What Is Cellulite?
Cellulite is fat beneath your skin that causes a lumpy, “cottage cheese” look on your thighs, rear end, hips, and belly. You might not like it, but it’s really common and harmless.
Cellulite Causes and Risk Factors
It's just normal fat. It looks lumpy because it pushes against connective tissue, causing the skin above it to pucker. It’s not clear why it happens.
You can have it whether you're heavy or thin. Muscle tone can affect it, and very fit people sometimes have it. Hormonal factors and genetics both play a role. It might also be related to the thickness of your skin. Women are more likely to get it than men. It tends to form more as you get older.
Lifestyle factors may play a role. For example, cellulite may be related to:
Cellulite shows up less on darker skin. So if you have light skin, a self-tanner may make the bumps and dimples harder to spot. You don’t have to do anything about cellulite, but there are ways to get rid of or reduce it. Some work better than others.
This noninvasive procedure freezes and kills fat cells. Once they’re dead, your body naturally removes them. This treatment is usually used for body shaping, but fat removal can also improve your cellulite. It can take three treatments and 3 or 4 months for you to see results.
Also called radiofrequency systems, they show promise for cellulite. Treatment usually mixes massage, liposuction, or light therapy. It can liquefy fat, cut connective tissue to loosen puckering, boost collagen growth and skin tightening, increase blood flow, and lessen fluid retention. Expect results to last at least 6 months.
One popular FDA-approved laser treatment is Cellulaze. The doctor injects a numbing solution into the area, then puts a laser under your skin. It shoots heat in three directions. You can expect about a 75% improvement in your cellulite for about a year.
Most options are based on the idea that massaging the problem area will increase blood flow and reduce fluid buildup. The result: Better-looking hips and buttocks.
Endermologie (or lipomassage or endermology) is a specific type of mechanical massage. A machine with low-pressure suction kneads your skin between two spinning rollers. The theory is that the deep massage will break up the connective tissue that causes dimples. Most studies show that massage techniques, including endermologie, make your skin look better for a short time but offer no long-term benefit. Some experts worry that the suction can cause your skin to slacken prematurely, making it look worse.
This is a low-energy version of the technology that treats kidney stones. It’s a noninvasive treatment that’s given twice a week for 6 or more weeks. It could give results for 2 to 6 months, but more research about how well it works and how long results may last is needed.
Shrink fat, build muscle
People of all sizes can have cellulite. But if you’re overweight, the most effective treatment is to shed extra pounds and tone your body. Eat less and add more cardio and strength training exercise. Lift weights at least 2 days a week. Focus on your legs, hips, and backside. Strong, defined muscles under a thinner fat layer will make your skin smoother and less puckered.
This minimally invasive procedure can improve your cellulite. Results have been shown to last for at least 2 years. The doctor marks the area, injects a numbing solution, and then inserts a tiny blade to cut the connective tissue that holds your fat onto those dimples.
A hand-held device called Cellfina was approved in 2015 to make this procedure more precise. It provides vacuum-assisted control of the depth and area treated. About 20 to 30 individual cellulite dimples are treated during an average 1-hour session. Results can last up to 2 years.
A variety of creams on the market claim to reduce cellulite. Many have ingredients intended to promote fat breakdown (caffeine, aminophylline, theophylline). Others contain vitamins, minerals, and herbal extracts. Generally, these products offer little benefit alone, but they may add some value when combined with other treatments.
Some evidence suggests that retinol cream can help with cellulite, but the results aren’t great. Twice-daily application of a 0.3% retinol cream for 6 months can thicken your skin and reduce that orange-peel look.
Cellulite Treatments to Use With Caution or Avoid
Some doctors inject chemicals into the fat layer below the skin to encourage breakdown and make cellulite less noticeable. This procedure is often called mesotherapy. The chemicals used include phosphatidylcholine, aminophylline, hormones, herbal extracts, vitamins, and minerals. There’s little proof these treatments help. Most doctors don’t recommend the procedure because there’s a risk of infection, swelling, rashes, and lumpy skin.
This fat removal procedure is often used on the thighs, buttocks, and abdomen. However, it can actually make the dimpled fat left behind look worse.