Even the perfectly sculpted among us know there is a lot of prep that must be done when you're going to expose that much skin. Otherwise, you'll be huddling under a beach towel or staying up to your neck in the pool, afraid to come out of the water. So here's our guide to what you can and can't expect to fix and how you can stop the bathing suit terrors from winning this summer.
No matter how thin and fit, almost all women have cellulite, and there are myriad treatments that claim to fight it, including cellulite creams and lotions, machines that use infrared light, massages and techniques that use radio frequencies and/or ultrasound. Prices can range from about $13 for a 6.7-ounce bottle of Nivea Body Good-Bye Cellulite gel to $1,500 for a series of eight to 10 Dermosonic treatments using ultrasound. But are any of them a cellulite cure?
"I would love to find some objective independent clinical studies to document the success of these various treatment regimens," says Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Garth Fisher. But when he listens to his patients' experiences very carefully, he says, "they and others have in the vast majority of cases told me that the treatments are generally very temporary, very expensive and don't work."
"A Louis Vuitton bag and Jimmy Choo shoes might give a more long-lasting satisfaction for the same price," Fisher says.
Cellulite is a structural issue caused by fat pushing through our ever-changing connective tissue. Skin thickness can determine how cellulite looks externally. And although cellulite is so ubiquitous one might say it is "normal," hormones, pregnancy, diet, lifestyle, genetics and stress can all affect how much an individual has. But making at least a little temporary improvement is not completely hopeless.
"Many of these treatments base their effectiveness on increasing blood flow, massaging or heating up the skin," Fisher says. "If you want to increase your blood flow or heat up the skin, stop smoking, go running, go to the beach, enjoy lovemaking more, go to the sauna, wrap plastic wrap around your body or get a massage from someone you like a lot."
British skin-care expert Liz Earle, founder of Liz Earle Naturally Active Skincare and author of the book "Skin Secrets," is a huge fan of dry brushing.
"It's such a fast way to make a difference in your skin for summer," she says. "Dry brushing exfoliates away dead skin cells, aids lymphatic drainage and, along with a very clean diet, improves skin tone."
Use a long-handled natural bristle brush. Start on the soles of the feet to stimulate nerve endings, and work up your legs, your front and back. Then do your hands and up your arms.
"Really concentrate on any areas that feel lumpy: the hips, the backs of thighs, upper arms. Use fairly long sweeping motions," Earle says. "Do this a few minutes every day, every morning, and you'll see smoother, more luminous skin."
"You'll feel a little bit uncomfortable, but you'll get used to it and really start to enjoy it," Earle says. "Start at least two to three weeks before you head out to the beach."
Some cautions: Don't brush over breasts (that skin is too sensitive), don't brush too aggressively and don't brush over rashes, eczema or sores.
Follow with a moisturizing body cleanser and a gentle body scrub (Earle's homemade recipe: 50 milliliters [1.7 ounces] of grapeseed oil, 50 grams [1.7 ounces] of fine sea salt and two or three drops of pure essential oil, such as lavender or orange blossom). Use a good moisturizer. It doesn't have to be expensive: Lubriderm Advanced Therapy with Active AHA, Eucerine Intensive Repair with Alpha Hydroxyl and CeraVe Moisturizing lotion are just a few good options that can be found for less than $15. Finish with a high SPF sunscreen. If you're going to be getting wet at the pool or beach, reapply thick layers often. Sunscreen is usually only good for a year, so check expiration dates. If skin is burned or overheated, an aloe sun gel is a good antidote, "as is a cool bath with a few drops of lavender oil in it," Earle says.
Before waxing the bikini area or other body parts, "don't use anything oily," says brow and waxing expert Anastasia Soare. Instead, use a non-oily body scrub or prepare the bikini line by brushing it with a soft, natural-bristle brush every other night. Then apply a little baby powder. Tend Skin liquid can reduce ingrown hairs, but use it at least two days before or two days after waxing. Soare recommends stopping the use of Retin-A at least three days before waxing because it increases skin sensitivity. She also recommends against a bikini wax if you're on antibiotics or Accutane.
For shaving your legs, the razor acts as an exfoliator, but for really dry skin, an oily body scrub used in the shower before shaving can help. An inexpensive shaving gel is usually all that's needed, but multi-blade razors, such as Gillette Venus and Schick Quattro are worth the investment for smooth, nick-free legs. Chemical depilatories (a bit odiferous) and laser hair removal (but only from a board certified doctor) are also options.
Don't be pasty
UV tanning beds have been linked to cancer, but sunless tanning products offer a terrific alternative. The products are usually a cream or lotion that darkens the skin. You can buy them over the counter at prices starting at less than $10 and apply them yourself, or, for a flawless finish, enlist professional help at a salon, spa or specialty company, such as Chocolate Sun in Santa Monica, which charges $55 per session.
"Sunless tanning can minimize the look of cellulite and spider veins," says Chocolate Sun product creator, founder and owner Susie Hatton. "It makes your skin even, pretty and smoothes everything." She has a few tips to ensure an even, lasting "tan":
Don't over-exfoliate before sunless tanning, because doing so will leave skin irritated. Don't use deodorant, perfumes or oils before tanning. They leave invisible marks, creating a barrier that inhibits tanning.
Do go easy on retinoids and alpha hydroxy products the week before using a sunless tanner. Apply products to clean, dry skin. Exfoliate ahead of time with a not-too-oily body scrub or with a washcloth and soap, and be sure you shave or wax a few hours beforehand. If you're sunless tanning at home, take your time and read product instructions carefully before you begin. Work from the bottom up: feet to calves to thighs and middle section and outward. Apply a very light layer of moisturizer to areas of your body with thicker skin, like heels, elbows, knees or the top of hands, before using the sunless tanner, or use less tanner on those areas because dryer, thicker skin grabs the solution and could turn that skin orange. Keep skin moisturized for a lasting tan.
"Sunless tanning should be like dessert to dinner — always happening last. After manicures, after pedicures, after hair color, all that stuff," Hatton says.
Tanners you can try at home include San Tropez self-tanning products, Body Bling by Scott Barnes for naturally darker girls who want a hint of shimmer and Jergens Natural Glow.
What's most important
Pageant contestants use butt glue to keep their swimsuits in place, bronzer to contour muscles, and diet and workout to highlight their genetic assets. But Nicole Johnson, Miss California USA 2010, says there is one overriding factor in looking good in a swimsuit.
"Self-confidence is the key," she says. "As long as you're comfortable with who you are and you know that you're beautiful inside and out, you're going to be happy."