Four summers ago, I was standing in my bedroom getting ready for the beach. I was on holiday in Greece and the clear blue waters were calling. As I twirled briefly in front of the mirror, I stopped in mid swing, frozen in horror. I noticed that unappealing expanses of cellulite had crept up on me unawares over the winter. My upper thighs were no longer smooth and flawless. That orange peel look that I had pityingly noticed in others was now my problem. I'd become one of those middle aged ladies with cellulite.
Where had the smooth thighs of my youth vanished to? Why had I not taken care of them? Why had I not used that dry skin brushing brush that has hung in my shower for decades? And most importantly, what could I do now? Perhaps it was karmic revenge for those pitying glances I'd cast at cellulite-blighted bodies in the past. I determined to do everything I could to get rid of it once and for all.
What is cellulite?
Back home I made many calls - to friends, to beauticians, to clinics. And the answer was the same. It is almost impossible to get rid of cellulite once you have it. You can make it look less lumpy, but once it's there, it's there.
Apparently 95% of us have cellulite. Just to different degrees. It comes from lack of circulation, sedentary jobs and not enough exercise, but is also hereditary and hormone linked. Processed foods and large quantities of sugar and dairy in your daily diet don't help.
Did you know there are even different types of cellulite? Adipose cellulite is firm cellulite, a slight orange peel effect on loose skin. Oedematous cellulite is fluid retention - a softer cellulite, again found where there is loose skin. And fibrotic cellulite is hard, compact cellulite with a distinctive orange peel effect. There is a whole cellulite world out there that I knew nothing about.
The four grades of cellulite
If you want to assess which grade of cellulite you have, stand in front of a mirror and make sure the light is bright, however unforgiving.
Grade 1 cellulite
Pinch an area of the skin on your upper thighs. No visible cellulite, you can breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Grade 2 cellulite
When you pinch your skin you see an orange peel effect. It will disappear if you lie down flat and can't really be seen when you are just standing and not pinching.
Grade 3 cellulite
You can see cellulite when you stand up, but not when you lie down.
Grade 4 cellulite
You can see cellulite whether you are standing up or lying down.
For me it was a nasty 'moment of truth' test from which I clearly emerged Grade 4. I could see that cellulite horribly clearly. Was I really not going to be able to make it go away?
I am never one to take no for an answer. A research project was clearly called for.
First, I photographed my legs in full, frightening, close-up. Then I hid the photograph in my bottom drawer under the envelopes and last years catalogues. And then I began the experiment.
Groupon is a most miraculous company and has a vast section for special bargain beauty treatments. Trustingly, I scanned the offers that might help. Over the next 6 months I did everything they had to offer. There were seaweed masks and heated cellophane wraps. A variety of massages with special products. Strange machines that pummelled and sucked your flesh in an attempt to break down the lumps and bumps. There was a special offer laser that zapped them with invisible frequency, and even once, the guaranteed latest most wonderful machine that Madonna loved so much she bought two for her own home (Madonna has cellulite too?!). I plunged into the project with enthusiasm and zest, even though it was tiring traipsing 2 hours into the far corners of the city to benefit from my £20 special offers week after week.
Cellulite experiment: results
When the first six months were up I took another photograph. And nearly cried. I had resolved not to compare the photographs until the experiment was over. And I had thought a concentrated 6 months would be more than enough to defeat the problem. But, although there clearly was a degree of improvement, the cellulite had not magically disappeared as promised. The surface skin was definitely smoother and the lumps less visible but in no way could you declare me a cellulite free zone.
Complementary cures for cellulite
So what to do now if modern science had failed? With medicine, I unfailingly turn to natural remedies and complementary therapies with great success. It was clearly time to do the same for my cellulite. And who better to tell me than ladies older and wiser than I, and who had struggled with the problem longer? A global analysis was clearly called for.
I did a random survey of complementary therapists (very random!). I asked around the British Isles with little success. 'Massage' they said, 'creams' - but nobody was really sure which ones. The Italians and the Spanish said the same. It's not something the Greeks have an opinion on and the Germans shrugged and said it was just a fact of life. Exercising from a young age would prevent it.
The Brazilians looked at me with impatience and said did I not know that it was something that had to be avoided and massaged away from a very young age? I didn't actually. No one ever told me, but looking at their acres of smooth and fabulous flesh on the beaches of Bahia, I can see that that approach definitely works. It's part of their culture, so on behalf of our grandchildren (its probably already too late for our own children) let's make it part of ours.
Turkish massage: successful cellulite cure
Moving further across Europe I hit success for the older reader. In Turkey they blast it away with the most intense painful cellulite massage I have come across. You have to do it regularly and for months, but they massage so ferociously and so deep, the cellulite doesn't stand a chance. Massage in Turkey is about a tenth as expensive as in London, so it's well worth a hop onto an easyJet and scheduling your next two-week holiday there. I had a massage a day for two weeks for the same price as a single London one, and the photograph I took at the end gave me my first glimmer of hope. Much smoother, and the skin was loose and free. It had lost the solid density that I had first thought meant my legs were still youngish and firm and hadn't realised were actually congested and a sign of serious cellulite infestation.
Cellulite treatments around the world
In Bulgaria they had a guaranteed remedy. Coffee grounds are apparently the answer. It's a long term approach and I am only on week 3, so I can't really comment with any authority. But based on the total lack of lumps of the 50 year old who shared it with me, I have hope. It's a very simple and inexpensive treatment, which is also helpful. Boil yourself a cup of coffee in a cafetière, and when you have drunk it (though obviously I think you should have swapped to hot lemon water by now!) save the grounds. Add them to some olive oil to make a smooth brown paste, and once a week rub the mixture into your cellulite areas. Work in small circular movements and massage deeply for 2-5 minutes. It only takes 26 seconds for whatever you put on your skin to penetrate (remember that as you smother your body in toxic aftershower cream) so the coffee starts to work quickly. After 6 months, you should notice a visible difference. I am expecting great things by Christmas and will report back.
I had huge hope too for the Russians, but they just looked at me in amazement. They all have it, and couldn't care less, which actually is a very freeing thing. And certainly the cheapest solution.
Montenegro offered the cavitation machine, which for a few pounds, seems to liquefy your fat and, depending on the cleanness of your liver, effectively remove it from your body. I had two sessions of this and lost a clear few inches around my upper thighs. But sadly I don't live in Montenegro so it isn't a long term solution.
India offers Ayurveda. Gotu Kola is used in paste form and applied directly on the affected areas. Dandelion tea, milk thistle, parsley, iodine and ginger are used to flush out toxins, improving circulation and repairing cells. Ayurveda also say that vitamin K massaged into the cellulite areas breaks it down effectively.
Cellulite: cheap and effective solution
I have one more tip to add, of my very own. And this is my favourite of them all, that I do myself each morning and has made a visible difference. I am confident that daily use will prevent any further deterioration too. I found it in a shop in Serbia, but you can buy it online for about £40. Made by Beurer (CM50) it is a strange spiky contraption that you put on your hand and massage on your legs in the shower when you are covered with soapy water. It is painless, but the more pressure you apply the deeper it sinks into the cellulite, and over time (about 3 months) clearly breaks it down and doesn't give it a chance to reform. Apply something like Weleda birch cellulite oil after your shower and I think that's pretty much the most effective and most inexpensive solution.
As for me, I am still a work in progress, but at least I have moved from grade 4 to grade 2 in the cellulite rankings. Grade 1 is clearly in my sights I feel!
So here endeth my global research project, and I hope the results will bring you joy. Or, at the very least, hope. For smoother legs and a return to the confidence of your youth as you walk down the beach, cellulite free. Take your pick of the international remedies for a common human problem, and please report back to me. We are all in this together!