin. So as the collagen layers become degraded by sun exposure, that fat herniates out even more. So it really exacerbates the problem," said Metairie dermatologist Dr. Patricia Farris, who is the national spokeswomen for the American Academy of Dermatology.
But now there is Cellulaze by Cynosure. It's a minimally invasive surgical procedure that attacks the three areas that cause cellulite. The patient is awake, but sedated with a pill. In an office surgical room, the Cellulaze goes under the skin but does not suck out fat as in liposuction.
A multi-directional laser tip is used to melt some of the fat as well as break those fibrous bands that connect the skin to the fascia layer of tissue, the ones that pull and cause the puckering. It also generates heat under the skin to grow collagen over time, making the skin thicker to resist puckering. That's one of the reasons men have less cellulite. Their skin and hair follicles are thicker.
"One thing is patient expectations. This is not something that is going to 100 percent remove all the cellulite. It is going to improve it. It is going to make it better. But we cannot promise the patient that we can remove all of it," said Dr. Khoobehi.
One patient we talked to, who just had the procedure that morning, went back to her office job in the afternoon. When the local anesthesia began to wear off, she felt some tingling and burning and achiness and decided she was going to take a pain pill for that night and go home, but otherwise the discomfort was tolerable.
Two hundred patients were in the clinical trials, and after two years, there were no side effects. Patients just need one treatment.
Special 3D pictures show after a year, the depressions and elevations are gone. And an ultrasound image shows the skin is 25 to 30 percent thicker a year later.
"It does get great reviews when you read about it on online websites, etc. Patients are saying they are getting nice results with Cellulaze," said Dr. Farris.
"What the patients need to realize is this is an invasive, one-treatment, supposedly permanent treatment, for cellulite. It is potentially as we call a game changer," said Dr. Lupo.
And that's what Usher is hoping for, a future with her beautiful, new daughter, who has a mom with beautiful, smooth thighs.
This is a type of surgery so the cost for the procedure is around $6,000 per area. Only one area can be treated per session.
Dr. Patricia Farris is no relation to Medical Reporter Meg Farris.
The doctors in the story are board certified in either dermatology or plastic and reconstructive surgery.