Updated 24 April 2014

Natural anti-cellulite approaches

Death, taxes and cellulite… the great equalisers. Cellulite does not discriminate, most women of all ages and sizes have at least a few embarrassing orange-peel patches of skin.


Death, taxes and cellulite…the great equalisers. Cellulite does not discriminate, most women of all ages and sizes (yes, even skinny supermodels) have at least a few embarrassing orange-peel patches of skin.

In this series of articles, we take a look at what you can do or take to prevent, alleviate or cure common ailments naturally. As many complementary and alternative medicine therapies haven't undergone rigorous testing, we base the recommendations here on the amount of evidence that is currently available (indicated with asterisks):

Natural Steps for Cellulite (check the Evidence rating)
*** Good Evidence of a health benefit.
** Some Evidence of a health benefit.
* Traditionally used with only anecdotal evidence.

Improve these factors in your lifestyle **

  • Stress management
  • Change your diet
  • Cut down on the toxins
  • Start exercising

Cut down on the toxins:

  • Refined and processed foods.
  • Artificial foods that contain sweeteners, additives and chemicals.
  • Dairy and high fat products.
  • Sugar and high sugar products.

These nutrients have been shown to help Cellulite:

  • Vitamin C *
  • Vitamin E *
  • Selenium *
  • Vitamin A *

The following herbs are normally used for Cellulite:

Alternative/Complementary Therapy
The most commonly used Complementary Approaches to Cellulite are:

Please Note: This natural medicine guide does not replace the assessment and advice of your doctor.

Death, taxes and cellulite…the great equalisers. Cellulite does not discriminate, most women of all ages and sizes (yes, even skinny supermodels) have at least a few embarrassing orange-peel patches of skin.

There are hundreds of theories as to what causes cellulite and even more "miracle" products to combat it, but no one knows for sure what cellulite is caused by or what to do to prevent or treat it.

Many experts believe that cellulite is caused by a combination of factors including one's general lifestyle, diet, lack of exercise, hormonal changes and ageing. Some say that the female hormone oestrogen is the main culprit and the reason why men don't get the dreaded dimples.

Hormones and ageing – partners in crime
Oestrogen encourages the storage of excess fat around womens' hips, thighs and bottoms. Some experts believe that womens' bodies store excess toxins in and around these fat cells and that the build-up of these waste products exacerbates the appearance of cellulite.

Ageing has also been labelled as a guilty party, as the fibres that tightly hold a young woman's skin together, shrink as one gets older. This causes increased pressure on the skin that squeezes fat, toxins and fluids outwards and around the skin fibres, resulting in the unsightly bulges on the skin's surface that we call cellulite. This effect can be best described as when you flop onto a soft bed – you sink down into the middle of the bed, and the mattress bulges out around you.

Add to this the fact that when you get older, your skin also gets thinner and the "bulges" become more visible.

What we do know however, is that simple lifestyle changes like doing more exercise and eating a healthy diet can make a difference in as little as six weeks. You must however realise that the fight against cellulite requires a personal revolution in how you live you life. Only once you adopt a healthy lifestyle will you really benefit from expensive anti-cellulite potions, lotions and machines.

Natural remedies

What to do

1. Cut down on the toxins
Where does the build-up of waste products in your body come from? Aren't your kidneys, liver, sweat glands and lymphatic system supposed to get rid of them for you? The answer is simply that waste pockets exist because your body is being bombarded with more toxins than it can cope with and eliminate every day.

Many experts believe that the stimulant caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate and fizzy drinks) has a direct and negative effect on lymph flow and blood circulation, because it causes small blood vessels to constrict. This cuts down the amount of essential skin nutrients and oxygen that reach the tissues and hampers effective cell metabolism, resulting in a build-up of waste products.

The solution? Get rid of this harmful excess toxicity by detoxing and cutting down on coffee, alcohol, foods with lots of chemical additives and over-processed foods. This will also help you lose weight.

2. Change your diet
Cellulite looks worse when your skin's connective tissue is weak, because fat cells can protrude through the connective tissues into the layer of skin just beneath the surface. To keep your connective tissue strong, eat loads of antioxidant-rich foods, such as oranges, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes and peas, which all contain vitamin C – a powerful vitamin when it comes to the restoration of skin structure. Antioxidants get rid of free radicals, molecules that have been linked to cancer and premature ageing.

Eat more apples. Apples are not very acidic, toxins are, so apples tend to balance their pH. The pectin in apples, is a soluble type of fibre that assists in detoxifying the digestive tract by making you go to the toilet more often. Pears, bananas, citrus fruits, carrots and cabbage all contain pectin.

Avoid excess sugar. Not only does too much sugar pack on the pounds, but too much of it, interferes with the way our body metabolises vitamin C - a vitamin that's essential for collagen and elastin formation.

Go for fresh food and raw fruit and veg. Over-processed and refined foods are packed with additives, preservatives, fats and salt which all tax your body's toxin removal system. By eating fruit and vegetables raw, you will get the maximum benefits from the vitamins that they contain.

Onions and garlic contain sulphur compounds that will strengthen your immune system, which in turn, will take pressure off your lymphatic system. They also cleanse the blood and lymph of toxins.

Eat organic food. Organic food is free of pesticides, insecticides, hormones and artificial flavourants that will reduce the number of toxins your body has to deal with.

Feast on bioflavonoids. Include lots of blue and red foods like red grapes, blueberries, cherries and blackberries in your diet. The bioflavonoids present in these foods are packed with anti-ageing anthocyanidins. These antioxidants feed your skin and work in conjunction with vitamin C to maintain the strength of the collagen and firm up the skin's overall structure.

Water, water, water. Stay sufficiently hydrated, but don't overdo things. Drinking too much water can flush important electrolytes from your system. Let thirst be your guide.

Lemon twist. Start the day off refreshed and revitalised by drinking a glass of hot water with a squeeze of lemon. This will kickstart your liver.

3. Exercise
Regular exercise is the key to unlocking a new, dimple-free you, Exercise will burn off fat and improve your muscle tone, thus reducing the appearance of cellulite. The less fat in your body, the smaller the fat cells are and the smaller the fat cells are, the less pressure there is on the connective tissue, and the less visible your cellulite will be.

Exercise also improves blood circulation in the skin, making connective tissue more elastic and stimulating lymph flow. The result is that the body's toxin removal system is more effective and the appearance of cellulite is reduced.

Squat, step-up and lunge your way to less cellulite as these exercises are the best way to firm up cellulite-inflicted thighs and bottoms.

Blood, sweat and tears. After sweating it out in the gym, hop into the sauna. It will not only relax aching muscles, but will help detoxify your body by opening up your sweat pores thereby increasing the elimination of toxins. At home, turn your bathroom into a steam room every few weeks, by running a really hot bath or shower and shutting all windows and doors.

4. Natural therapies

Take up yoga, it's a great way to stretch and tone your muscles, which will make your skin look smoother.

Afraid of needles? You shouldn't be, because acupuncture is a great way to unblock the body's energy and clear out any unwanted toxins. Acupuncturists help the body to heal itself and restore balance. This, accompanied by a diet change and an exercise regime, will help eliminate toxins from congested systems.

Stand up straight. A good posture, not only makes you look slimmer, but will also improve your breathing, which results in better circulation. Try manual therapy or bodywork techniques like Rolfing, massage and the Alexander Technique, if you want to correct your posture, realign your body and improve the overall functioning of your body.

Reflexology. Boost energy flow to the rest of your body by having regular therapeutic reflexology sessions. Reflexology is said to stimulate the release of stored toxins into the blood circulation and the lymphatic system, from where it is then eliminated.

Meditate. Relax! Stress causes the release of adrenaline, which redirects blood away from the skin to the muscles to prepare for "fight or flight". Tense muscles also stop the free flow of blood, and therefore oxygen and nutrients, to the skin. When you're stressed, you're also more likely to indulge in toxin-forming substances, like alcohol, coffee and high-sugar foods and cigarettes. Learning how to meditate or taking up yoga will help you to de-stress.

Aromatherapy for your cellulite. Aromatherapy massage with essential oils like black pepper, juniper berry and grapefruit are believed to encourage the elimination of toxins, while sage and rosemary warm the skin, increasing circulation.

5. Other things to do

Breathe in, breathe out. Practise some deep breathing, this will not only relax you, but will improve your circulation. Also try to get some fresh air every day, as the pollutants from traffic fumes and secondary cigarette smoke add to our body's toxin load.

Don't wear tight clothes. Anything that restricts blood flow is a no-no when it comes to cellulite because you don't want to congest the flow of fluid and toxins.

Cover up. Fat, dimpled thighs look better with a tan right? That may be the case, but in the long run, skin damage caused by the sun will lead to premature ageing. Damaged collagen and elastin fibres can contribute to cellulite, so slather on that sun block.

Stub out that cigarette. Smoking is a dangerous source of toxic chemicals, the most well-known one being nicotine. These toxins contribute to the breakdown of collagen (supportive tissue), resulting in premature wrinkles and cellulite. The cigarette toxins also put a heavy burden on your body's main detoxer, the liver.

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the…bath. Too many excessively hot baths can damage your skin tone, making cellulite more visible. If you do indulge in a hot tub, every now and again, compensate for lost elasticity by applying a rich, vitamin E-packed body cream afterwards.

Have a regular Epsom salts bath. Take a detoxifying soak in a sea salt or Epsom salts bath. Epsom salt makes you sweat out toxins, while simultaneously relieving aching muscles. For an aromatherapy and salt bath: Add a cup full of Epsom salts to a bath with 10 drops of detoxifying rosemary or cypress essential oils, which have first been diluted in 10ml of carrier oil.

Early morning wake up call. A cold shower first thing in the morning will boost your circulation and get your lymph moving. Alternate with hot and cold water.

Brush up on skincare. Dry-skin brushing with a hard, natural bristle brush, before a bath or a shower has long been known as one of the best ways to reduce cellulite. It will break down fatty tissues, while gradually eliminating toxins by channelling them to the blood, sweat and lymph. Using circular strokes, brush, up your body, towards the heart, but brush in a circular direction on your bottom.

6. What not to do

Don't go down electric avenue. High-tech cellulite vacuums and strange machines that pass electric currents into your bottom may help increase circulation and tone muscles, but they are very expensive and at the end of the day, these machines might not have the lasting effects of a healthy lifestyle.

Try and avoid using painkillers, unless they are prescribed by your doctor, as they only add to the toxin overload in your body.

Beware of "miracle" cellulite cures. Even the more expensive lotions and potions are not necessarily effective. The best investment you can make is in adopting a healthy lifestyle. When you do this, only then might the magic creams start to work. Instead of tossing hundreds of rands down the drain, why not mix up your own natural cellulite potion by blending two tablespoons of sweet almond oil with one tablespoon of oatmeal. Massage this into the skin, using small, circular movements to stimulate blood and lymph flow. The grittiness of the oatmeal will help to break down your cellulite.

What to take

1. Herbal help: Gotu Kola (centella asiatica) is believed to help strengthen the skin's connective tissue, while grape seed extract is used in a lot of anti-cellulite creams. You can also benefit from grape seed extract's powerful antioxidant content by taking it as a daily supplement.

Drink herbal teas instead of caffeinated tea or coffee. Dandelion tea is will help detoxify the liver, while Rooibos Tea is renonwed for its antiodxidant properties. Other liver "tonics" include fennel tea, milk thistle supplement and garlic.

2. Supplements: Vitamin A, C and E contain antioxidants that fight the harmful free radicals found in amongst other things, alcohol, fried and smoked food and cigarette smoke. You can also find these nutrients in fruit and vegetables.

- Written by Dr Chase Webber, qualified and registered naturopath with the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa.

(Health24, updated April 2011)

Read more:
Cellulite, water intake linked
The lowdown on cellulite


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