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Can You Beat Cellulite?

WebMD Feature

Got cellulite? So does just about every woman, no matter what size she is, and some men, too.

Some people make their peace with it, comfortable knowing that paparazzi aren't vying to take photos of them in a bikini any time soon.

Trying to get rid of your cellulite is another story. It starts by knowing exactly what it is and what the options are.

How Cellulite Is Like Your Couch

Cellulite is a little bit like upholstery, says Boston dermatologist Molly A. Wanner, MD. Picture pillowy fat attached to the skin by bands called septae.

In women, the septae pull straight down like a button on a cushion, making dimples. Men's septae come in at an angle, disguising them. Guys also have thicker skin than women, helping to hide their cellulite.

"There's no cure," says Neil Sadick, MD, a Manhattan dermatologist who recently reviewed the science behind some of the most popular treatments. "But there are definitely new things out there that can help."

Weight Loss

Gaining weight can add to your cellulite by making your fat cells bigger. More fat under the skin can make your legs look lumpier.

Losing weight can reduce the look of cellulite, especially in women who have a lot of extra weight to lose.

“If you have less fat, you're going to have less cellulite, potentially," Wanner says. 

Weight loss isn't the right approach for everyone, though. For women who are already at a healthy weight, dropping a few pounds can loosen skin, making cellulite more noticeable.


Caffeine and retinol are two ingredients in creams that aim to reduce cellulite.

In test tubes, caffeine and related ingredients shrink fat cells, though there's scant evidence that these treatments work when applied to the skin, according to recent research reviews. Any improvement is likely to be temporary and minor.

The Personal Care Products Council, an industry trade group, declined to comment for this story.

Retinol may help stimulate collagen production in the skin, making it thicker and more elastic. Thicker skin helps make cellulite less noticeable.

In one small study, a cream containing .03% retinol improved cellulite when used for at least six months. The study found it increased skin thickness by an average of 2 millimeters on a treated leg compared to the skin on an untreated leg.

More recently, a study funded by Johnson & Johnson that tested an unnamed anti-cellulite cream containing active ingredients including caffeine and retinol found that the cream spot reduced the size of the stomach, thighs, and upper arms slightly more than a placebo gel when both were used twice daily for 12 weeks.

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