“Consistency and patience are key when applying a cellulite treatment,” says Dr. Henry. “Results will vary depending on the active ingredients; it can be anytime from 4-12 weeks.” She does warn, however, that while at-home treatments can help improve microcirculation and the appearance of cellulite, they are temporary and only provide minimal improvement. Dr. Garshick explains that “most at-home treatments are temporary in that they mostly improve the overall appearance of the skin and diminish the appearance temporarily, but don’t necessarily address the underlying cause.” Because cellulite results from changes deeper in the skin, topical treatments are limited in what they can do. Danusia Wnek, a chemist in the Health, Beauty & Environmental Sciences Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute, agrees, and explains that “because of how deep these fat cells lie, it may be hard for caffeine in topical products to reach the target site to work.”
“Some benefits may be immediate, resulting from a temporary vasoconstriction of blood vessels, such as what occurs with caffeine, in which case using a cream in the days prior to a vacation may provide some instant benefit,” says Marisa Garshick, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. Other changes that rely on stimulating collagen production such as tightening and firming — like those with retinol — can take more time to see the results, requiring consistent use for at least 3-6 months.
When shopping for a cream, Dr. Henry recommends looking for certain active ingredients, including caffeine, retinol and peptides. Caffeine is known to help improve the skin’s microcirculation and dehydrate skin, which can have a tightening effect, though more research is still needed to confirm the lasting effects. “Retinol boosts collagen production, which can help make the skin appear tighter and smoother,” explains Dr. Garshick. “Although it is not thickening the collagen enough to eliminate the dimples, it can make the skin on the surface appear improved.” Peptides help strengthen the skin and “may help the skin appear firmer and tighter, which can improve the overall appearance of cellulite,” says Dr. Garshick.
As another more permanent option, Wnek suggests consulting a dermatologist about in-office procedures, like the FDA- approved Cellfina, a Goodhousekeeping Beauty Award winner, which targets cellulite more long term. Between in-office procedures and more budget-friendly creams, there are options for anyone who wants to treat cellulite.