IN AN ATTEMPT to minimize the “orange peel” look on her thighs and buttocks, a Beverly Hills millionaire makes twice-weekly trips to the Mila Moursi salon on Sunset Boulevard, where her body is massaged and covered with exotic herbal creams. When she’s in New York, she visits the Anushka Institute, where she is covered from the neck down with a deep green masque derived from seaweed.
“I’m thin, I eat right, I get some exercise, but I still have cellulite,” she laments. “This is the only way I’ve been able to control it.” Like thousands of women who are returning to treatments because they say diet and exercise alone haven’t worked, she is convinced that without massages and masques, her cellulite would only get worse.
Cellulite treatments have been popular in Europe since the 1920s, but the term cellulite was not introduced to American women until 1972, when French skin-care specialist Nicole Ronsard wrote a surprise best seller on the topic. In the book, Ronsard suggested massage as a way to knead away fat deposits that cause the bumpy texture. Subsequently, cellulite treatments flourished in the United States.
But the lotions, massages and body wraps fell out of vogue when a 1978 medical study of 1,000 American women indicated that cellulite is a sex-typical feature of women’s skin. That is, most women have it; most men don’t. According to the research, it is not a disease (and thus cannot be cured); nor is there any way to distinguish a so-called cellulite cell from any other fat cell. In effect, the doctors established that cellulite is just plain fat that accumulates between the skin and muscle and can be diminished only through diet and exercise.
Dermatologist Jerome Z. Litt, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, describes cellulite as “a normal abnormality that affects more women than it doesn’t. Genetics determines who will get it and who won’t. The thinner a woman is, the less apparent it is.” How to control it? Don’t get fat, he says.
Today’s typical cellulite client is a 30- to 50-year-old woman who spent the ‘80s dieting and exercising but hasn’t lost that undesirable dimpled skin. “These women know they have a visible problem, and because they travel, they know that women in Europe have been getting treatment and controlling the problem for years,” says Aida Thibiant, whose Beverly Hills salon has offered cellulite massages since the mid-'70s.
The new salon services include black-mud masques and massages with essential oils from nuts, berries and flowers. At Cristophe in Beverly Hills, owner Cristophe Shatteman says that about eight women a day request $75 seaweed wraps--triple the number that did so only six months ago.
The number of available at-home treatments has multiplied. Since September, about 500,000 shower heads with rotating brushes--which manufacturer Epi Products claims will “lessen the appearance of cellulite"--have been sold. And whole regimens designed to “control” or “reduce” cellulite are offered by skin-care cosmetics companies such as Elancyl, Clarins and Biotherm.
“A woman can be a marathon runner and still have cellulite,” says Joelle Saxon, owner of Skin Spa in Encino. Saxon administers seaweed treatments intended, she says, to help eliminate toxins in fat cells.
“But treatments are not enough,” she says. “Life styles have to change.” She urges clients to drink at least eight glasses of water daily, reduce fat intake, limit alcohol consumption, refrain from smoking and exercise more frequently to help control cellulite.
Some women mistakenly turned to liposuction, cosmetic surgery that vacuums out fat, in hopes of removing it for good. But plastic and reconstructive surgeon Lawrence Koplin of Beverly Hills says that the technique does not get rid of the fat cells directly under the skin--those that cause the dimpling. “The purpose of the surgery is to improve the contours of the body, not the skin,” Koplin says. “In fact, it could make the cellulite look worse if the patient has poor skin tone to begin with.”
Even though doctors dismiss the condition as hopeless and harmless, Nancy Lou Astrachancontinues to pound derrieres and thighs at the Louise Long Studio in Sherman Oaks. Her aunt, the late Louise Long, established the salon in the 1930s when she massaged the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Mitzi Gaynor and Lana Turner.
“Doctors can keep saying you can’t get rid of these lumps and bumps,” Astrachan says. “But we’ve had women who’ve been coming two to three times a week for 20 years. They know it works.”
Body makeup: Kirt Masami/ Zenobia; model: Monique/ Elite