Aug. 5, 2005 — -- At the height of swimsuit season there's a common problem that plagues women: cellulite -- that cottage cheesy skin that dimples the thighs and back sides of women of all shapes, sizes and weight.
Some 90 percent of women have cellulite. Even thin and physically fit stars like Pamela Anderson, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears and Nicole Kidman have it.
"It actually can affect you whether you're thin or you're heavy," said Jacqui Stafford, the style director at Shape magazine.
American women spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on sucking machines, French creams, even anti-cellulite jeans, hoping to rid themselves of those unsightly skin dimples. They'll undergo treatments that include everything from the plastic wrap trick, to zapping electric currents into trouble spots.
To understand what cellulite is, you need to understand a bit about the musculature and fatty tissues beneath your skin.
If you look at a cross section of a woman's thigh, you'll see tight fiber bands connecting muscle through the fat to the skin. Where the bands aren't attached, the fat bulges up, creating the classic rippling effect of cellulite. Men generally don't have the problem because their fibers criss-cross and the fat can't bulge up as easily.
With so many options for treating cellulite, how do you pick the right one?
"20/20" conducted its own unscientific experiment and put some of the anti-cellulite treatments to the test. Jessica, a photo editor at Star magazine, and two of her colleagues, Elaine and Stacey, tried three of the newest anti-cellulite treatments for one month. The three women all battle a common enemy: lumpy thighs.
Dr. David Bank, director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic and Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, N.Y., evaluated the women's trouble spots.
"Stacey has a mild to moderate amount in predominantly her buttock area and a little bit on her thighs. Jessica has a slightly more moderate amount. And Elaine has a very mild early case," he said.
Jessica agreed to try the latest in high-tech cellulite busting: triactive laser dermology. This treatment uses both lasers and massage to attack cellulite, said spa owner Evie Cuellar.
"It actually penetrates the surface of the skin to create better microcirculation in order to break up the fatty deposits," Cuellar said.
Jessica described the procedure as "soothing."
But it's not cheap. Each session costs $100 and a minimum of 15 sessions is recommended.
Elaine tried out shoes that some say make reducing your cellulite as easy as a walk in the park. The shoes are supposed to increase muscle activity and circulation which the manufacturer claims may help reduce cellulite.
Her sandals from MBT cost $235.
Stacy gets the newest creation from the "healing garden," a beauty and wellness product company. For just $13 you get a bottle of mousse and a promise.
In four weeks, the product supposedly reduces dimpled skin by 46 percent.
For one month, the women slathered, strolled and stimulated and "20/20" met up with them to check out the results.
In Stacey's outer thighs it appeared there was no change whatsoever.
So, what about the 46 percent improvement that the label promised? The manufacturer wouldn't give "20/20" an interview. Instead, it sent this statement: "Our anti-cellulite product ... has been extensively tested in clinical studies…"
However, when "20/20" asked to see those studies, the company refused, citing trade secrets.
The next anti-cellulite product under review was the $235 pair of MBT sandals that Elaine used for a month.
In Bank's opinion, her cellulite looked unchanged.
The president of MBT, Klaus Heidegger, admits there's no science to say the shoes fight cellulite. Still he thinks they could offer some benefits from the sandals' design. "If it changes the blood flow and tones the muscles, then maybe something is there that will change," he said.
Bank also saw no change in Jessica, who underwent the most expensive treatment, spending some $1,400.
The manufacturer sent us studies its says support the claim that the technology improves the appearance of cellulite.
But Bank remained skeptical. "I have not seen any studies on any of these products that have been published in what would be considered, uh, scientific peer-reviewed journals," he said. When "20/20" asked spa owner Cuellar to comment on Jessica's disappointing results, she suggested doubling the sessions.
"It's not really a lot of money for a woman that wants to look great in a bikini," she said.
This bikini season the hottest new product is Dove Firming Cream being modeled by "real women with real curves." The cream claims to "reduce the appearance of cellulite" after two weeks.
Bank took a look at the cream's ingredients and said "none of the listed ingredients have ever been shown in scientific, peer-reviewed literature to reduce cellulite." If the cream does reduce the appearance of cellulite, the results will be temporary at best, according to Bank.
A spokesperson for Dove told "20/20" there is "no miracle cream out there." The spokesperson added that Dove is "not trying to say they can get rid of cellulite, just minimize the appearance of it." Most experts point out that any improvement is temporary at best, because there's still no proven way to get rid of cellulite for good.
The bottom line, according to Bank, is simple anatomy. Not even Hollywood stars can change it, he said, they're just great at hiding it.
And one of the best ways to camouflage cellulite, according to make-up artists on the old television show "Baywatch," a program built around bikini babes, is self tanner.
Shape magazine's Stafford agrees, "It's the best trick you can use. If your skin is tanned, you actually give the illusion of having less cellulite," she said.
And if that's good enough for Pamela Anderson, then it's got to be good enough for the rest of us.