Pinch a piece of your skin. It snaps back in place when you let go, right? That's your elastic tissue at work. Made of a protein called elastin, elastic tissue is what keeps your skin flexible and allows it to hold its shape. As we age, elastic fibers begin to break apart, so your skin gradually loses its bounceback ability. This is why smile lines slowly become deep creases that stay put even when you stop smiling. Over time you might notice that sleep creases take longer to go away, too (because, apparently, your face can freeze like that). Prolonged sun exposure can also damage elastic fibers, which is why sun-damaged skin sags prematurely. And if the skin stretches too fast (such as during pregnancy or a growth spurt), the elastic fibers snap— not unlike what happens when you pull too hard on a rubber band. That's when you wind up with stretch marks. You can help prevent snapping and sagging, however, by choosing foods that will supply your body with the building blocks of strong elastic tissue.
Our skin's connective tissue (i.e., our collagen and elastin) is also partly responsible for the appearance of cellulite, the cottage- cheese- like dimpling that you might notice on your upper thighs and derriere. That's because collagen and elastin fibers sit perpendicular to the dermis. When fat expands (when you gain weight), it causes those fibers to tug on the underside of the skin, creating dimples. Women are more prone to developing cellulite than men because male connective tissue is assembled in a crisscross pattern, at a 45- degree angle to the dermis (so any dimpling appears less pronounced). Women also tend to have a thicker fat layer than men, which is more likely to bulge through the connective tissue (lucky us). Circulation problems may also contribute to cellulite in a woman's legs, hips, butt, and belly.
A CURE FOR CELLULITE?
Many of my more famous patients indulge in anticellulite Endermologie treatments (which incorporate suction and massage to smooth the skin) before they have to fi lm a bikini scene or walk the red carpet in a slinky gown. (Imagine having two rolling pins that are connected to a vacuum hose rolled over your hips and thighs for forty- five minutes, and you'll get the picture.)
In the, ahem, interest of science, I decided to try Endermologie myself. (Did I mention this involves wearing a skintight head- to- toe bodysuit?) Although my skin did feel a bit smoother afterward, I can't be sure how much the treatments actually helped because once I knew that some stranger was going to be working on my thighs, I really started watching what I ate in between appointments. There is some evidence that it works, though— at least temporarily. A recent study showed that women who received the treatment twice a week for fifteen sessions lost inches, but the results are best immediately following the procedure. This may reflect a temporary improvement in circulation or a swelling of the skin (which would make lumps less obvious) rather than a real "loss" of cellulite.
You can produce a similar effect by doing your own vigorous massage at home in the shower (without the humiliation of the unitard). Try The Body Shop's Cellulite Massager to improve circulation and smooth your skin. Then towel off and apply a cellulite cream such as Bliss's fatgirlslim or RéVive's Cellulite Erasure. Both contain caffeine, which has been shown to break down fat cells.