From stretch marks and wrinkles to freckles and moles, your skin is uniquely you, and tells the story of your life like the rings inside a tree. While textured skin is nothing to be ashamed of – nearly everyone has some – it’s up to you to decide how you feel most comfortable with the skin you live in.
Cellulite is an extremely common and completely normal condition that causes uneven skin texture. In fact, 80-90% of women, and around 10% of men, will develop cellulite at some point in their lives.
While it’s not harmful or indicative of any larger medical issues, you may dislike the way it looks. If that’s the case, keep reading for things you can do and treatments available to improve its appearance.
What is cellulite?
Cellulite is the dimpled, lumpy appearance of certain areas of the skin caused by subcutaneous fat (fat under the skin). Cellulite usually develops on the hips, thighs and buttocks, but it can also appear on the stomach, chest, upper arms and breasts. It becomes more visible when squeezing the area or sitting down.
The word “cellulite” in reference to this bumpy skin didn’t even enter the American vocabulary until 1968, when it was printed in an issue of Vogue. Prior to that, it was simply how our skin looked as we aged.
What causes cellulite?
We all have a layer of fat between our skin and muscle. Cellulite happens when this fat layer grows larger and pushes up against the skin. As this happens, the cords of connective tissue that hold our skin and muscle together continue to pull down, creating a dimpled, rippling effect. Think of squeezing something soft through a net.
Cellulite can occur after weight gain, but it can also be brought on by puberty when our bodies start to store fat in different ways.
How to prevent cellulite
Because cellulite is completely normal and can be caused by factors outside of our control, it’s not always possible to prevent it. But there are things you can do to lessen the amount or severity of the cellulite you have:
- Eat a well-balanced diet low in processed carbohydrates, sugar, salt and fat
- Exercise regularly
- Stay hydrated
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Don’t smoke
It’s important to know that cellulite is not an indicator of poor health, and anyone, no matter their level of fitness, can have cellulite.
Who is most likely to get cellulite?
Eating a poor diet and leading a sedentary lifestyle can make you more likely to develop cellulite or make cellulite more noticeable. Although these factors can also cause you to be overweight, being overweight is not always a direct cause of cellulite. Even people who are considered skinny can have cellulite.
Women are more likely than men to have cellulite for a number of reasons. As we mentioned earlier, men and women begin storing fat differently after puberty. Women store fat in the thighs, hips and buttocks – areas that are most susceptible to cellulite – whereas men store fat in the stomach.
There are also differences in the structure of connective tissue. Women’s connective tissue is situated vertically between skin and muscle, like columns, while men’s create a lattice structure that can more evenly contain fat cells.
You’re more likely than others to have cellulite because of:
- Genetics: Your genes play a role in how your body distributes fat, a major contributor to cellulite.
- Aging: Our skin loses its stretch as we age and can start to droop, which makes cellulite more prominent.
- Hormones: Testosterone, the male hormone, makes the body burn fat, while estrogen, the female hormone, makes the body store fat.
- Pregnancy: Your weight and hormone levels fluctuate throughout pregnancy, two things that can cause cellulite to worsen.
- Poor circulation: Poor blood flow inhibits the production of collagen, which your skin needs to stay elastic and strong.
How to get rid of cellulite
Cellulite is stubborn. Once you have it, it often isn’t possible to get rid of it completely. But you can take steps to lessen its appearance.
Cosmetic cellulite treatments
There are treatments that help improve the appearance of cellulite by using cosmetic dermatology techniques and technology. The American Academy of Dermatology considers these procedures effective, but the results are typically temporary.
- BTL Cellutone: Strong mechanical vibrations are applied to the skin’s surface using a handheld device. These vibrations increase oxygen and blood supply, improve circulation and break up fat cells in areas with cellulite.
- Acoustic wave therapy: Using a handheld device, sound waves are applied directly to affected areas of the skin. The sound waves loosen the tight connective tissue that creates the cellulite dimples, while also causing an increase in blood flow and collagen production.
- Laser treatment: This is a minimally invasive procedure in which a thin laser transmits heat under the skin through a small incision. This heat helps relax the connective tissue, burn through subcutaneous fat and increase collagen production.
- Subcision: This is a surgical procedure in which the tight cords of connective tissue are cut using a needle-like device inserted into your skin. The severed connective tissue releases the tension that causes cellulite.
- Vacuum-assisted precise tissue release: Similar to subcision, this procedure cuts the connective tissue, but employs small blades instead of a needle-like device. Suction is then applied to the surface of the skin to redistribute the subcutaneous fat and fill in any dimples.
Cellulite home remedies
Mild to moderate cellulite can often be improved at home using one or several methods in combination.
- Eating a healthy diet and following an exercise regimen that includes cardio and weight training are proven cellulite treatments. Firming muscle helps smooth your skin and makes the appearance of cellulite less severe.
- Slow, steady weight loss, about one to two pounds a week, is your best bet for reducing cellulite. Losing too much weight too fast can leave you with loose skin, which makes cellulite more pronounced.
- Massage helps your lymphatic system drain fluid from your body and increases blood flow, making it an effective, although temporary, cellulite remedy. Keep in mind that you won’t see results from one massage but will need consistent massage sessions over time.
- There are plenty of creams, lotions, supplements and brushes that claim to be cellulite cures, but it’s important to maintain some skepticism around these methods. There is often little to no scientific evidence to prove that they make any lasting impact on cellulite.
With more options than ever for cellulite treatment, you don’t have to endure cellulite if you’re not ready to embrace it.
Is it cellulite or something else?
Cellulite can be confused with some other related and unrelated conditions:
Cellulite vs. lipedema
Cellulite and lipedema can look very similar. Lipedema is an abnormal distribution of fat in the buttocks, thighs, calves and sometimes the upper arms. The fat often has a lumpy outward appearance and an uneven inner texture, and the affected areas can be painful, swollen and heavy. The causes of lipedema are not well known, but it occurs most often in women experiencing hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy and menopause.
Cellulite vs. cellulitis
Cellulite and cellulitis share no similarities beyond their similar names. Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin and, unlike cellulite, causes redness, heat, swelling and pain in the affected area. Cellulitis requires antibiotic treatment.
Cellulite vs. stretch marks
Stretch marks are red, purple, brown or silvery stripes in your skin caused by your body’s rapid growth during puberty, pregnancy and weight fluctuation. While stretch marks can cause slight indents in the skin similar to cellulite dimples, they are typically long, thin lines that follow or spread out from the direction of growth. Stretch marks are considered scars, and they can be treated with various scar remedies.
Know that you have options for cellulite treatment
Cellulite is not a dangerous or life-threatening condition, and it’s your choice to treat it or not – regardless of what the beauty industry says. If the appearance of cellulite is affecting your confidence or self-esteem, your primary care doctor may be able to help identify the best treatment options for you. They can also refer you to cosmetic dermatology services.