What is cellulite?
Cellulite is a condition in which the skin has a dimpled, lumpy appearance. It usually affects the buttocks and thighs, but it can occur other areas too. Common names for cellulite are orange-peel skin, cottage-cheese skin, hail damage, and the mattress phenomenon.
How common is cellulite?
Cellulite can affect both men and women, but it is more common in females, due to the different distributions of fat, muscle, and connective tissue.
Between 80 and 90 percent of women may experience cellulite at some point in their lives. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of cellulite?
Cellulite looks like dimpled or bumpy skin. It’s sometimes described as having a cottage cheese or orange peel texture.
You can see mild cellulite only if you pinch your skin in an area where you have cellulite, such as your thighs. More-severe cellulite makes the skin appear rumpled and bumpy with areas of peaks and valleys.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes cellulite?
Little is known about what causes cellulite. It involves fibrous connective cords that tether the skin to the underlying muscle, with the fat lying between. As fat cells accumulate, they push up against the skin, while the long, tough cords pull down. This creates an uneven surface or dimpling.
What increases my risk for cellulite?
Cellulite is much more common in women than in men. In fact, most women develop some cellulite after puberty. This is because women’s fat is typically distributed in the thighs, hips and buttocks — common areas for cellulite. Cellulite is also more common with aging, when the skin loses elasticity.
Weight gain can make cellulite more noticeable, but some lean people have cellulite, as well. It tends to run in families, so genetics might play the biggest role in whether you develop cellulite. An inactive lifestyle also can increase your chances of having cellulite, as can pregnancy.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is cellulite diagnosed?
There are diagnostic tests available (e.g., ultrasound) that can detect the presence of cellulite and determine the extent of the condition; however, these tests are usually unnecessary. Cellulite can be diagnosed by pinching or rolling the skin in the affected area.
How is cellulite treated?
Many people dislike the appearance of cellulite and prefer to have skin as smooth as they possibly can. Therefore, much has been written about cellulite, and many treatments have been promoted, ranging from dietary changes to cellulite creams and mechanical treatments. Some of these therapies include:
- Methylxanthines: Methylxanthines are a group of chemicals that include aminophylline, caffeine, and theophylline. These chemicals are present in many cellulite creams and are promoted as treatments for cellulite because of their known ability to break down fat stores. However, skin creams cannot deliver the required concentration of these chemicals for the length of time required for significant fat breakdown. While studies have shown a small reduction in thigh measurements with some of these preparations, they do not promote significant loss of cellulite.
- Dietary supplements: Several of these products have been marketed and contain a variety of ingredients such as ginkgo biloba, sweet clover, grape-seed bioflavinoids, bladder wrack extract, oil of evening primrose, fish oil, and soy lecithin. These preparations claim to have positive effects on the body such as boosting metabolism, improving circulation, protecting against cell damage, and breaking down fats. Such claims are difficult to evaluate as is the case with similar assertions made on behalf of many supplements and alternative therapies. Concepts such as “metabolism,” “circulation,” or “cell damage” cannot be easily measured on an objective basis to determine whether or not any improvement has been achieved. Additionally, because these products are sold as dietary supplements and not as drugs, they are not subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are therefore exempt from meeting the scientific standards for both safety and effectiveness that are applied to drugs. Furthermore, there are no valid clinical studies to support the use of these dietary supplements for the treatment of cellulite. Studies that have been conducted have not demonstrated any value of these supplements. Some dietary supplements that are promoted for the treatment of cellulite may also pose health risks or may interact with certain prescription drugs. For example, the formulation known as Cellasene contains iodine, which many doctors warn may be harmful for those with thyroid and other conditions.
- Massage treatments: Several machines have been introduced that massage the areas affected by cellulite. These machines use rolling cylinders to gather areas of skin and massage them inside a chamber. One example of massage treatments is Endermologie, which was developed in France and has been used for cellulite treatment since the mid-1990s. This technique uses an electrically powered device that suctions, pulls, and squeezes affected areas. Treatments are expensive and typically last for 30-45 minutes. Ten to 12 treatments are typically required before results are noticeable. Endermologie has been approved by the U.S. FDA for temporary reduction in the appearance of cellulite. While a temporary decrease in the appearance of cellulite may occur, the technique appears to redistribute fat rather than permanently alter its configuration under the skin. Regular maintenance treatments are required after the initial effect has been achieved or the cellulite will return.
- Laser, light, or radiofrequency therapy: The FDA has approved certain light-therapy devices that combine suction or massage with light therapy for the temporary reduction of the appearance of cellulite. TriActive is a treatment that combines a low-level laser treatment with suction and manipulation of the skin, while Velasmooth/Velashape is a treatment combining laser and massage therapy. Like Endermologie, both treatments require multiple treatment sessions and maintenance treatments to keep up the improved appearance. Laser/massage treatments are even more costly than massage treatments; the complete program generally costs thousands of dollars. Other systems use radiofrequency therapy in combination with massage and infrared light or radiofrequency at multiple levels simultaneously.
- Mesotherapy: Mesotherapy is a controversial treatment for cellulite that involves injecting drugs or other substances directly into affected tissue. Often, FDA-approved medications are used off-label (meaning that they have been approved for other conditions but not for treatment of this particular condition) in the injections. Herbs and vitamins are often used as well in the injection cocktails. Many injections over multiple (typically 10 or more) sessions are administered. Although this procedure is offered by some physicians, most experts feel that this treatment is unproven and risky.
- Collagenase: Collagenase is a naturally occurring enzyme in the body that breaks down collagen, a component of connective tissue (the tissues that bind our cells together). Some studies have suggested that injections with this enzyme may be beneficial in improving the appearance of cellulite, but the long-term effects of these injections are still unknown, and studies have not yet been completed to determine the extent and duration of the improvements, if any. The treatment is considered experimental and is not yet routinely available, but research and trials are under way to determine if collagenase injections may become an option for the treatment of cellulite.
- Cellulite diets: Special “cellulite diets” have been proposed that claim to be effective in treating cellulite. Proponents of these diets claim that the combination of foods in the diet can reduce inflammation and improve circulation in affected areas and diminish cellulite. However, no studies published in the medical literature have supported these claims. Experts have conclude that eating a healthy diet can decrease fluid retention and improve the overall health and appearance of skin, but specific diets designed to target cellulite are of no value.
- Wraps: Many salons offer herbal or other types of body wraps as treatments for cellulite. Like cellulite diets, their effects have not been proven or reported in controlled studies in the medical literature. While wraps may decrease fluid retention and improve the overall appearance of skin, these effects are temporary. It is also not possible to “detoxify” the body by the use of herbal or other wraps.
- Subcision: This technique involves cutting the fibrous cords (septae) that pull down on the lower part of the skin. Subcision is performed with the Cellfina device, manufactured by Ulthera. The U.S. FDA approved the treatment in 2015 for improvement in the appearance of cellulite on the buttocks and thighs with no loss of benefit for up to two years.
- Retinol cream: Applying retinol cream (the product used to combat wrinkling of the facial skin) two times per day has been shown to decrease skin dimpling after six months of use.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage cellulite?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with cellulite:
- Maintain a healthy diet to avoid getting cellulite. Avoid eating foods that are high in sugar, cholesterol and saturated fats.
- Brush your skin with a loofah sponge or skin brush when bathing or showering. Brushing your skin with a loofah sponge can prevent the formation of cellulite by stimulating your lymph and blood flow as well as eliminating dead surface skin cells.
- Avoid intoxicating your body with things like alcoholic beverages, cigarettes and illegal drugs. These harmful toxins can slow down and/or damage your liver and kidneys, which in turn will slow your body’s ability to eliminate waste products, which can cause cellulite formation.
- Get a full-body massage at least one or two times a week to avoid developing cellulite. Regular body massage is not only relaxing, it can also prevent fat deposits from dimpling your skin as well as lessen the appearance of existing cellulite.
- Exercise for at least one hour every day to burn fat and avoid the development of cellulite. Together with a healthy diet, exercises such as cycling, running, jogging and aerobics can help eliminate fat deposits all over your body.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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Cellulite. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cellulite/home/ovc-20265001. Accessed July 13, 2017.
How to Avoid Cellulite. http://www.livestrong.com/article/72951-avoid-cellulite/. Accessed July 13, 2017.
Review Date: July 13, 2017 | Last Modified: July 13, 2017