News & Politics

Summer Beauty: Dealing With Hair Removal and Cellulite

We test out a new epilator and ask experts how to deal with cellulite.

Best Face Forward: Product Reviews

Dealing With Hair Removal and Cellulite

Pretty Feet

Taming Frizzy Hair

Hair Today? Gone Today: We Put the Bliss Epilator to the Test

My friend Elizabeth swears by her epilator. When she first mentioned it, I thought she was referring to a kitchen appliance.

“An ep-i-la-tor,” she said, as if by repeating the word slowly I would grasp its definition. “You know, the electric thing you use to remove hair from your bikini line?”

I’d never heard of an epilator—I’m a waxing girl from way back. I’ve used the Poetic Waxing Kit from Bliss ($45 at for years and love it. So I was skeptical but curious. Turns out there are a thousand epilators on the market; Internet chat rooms are abuzz with debate about which is best. To simplify my life, I decided to go with the kind Elizabeth has.

Though you can buy the Bliss/Philips Bikini Perfect Deluxe Spa Edition at-home grooming system at the Bliss Spa in downtown DC that’s scheduled to open in mid-July, I ordered mine online ($59.99). The sleek, cordless, 4½-inch, rechargeable turquoise-and-white device comes with an adapter, a cleaning brush, tubes of Lemon + Sage Body Scrub and Lemon + Sage Body Butter, ingrown-hair-eliminating peeling pads, a turquoise woven cloth bag, and six attachments: trimmer, micro-trimmer (for single hairs), adjustable comb (with five length settings, like a vacuum cleaner’s settings for carpet heights), eyebrow comb, micro-shaver, and epilator head.

I had no idea this was all so complex. All I wanted was to touch up stray hairs since my last bikini wax. But the directions were easy to follow, and I was buzzing my way toward hairlessness in minutes.

Did it hurt? Not as much as seeing myself in a bikini in a three-way mirror. The epilator grabs hair and removes it by the root, so there were some pinches here and there. It was actually kind of fun once I got the hang of it. The rotating epilator head is round and smooth so you can’t hurt yourself. No redness, irritation, or ingrown hairs afterward, either.

If you’re used to that baby-soft and totally hair-free feel that only waxing can give, the Bliss/Philips may disappoint you. It did the job and left me smooth enough, but there was a tiny bit of stubble here and there. The Grooming System isn’t a perfect substitute for waxing. It is, however, perfect for a quick touchup.
—Gigi Anders

>> Next page: What really works on cellulite?

Battle of the Bulges: What Really Works on Cellulite?

Some women dread wearing a bathing suit because of what it can reveal—bumpy cellulite on legs and hips.

Plenty of creams and treatments promise to smooth out the orange-peel-like skin. But do they? We asked dermatologists and aestheticians what works on cellulite—and what’s wishful thinking.

Scientists don’t exactly understand why cellulite occurs, but they believe that genes, poor circulation, age, and sun damage all play a role. Cellulite affects mostly women, who have vertical fibrous tissue bands encircling fat cells. When those bands pull too tightly over fat, bumps form. Men’s bands bend more horizontally, making it unlikely that skin will show uneven fat deposits.

Shannon Ginnan, medical director for Reveal MedSpa, which has locations throughout Washington, says 80 percent or more of women suffer from cellulite.

Liposuction, a procedure that removes fat, is the most popular surgical remedy. It was the third-most popular cosmetic plastic surgery in the United States last year, with 245,000 procedures. Liposuction in the South Atlantic region, which includes Washington, accounted for 22 percent of that total, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

Reveal MedSpa also offers a laser to battle the bumps. The SmoothEffects treatment is said to penetrate the skin with radio-frequency energy. The laser heats tissue with the goal of generating collagen; increasing collagen can relax the tight fibers that cause cellulite.

Another spa treatment marketed for cellulite is Endermologie, which uses gentle suction to lift skin and rollers to treat cellulite tissue. The goal, says Amy Boyce, owner of Pureskin spa in Chevy Chase, is to get the body to release toxins. But Boyce, who also offers lipomassage to help “break down” fat cells, says clients must also diet and exercise.

“Weight gain and inactivity make cellulite worse,” says Michelle Rivera, a dermatologist in Arlington. Strong and tight muscles help mitigate the visual effect of cellulite.

Rivera says that spa treatments, including massage, in theory stimulate circulation and remove lymphatic fluids that contribute to uneven skin. But she says there’s only so much that spa services can do: “Noninvasive treatments show, at best, 30 to 50 percent improvement. For a lot of women, even a modest improvement of cellulite is appreciated.”

Area medspas charge $85 to $200 for each cellulite treatment and generally recommend that women buy a package of ten or more sessions to see beneficial effects.

A new treatment showing some promise—but not yet widely available—is the SmoothShapes laser. Dermatologist Robert Weiss of the Maryland Laser, Skin and Vein Institute says that his practice has used the new SmoothShapes laser since helping to conduct a clinical trial last year for the company that makes the laser. He says SmoothShapes offers a “statistically significant reduction” in both upper-thigh circumference and dimpled skin. According to Weiss, the treatment’s effectiveness is due in part to the laser’s ability to penetrate deep below the skin’s surface. While the laser may not, as the company suggests, liquefy and sweep away fat to the lymphatic system, the laser, Weiss says, “makes the fat cells much more fragile and enhances the ability of the mechanical suction and the rollers to break up the fat.” Nevertheless, he adds, improvements are still on the horizon: “We’ve had remarkable strides from past devices, but in the future we’ll maybe be able to turn up the intensity further or discover new wavelengths that are absorbed more strongly by fat.” Weiss’s practice sees three to four SmoothShapes patients a day; he charges $150 to $175 a session.

What about all of the creams and potions marketed for cellulite? Says Laura Ann Conroy of Bliss Spa: “Cellulite is hereditary, and it cannot be removed without surgery. All we can do it try to make it look better.”

Cellulite creams often include ingredients such as kelp or caffeine to increase circulation and prevent fluid retention.

“Caffeine offers improvement in blood flow and some localized tissue swelling,” says Ginnan. “It might make dimples look not as deep, but it won’t provide more than a temporary benefit.”

Rivera says that scientific studies comparing creams with placebos showed modest and short-lived results: “These treatments sound great, but the active ingredients have to go from the surface of the skin to the cellulite and stay at the target site to have an effect.

“Anti-cellulite creams offer hope in a bottle,” Rivera says. “Self-tanner creams are a better choice to reduce the appearance of cellulite.” Darkening skin makes dimples less noticeable.
—McLean Robbins