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What is cellulite?
Cellulite is the name for collections of fat that push against the connective tissue beneath your skin. It often appears on your thighs, stomach and butt (buttocks). Cellulite makes the surface of your skin look lumpy and puckered, or appear dimpled.
What is the difference between cellulite and lipedema?
Lipedema is a medical condition that causes excess fat to accumulate in the lower part of the body. Lipedema most often involves the buttocks, thighs and calves. The upper arms are sometimes affected. It doesn’t affect the hands or feet.
Lipedema causes your skin to become sensitive. If you have lipedema, your skin may hurt, swell, feel cold or bruise easily. Your skin’s texture often changes as well—it may look like cottage cheese, oatmeal or an orange peel. As lipedema gets worse, it can affect your ability to walk.
Cellulite is a cosmetic condition. It also most often involves the stomach, butt and thighs, and it also looks like cottage cheese, oatmeal or an orange peel. Cellulite may look embarrassing, but it isn’t painful.
Who does it affect?
Cellulite affects men and women. However, women get cellulite at a much higher rate than men.
How common is this condition?
Cellulite is very common. Between 80% and 90% of all women who’ve gone through puberty have cellulite. Less than 10% of men have cellulite.
Genetics, sex, age, the amount of fat on your body and your skin’s thickness determine how much cellulite you have and how visible it is. As you age, your skin loses elasticity and can make the appearance of cellulite more evident. Gaining weight can also make the appearance of cellulite more prominent.
Although people with obesity have pronounced cellulite, it’s not uncommon for very lean people to notice the appearance of cellulite.
How does cellulite affect my body?
Cellulite doesn’t affect your overall physical health, and it doesn’t hurt. However, you may not like how it looks and wish to hide it.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms?
Cellulite looks like lumpy or dimpling skin. It may be visible at all times or only when you pinch your skin. Cellulite affects your stomach, thighs and butt.
Cellulite has four grades:
- Grade 0: There isn’t any cellulite on your body.
- Grade 1: Your skin is smooth when you stand up, but mild dimpling appears when you sit down.
- Grade 2: Your skin has moderate dimples when you stand up or when you sit down.
- Grade 3: Your skin has severe dimples when you stand up or sit down. Your skin also features deep peaks and valleys (raised and depressed areas).
What is the main cause of cellulite?
It’s not known what exactly causes cellulite. Cellulite forms when fibrous bands connecting your skin to the underlying muscle tighten irregularly. This tightening pulls down on your skin, and the normal layer of fat beneath the skin pushes upward. The result is a puckering appearance to the skin.
It’s also not known why cellulite is more common in women than men. One theory involves the bands connecting your skin, your hypodermis (subcutaneous tissue) and deep muscle layers. In men, the fibers that make up the connective bands crisscross together. In women, the fibers that make up the connective bands run the same direction and are an equal distance apart (parallel). Parallel bands may show puckering better than crisscross bands.
Another theory is that higher amounts of the hormone estrogen may cause cellulite. Cellulite often develops when women produce more estrogen, usually during adolescence or pregnancy.
Is cellulite contagious?
Cellulite isn’t contagious. You can’t spread cellulite through skin-to-skin contact.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is cellulite diagnosed?
Cellulite is easy to recognize, so you don’t necessarily need a healthcare professional to diagnose it. However, a healthcare professional can diagnose cellulite during a physical examination.
Management and Treatment
Is it possible to get rid of cellulite?
People of all body shapes have cellulite. It’s natural, but it looks puckered or dimpled because of the way that fat pushes against your connective tissue. You can’t completely get rid of it, but there are ways to improve its appearance.
What gets rid of cellulite?
A combination of exercise, diet and treatments can reduce the appearance of cellulite. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also approved several treatments for cellulite, including Cellfina®, Cellulaze® and Qwo®. These can improve the appearance of dimples on your skin.
Cosmetic surgeons also use a variety of treatments to reduce the appearance of cellulite temporarily. These treatments include:
- Deep massaging to puff up the skin.
- Acoustic wave therapy to break up cellulite with sound waves.
- Laser treatment to help thicken the skin.
- Liposuction to remove fat. However, it’s deep fat, not necessarily cellulite.
- Mesotherapy, in which a needle injects drugs into the cellulite.
- Subcision, in which a needle inserted under the skin breaks up tough bands causing cellulite.
- Creams and lotions containing caffeine or 0.3% retinol.
- Spa treatments, which can temporarily make cellulite less noticeable.
- Vacuum-assisted precise tissue release to cut tissue and fill out dimpled skin.
- Radiofrequency, ultrasound, infrared light or radial pulses to heat skin.
Can exercise get rid of cellulite?
Exercise can help improve the appearance of cellulite. Regular exercise increases your muscle mass, which flattens cellulite. It also increases blood flow to certain areas of your body, which speeds up fat loss. The following activities can help improve the appearance of your cellulite:
- Resistance training.
What can’t I eat if I have cellulite?
You can eat what you like if you have cellulite, but bad eating habits increase your risk of developing cellulite. A high-calorie diet that features a lot of carbohydrates, fats, preservatives and salt may contribute to the development of more cellulite.
Can any traditional medicines or treatments reduce the appearance of cellulite?
Ginkgo biloba is an herbal product frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine. Studies show that ginkgo biloba may cause an increase in blood flow to many parts of the body. An increase in blood flow in your stomach, legs and butt may reduce the appearance of cellulite.
Grape-seed extract comes from grinding up grape seeds. Traditional European medicine has used grape-seed extract for a long time. Like ginkgo biloba, grape-seed extract may increase blood flow to many parts of the body, which can reduce the appearance of cellulite.
Cupping is a form of traditional Chinese and Middle Eastern medicine. A healthcare provider places cups on parts of your body, and suction force pulls your skin upward. Small studies show that cupping may decrease the amount of cellulite in your body. However, there’s not yet enough research to draw definite conclusions.
Dry brushing involves using a dry, stiff-bristled brush to massage your skin. When you dry brush your skin, your skin temporarily puffs up due to increased blood circulation. There are claims that dry brushing can reduce cellulite. However, there isn’t any proof that dry brushing reduces the appearance of cellulite. Cellulite appears to go away, but it’s likely a temporary reduction because your skin has puffed up.
Many people use handheld massage devices, foam rollers or cellulite rollers to try to break up cellulite. There isn’t any evidence that suggests these tools improve the long-term appearance of cellulite.
How soon after treatment will I start to see results?
It’s important to remember that your body is unique. Your results will depend on what treatments you and your healthcare provider decide are best. For example:
- Acoustic wave therapy may require six weeks of treatment, and the results may last for two to six months.
- Subcision treatment may yield results as soon as one month after the first treatment.
- Retinol creams require at least six months of use before you see noticeable results.
- Exercise may take at least two to three months.
How can I reduce my risk?
You can’t do anything that guarantees you won’t get cellulite. But there are some steps you can take to help reduce your risk, including:
- Avoiding processed foods that are high in carbohydrates, fats, preservatives and salt.
- Taking supplements that contain caffeine, grape-seed extract or ginkgo biloba.
- Exercising regularly.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have cellulite?
You can’t get rid of cellulite. But, it’s not harmful to your overall health. You can reduce the appearance of cellulite through a combination of exercise, diet and treatments.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
It isn’t necessary to see your healthcare provider about cellulite. However, if you’d like to explore treatment options, talk to your healthcare provider. Certain creams or treatments may cause bad skin reactions. Before you start any exercise program, talk to your healthcare provider.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
- What are my treatment options?
- What exercises can I do to reduce the appearance of cellulite?
- How often should I exercise to see the best results?
- What changes should I make to my diet?
- When can I expect to see results?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Cellulite is a common skin condition that affects everyone. However, women who have gone through puberty are far more likely to develop cellulite. Despite how common it is, you may not like how cellulite looks on your body. Talk to your healthcare provider about how you can reduce the appearance of cellulite. Together, you can decide what treatment is best for you.
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