Why you get cellulite and what to do about it, according to a dermatologist and plastic surgeon

Business Insider US
For some people, cellulite is only visible when they pinch their skin.

  • Cellulite can make you feel uncomfortable, but it's incredibly common.
  • Women are more prone to having cellulite due to body structure and hormones.
  • There are some helpful treatments, but there's no permanent cure for cellulite.
  • Visit Business Insider for more stories.

The good news: More celebrities, athletes, and influencers are flaunting their cellulite, saying it's a normal part of many human bodies, which is true.

But cellulite can still affect people's self-confidence and lead some of them to spend money on expensive treatments, whether their cellulite is always visible or only appears when their skin is pinched or stretched.

INSIDER consulted with a dermatologists and plastic surgeon to figure out what exactly cellulite is, why we get it, and if there's anything we can do about it.

Cellulite is essentially fat that's pushing against connective tissue under the skin's surface

While it's not considered a medical condition, cellulite is the result of changes in the body.

We all have connective tissue beneath our skin. This tissue is made of collagen fibers and forms "walls" that keep the fat beneath it in place. When the fibrous tissue walls loosen or stretch, fat can poke through and cause lumps and bumps to appear on the surface of the skin above. Cue cellulite.

"Cellulite occurs when fat becomes enmeshed with connective tissue below the skin. The skin itself takes on a dimpled appearance often equated to an orange peel or cottage cheese, with patients exhibiting sagging and 'divots' in the skin," double board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Zachary Farris told INSIDER.

Cellulite is incredibly common; it's actually much rarer not to have any

If you have cellulite, you're far from alone. Researchers estimate that between 80% and 90% of women have some amount of cellulite.

"Everybody has fat below the skin. So, though not everyone will exhibit visible cellulite, the potential exists for anyone to show the outward signs," said Farris, who's based in Dallas.

Read more: A woman had the perfect response to a body-shamer who called her cellulite 'unhealthy'

The most common spots to see cellulite are the thighs, buttocks, and abdomen. However, it can appear almost anywhere on the body and can affect people of any weight, race, or sex. People are also more likely to be affected by cellulite as they age due to natural skin thinning and the loss of skin elasticity.

Women are more likely than men to be affected by cellulite

Women are more likely to develop cellulite than men due to a number of factors including hormones, skin thickness, body fat levels, and the arrangement of their connective tissues.

"As a woman enters menopause, reduced estrogen causes less oxygen-rich blood to flow to the connective tissue layers. As the tissues grow weaker, fat layers are more likely to overwhelm them, resulting in cellulite," Farris said.

The architecture of women's bodies may also play a part in their greater susceptibility to cellulite. Research suggests the perpendicular arrangement of some fibrous tissue in women may allow underlying fat to protrude more easily. Men, on the other hand, may be somewhat protected from cellulite due to the way their connections tissues are oriented.

There are some ways to make cellulite less noticeable without surgery

Plenty of creams, lotions, wraps, and treatments aimed at zapping away cellulite are on the market. Unfortunately, a comprehensive review of 67 studies on the effectiveness of various cellulite treatments didn't find any surgical or non-surgical treatments that were effective over the long term.

Still, there are a few non-surgical ways to help prevent cellulite from appearing and to make existing cellulite less noticeable.

"Cellulite is not an indication of being overweight, but losing weight may reduce the appearance of cellulite. Cellulite is also less noticeable on darker skin, so applying a self-tanner may make the dimples less evident," said board-certified dermatologist and dermatological surgeon Dr. Fayne L. Frey, who's based in New York City.

Massage treatments or dehydrating topical products containing caffeine may remove fluid in your tissues, giving a temporary improvement in the appearance of cellulite, AAD reports. But again, these surface-level solutions won't actually change what's happening beneath your skin to cause the cellulite, Frey said.

Creams, pills, and other cellulite products on the market aren't proven to treat cellulite long term.

Some surgical treatments can be temporarily helpful, but there is no permanent cure for cellulite

Out of all the professional treatments out there, only acoustic wave therapy, vacuum-assisted precise tissue release, submission, and laser treatment are acknowledged by the American Academy of Dermatologists to have potentially cellulite-reducing benefits.

Acoustic wave therapy uses sound waves to break up cellulite beneath the skin, while laser treatments involve inserting a small laser fiber under the skin to thicken the skin and break the connective tissue around fat that may contribute to the appearance of cellulite. Subcision and vacuum-assisted precise tissue release treatments also involve severing the tough connective tissue bands beneath the skin.

Still, results are only expected to last about six months to two years no matter which of these treatments you choose, according to AAD. Some treatments also require several sessions. And, if you're trying to fight cellulite, experts don't recommend treatments that remove fat, such as liposuction.

"Liposuction is effective in removing deeper fat, but is not effective in removing cellulite," Frey warned. "It's even been shown to worsen the appearance of cellulite possibly by creating more depressions in the skin."

A healthy diet and plenty of exercise are some of the easiest ways to keep cellulite at bay

You can't fight genetics or biology, but you can minimize the likelihood of developing cellulite by following a healthy lifestyle.

Reducing body fat through diet and exercise can help decrease the look of cellulite, according to the AAD. Developing more muscle may also help disguise cellulite and help your skin look smoother and firmer.

Be wary of supplements or foods that claim to reduce cellulite. There's no scientific evidence that ingredients like grape seed extract or ginkgo biloba do anything to eliminate cellulite, the AAD reports.

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