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The Latest Weapon in the War on Cellulite: Platelet Rich Plasma

For years, the tabloid covers have zoomed in on the cellulite afflicted thighs, buttocks, arms, and stomachs of countless actresses and models at the beach. The reason that this kind of celebrity shaming is so memorable, and that it resonates with us when their secret lumps and indentations are exposed, is that the overwhelming majority of women have cellulite. In fact, studies estimate the prevalence of cellulite among post-pubescent women to be as high as 80 to 95 percent. Cellulite is the great equalizer; it affects women whether they are heavy or skinny, young or old, and regardless of race. Yet it is not unconquerable. Several options are available for significantly reducing cellulite, the latest of which is platelet rich plasma, or “PRP”.

The causes of cellulite

To understand how PRP works on cellulite, understanding the pathophysiology of cellulite is helpful. Lumpy skin has multiple causes:

  • Genetics
  • Weight and weight fluctuations
  • Poor circulation
  • Hormones
  • Sun damage
  • Smoking
  • Poor nutrition
  • Gender
  • Exercise and Diet

While being overweight certainly exacerbates the appearance of cellulite, cellulite is ultimately a condition of the skin. Two occurrences cause the majority of cellulite. One is the expansion of fat cells leaking out of their compartments and into the dermis, pushing upwards and creating a lumpy appearance. The other mechanism causing the deep dimples or “orange peel” look involves stiffening and tightening of the collagen bands in the skin, which pull the skin’s surface down and create the telltale indentations. Other factors, such as whether the skin is loose or tight, affect the appearance of cellulite and the type of treatment likely to yield the best results. When lax skin is involved, cellulite may assume the appearance of bands or stripes. Stimulating collagen and repairing the skin’s structural issues are what lead to improvements in appearance.

How PRP works

Since the 1970s, PRP has been used for a variety of conditions and procedures, such as heart surgery, soft tissue repair during plastic surgery procedures, and also in orthopedics to treat knee arthritis. The breadth of its use stems from the fact that PRP works by stimulating the body’s innate healing capabilities.  PRP has become more well known in recently years due to media coverage of this non-surgical treatment for sports injuries among athletes including Tiger Woods and American baseball player Alex Rodriguez. Kim Kardashian’s infamous “vampire facial” drove interest in the use of PRP for stimulating collagen to keep skin looking young and supple. Another use has recently been added to the PRP repertoire: improving the appearance of cellulite.

The treatments begin just like regular annual lab work: with a blood draw by a doctor, nurse, or phlebotomist. In fact, less blood may be drawn for the PRP procedure than for routine lab work. The extracted blood is placed in special centrifuge equipment, which “spins” the blood for several minutes until the components separate, leaving a platelet-rich layer. Once the platelet-rich layer is isolated, the patient returns to the treatment room, where it is injected back into the site of injury, or in the case of cellulite, the site of the damaged skin and stiff collagen strands which cause the dimpled appearance. The concentrated platelets trigger the body’s natural healing response by stimulating growth factors and cytokines. Treatments typically take less than an hour, and most patients find that any discomfort is comparable to a flu shot.

PRP can be used as a single treatment for cellulite, or in conjunction with other treatments, such as lasers. PRP does not melt fat cells, however it does create the healthier skin structure necessary to minimize the appearance of cellulite over the long term. PRP also consists of substances created by the body, which makes it a good complement to a more natural, less invasive approach to treating cellulite.