Cupping may help reduce the appearance of cellulite by boosting blood circulation, but the science around cupping is pretty iffy.
Having cellulite is healthy and harmless — it’s simply fat that’s pushed through connective tissue under your skin. But it’s also OK if you don’t like your skin dimples and want to try an alternative treatment like cupping.
Cupping is an ancient practice that involves using suction to pull the skin’s top layer into a series of cups. It’s not necessarily a go-to cellulite treatment, but limited research suggests cupping could temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite.
Still intrigued? Here’s the deal on cupping for cellulite.
The (unconfirmed) theory behind cupping is that the suctioning pressure promotes drainage of fluids, toxins, and other chemicals. Supposedly, it pulls blood and lymphatic capillaries to the surface — including the lipids that fill fat and create that dimply cellulite. While doing this, it also promotes circulation (that part is science-backed ✅ ).
The cups applied are typically made from glass, ceramic, or silicone. Cupping may also involve:
- applying heat to the cup before putting it on your skin (to remove oxygen from the cup and allow it to suction to the skin)
- using an electric-powered rubber vacuum device on the top of the cup
- massaging and gliding unheated cups in specific ways to produce a suction (aka dry-moving cupping therapy)
- piercing your skin so blood flows into the cup (aka wet cupping)
Cellulite is typically treated with dry cupping therapy. The theory is that when you boost circulation to the areas with cellulite, the increased blood flow could smooth out the warbled areas of skin and fat cells under the surface. But TBH, there’s no research yet to back this.
Researchers also don’t exactly understand the mechanism behind cupping’s potential wins in the first place. The predominant thinking is that stimulating the skin could elicit a biological response in the endocrine, immune, and nervous systems — but the pros just don’t know for sure. 🤷♀️
Not gonna lie: There’s not much research out there on cupping for cellulite. If anything, the research at least points to a potential temporary reduction in cellulite appearance.
In a small 2015 study of 40 women, researchers found that dry-cupping therapy applied 10x on each thigh for 5 weeks decreased the grade of cellulite. However, we don’t know how long these results lasted. That smooth-AF skin could have disappeared in days or weeks. There wasn’t any follow-up, so it’s a mystery.
And according to the National Institutes of Health, we don’t have enough cupping research to draw any scientific conclusions. So far, most studies have been too small or low quality.
A 2012 research review found cupping to be effective in treating conditions such as:
- facial paralysis
- cervical spondylosis (wear and tear of spinal discs)
Still, the researchers noted that most of the 135 trials included in the review had a high risk of bias, so more research is needed to know for sure.
In a large 2018 review on cupping, researchers also concluded that the practice could:
- promote blood flow
- boost pain threshold
- reduce inflammation
- regulate cells’ immune system response
Though we still need bigger studies with more controls, the researchers did note that there’s growing evidence of the potential benefits of cupping, especially for certain diseases and pain-related conditions.
So, ya never know what scientists will uncover under the cups in the years to come.
All types of cupping are considered generally safe for most adults. Adverse effects from cupping are reportedly rare, and those that *are* reported range from mild to moderate.
As a result of the suctioning effect, most people will have some red marks on their skin afterward — that’s normal. Markings can then show up and last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. A little nausea or discomfort can def happen too.
It’s important to avoid cupping on areas of your body that are affected by:
- wounds or lesions
- recent injuries
- fractured bones
- varicose veins
- deep vein thrombosis
- eczema or psoriasis outbreaks
- Burns or scarring. If the cups are heated too much or something else goes awry, you can experience serious burns and scarring. Even though cupping can be an intense practice, it shouldn’t lead to burns and scars. (And it should never be more invasive than what you consent to with your practitioner.)
- Infections. Since wet cupping can cause minor bleeding, equipment that’s not sterilized properly can cause blood-borne diseases like hepatitis B and C.
- Anemia. Even though it’s rare, frequent wet cupping could potentially lead to anemia as a result of repeated blood loss.
Should you avoid cupping?
Cupping may not be safe for everyone. To avoid potential negative effects, always talk with a healthcare pro before cupping if you:
- are pregnant
- take blood thinners
- have heart disease
- have a pacemaker
- have hemophilia
- have eczema or psoriasis
If you’re down to give cupping for cellulite a try, you’ll need to visit a qualified acupuncturist or physical therapist who offers the therapy. In some places, massage therapists may also offer cupping.
Before you schedule your appointment, make sure your practitioner is experienced and that all equipment is disinfected between uses.
There’s no prep needed on your part — just make sure your skin is clean. When you arrive, the practitioner will discuss your unique goals with you, as well as any allergies, skin conditions, etc.
Cellulite is typically treated with dry cupping. The process should take 20 to 30 minutes. You might experience a little pain or discomfort as the heated cups are placed on your skin and form a vacuum.
If you’re a DIY-everything kinda person, rejoice — you *can* technically do cupping at home. You can get cupping supplies online or wherever you buy health, beauty, or massage supplies. A lot of drugstores have cupping tools too.
If it’s your first time, you might wanna buy a kit specifically designed for cupping for cellulite. Silicone cups are your safest option for at-home cupping. Glass cups can cause bruises, burns, or other injuries if not used correctly, so it’s best to leave those to the pros.
Look for a larger cup size for your thighs and butt and smaller ones for your arms and calves. And whichever ones you choose, make sure they’re sterile! Clean them with some rubbing alcohol before and after use.
Since the process can vary depending on the kit you buy, always follow your product’s instructions. But in general, here’s what the at-home process entails:
- Rub some body lotion or massage oil onto the area you’ll be treating.
- Choose your treatment area and place the cup on your skin.
- Gently push it down to make a vacuum. You’ll feel your skin pull.
- Release the squeeze just a little, sliding the cup around in a circular motion.
- Continue this process for 10–15 minutes per area.
- Repeat 2–3 times per week, or until you see results.
Some limited research suggests that cupping *could* temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite, in part by boosting circulation to the area. But research has not found that cupping actually treats cellulite.
Since it’s a relatively inexpensive and safe procedure, it might be worth a try. Cupping has been around for thousands of years, after all.