Cellulite: What Is It? How Can You Treat It?

Spring is here. You can finally stop salting your icy sidewalk and start focusing on summer issues, like cellulite.

What is cellulite?

It’s the dimpling and nodularity that occurs in women on the thighs, pelvis and abdomen. Cellulite is the result of fat pouching out of holes in the connective tissue on the skin. It occurs in 98% of girls and women post puberty. That’s right. Essentially all females have cellulite. It is a normal characteristic of sexually mature women.

Here’s what cellulite is not:

  • Cellulite is not fat. It is the appearance of the superficial fat held loosely beneath the skin. The fat is held more tightly in men which is why we do not develop cellulite.
  • Obesity doesn’t cause cellulite. Look around and you will see that skinny women have cellulite (in real life anyway).
  • Cellulite is not an accumulation of toxins or fluids; it is normal fat.

How Can You Get Rid of Cellulite?

The best treatments for cellulite have at most shown mild improvements in the appearance. Unfortunately, in almost all cases, the improvements are not maintained over time. This is because it is hard to change the loose connective fibers under the skin, which are the primary cause.

  • Weight loss can improve cellulite, but not always. Losing weight can make the skin sag, and weight loss has been shown to actually worsen the appearance of cellulite in some women.
  • Endermologie is a kneading system (like my grandmother would knead the pizza dough). Although there is some evidence it can reduce thigh circumference, how long the effects last is questionable.
  • Liposuction removes fat through suction. It is not a good treatment for cellulite because the fat is too superficial. Liposuction combined with a laser to treat cellulite sounds interesting, but has not been shown to work better than ordinary liposuction.
  • Subcision, which targets the connective tissue bands by snipping them, is a great idea, but in practice has not been shown to be very effective. There is some concern that snipping the connective fibers might actually make the fat looser, worsening the problem.
  • Mesotherapy is the injection of medications under the skin to dissolve the fat. Although it has worked for some, the results are unpredictable and can cause adverse side effects such as bruising or pain.
  • Radiofrequency treatments like TriActive or VelaSmooth generate heat under the skin damaging the fat and connective tissue, hopefully smoothing the cellulite. Improvements have been reported, but no long term efficacy has been demonstrated.
  • Herbal creams have been studied and had no effect on cellulite. It is unlikely that any topical treatment can penetrate far enough down and be potent enough to have any effect.
  • Diet has no effect on cellulite.
  • It is possible that regular exercise can improve the circulation of cellulite areas, improving the appearance, but no studies have shown that it has a significant impact. Work out because it is good for you, but stop looking at your behind in the gym mirror.
  • There are some upcoming technologies that are promising. I’ll post about them later.

What Should You Do About Cellulite?

Because it is a normal occurence in women, it’s reasonable to simply tell yourself: “Hey, this is normal!” and stop killing yourself trying to eliminate it. Many women have been pleased with any of the above treatments, but they’re all expensive and likely all temporary. If it is worth spending $500 to have a 50% improvement in your cellulite, then make an appointment with your dermatologist or plastic surgeon to discuss your options.

Keep in mind that your friends or partner might not notice that your cellulite is 50% better (what does 50% better cellulite look like anyway?). If you’re worried that you might be featured in a magazine, don’t fret. You will receive the only known cure for cellulite: Photoshop.

Do you have cellulite? Have you tried to eliminate it? How successful was it?

Photo: Tassoman

28 thoughts on “Cellulite: What Is It? How Can You Treat It?”

  1. The only thing that worked to reduce my cellulite was when I lost weight, and was at the very low end of a “normal” BMI. In the last few years I’ve gained some weight, and even though my BMI is still normal, I have massive cellulite. UGH. I know most women have it, but I hate it nonetheless:(

  2. What exactly is the difference between cellulite and fat?

  3. I’ve had it, but I found something that does work very well at reducing it.

    It’s not a permanent fix, but then what is? I mean we still have to brush our teeth, and work out… why would we think any different about a program that keeps cellulite away?

    Stop doing it and eventually it’ll come back.

    Very good topic with lots of information on cellulite.


  4. Janet Fox :
    What exactly is the difference between cellulite and fat?

    Cellulite is caused by fatty deposits:

    “Cellulite, known casually as “cottage cheese” or “orange peel” skin, is fat that has accumulated in small chambers just below the surface of the skin. This accumulation causes visible dimpling on the surface of the skin. While cellulite can occur anywhere on the body, it is most frequently found around the thighs, hips and buttocks.”

    source: http://www.cellulite-treatment.com/whatis.aspx

  5. @luke Cellulite is not a fatty deposit. There is a layer of fat under your skin that exists everywhere and on everyone. The composition of that fat varies depending on where is it (some places have more brown fat, some fat is more stress responsive, some is more estrogen receptive, etc). Cellulite is the dimpling and nodularity that appears on the surface. It is due to the loose connective tissue holding the fat in place. The laxity and orientation of the connective tissue in women allows the fat in certain areas to poke through the skin, like a seat cushion poking thorough holes in a seat cover.

  6. My cellulite reduced considerably after liposuction, weight loss and lots of cardiovascular exercise. Creams do not work. They might improve the appearance of the skin, making it look more smooth and moisturised, but that’s about it!

  7. This post came just in the right moment, as I am currently considering undergoing VelaSmooth and wondered about the effectiveness of it. Thank you for all the useful info you publish.

  8. @Dr. Benabio
    I stand corrected… Thanks for the clarification Dr. Benabio!

  9. What a great post–I agree, women should stop beating themselves up about something that is completely natural!

  10. @patuxxa I have not used it, but I understand it can improve the appearance of cellulite temporarily, but the results may not last.

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  12. This is where exercise and a diet regime comes in handy. And it is the safest way to reduce cellulite in lesser cost. Thanks for this blog it serve us an inspiration.

  13. A few years ago I did the Fat Flush Diet (by Ann Louise Gittelman, PhD). No wheat products, no dairy. A focus on lean proteins, lots of vegetables, flaxseed oil, plus I also had a wee bit of oat bran cereal, a slice of sprouted grain toast and protein shakes made with whey protein and frozen berries. I trained with weights 6 days a week, and did cardio. I jumped on a mini-tramp 5 to 10 minutes a day. After 8 weeks, every last little dimple evaporated from my derriere. (My body fat was pretty low.) I can tell you, if you do the right things, you CAN get rid of cellulite. And, I was 47 at the time!

  14. I think that the best cure for cellulite is to exercise. It burns off extra fat and weight and tones your legs leving themf irmer. I know this from personal experience. These are good tips too though

  15. I have suffered from cellulite for a really long time now and if I have discovered one fact it’s that diet and exercise is the the only proven way to decrease it.

  16. Marine Musulyan says:

    Do certain foods worsen cellulite? For example, I have hard that foods that are high on fat increase cellulite.

  17. I appreciate this blog post because I constantly beat myself up over the cellulite on my legs. I am an elite marathon runner, I’m the top 10% of all female marathoners. I am 35 years old and run at least 60 miles a week and spend another three days in the gym with weight training. I eat very well, even though I could probably afford to splurge a bit…and guess what, yes, I have cellulite. My body fat is about 15%, which is normal for an athlete. My legs are thin, but yet, I still have this. My mother has horrible cellulite, way worse than the average person, so I’m quite convinced that this is poor genetics which I inherited. I’ve tried everything, however, I’m finally coming to terms with the fact. I would happy to find a good cream which reduces the appearance temporarily so at least I can run in shorts and not worry about my ugly legs.

  18. Hi, I have had cellulite for years now, and it is getting worse! I walk 3 times a week and have a great diet. Eat lots of fruit, vege,s, fish and lean meats. I don,t smoke, drink alcohol and avoid processed foods. My bumpy legs affect my self esteem, where by i don,t make love in the light, or shower with my boyfriend, its soooo dpressing. There has to be something available to curb this horrible condition! Please can anyone help me?

  19. Like everyone else who has posted, I have had cellulite for years too. I’ve always been very athletic and am currently training for a marathon. I disagree with the doctor’s assertion that all women have cellulite. I have seen women out there with no visible cellulite on their legs. (Ok, well maybe it’s on their butts. I wouldn’t know! 🙂 Anyway, maybe we shouldn’t obsess so much but society (and photoshopping) make it difficult. But Mel-a top marathoner! That is impressive. I felt sad, though, when I read that you’re embarassed by your “ugly legs.” I wish it was easier to embrace and celebrate our strengths, and minimize our “flaws.” Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. Thanks to the Doc for his great words, and this helpful site!!

  20. An intleilegnt answer – no BS – which makes a pleasant change

  21. It is genetic. Nothing you can really do about it! Keep on exercising. I was a gymnast in my teens, a runner in my 20 through 40’s and have it from my butt to my knees…daughter has it at 15 and is a workout freak.

  22. Thanks for sharing that, Sarah. I’m sure it will resonate with a lot of women.

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