Most women have cellulite — fat that
appears as dimpled skin on their thighs, hips and buttocks. Though not a
serious medical condition, cellulite can be unsightly, and it may make
you self-conscious when wearing shorts or a swimming suit.
Many cellulite treatments, including massages or cellulite creams,
advertise remarkable results. But unfortunately, most of these
treatments don't live up to their claims. So is there anything you can
do about cellulite?
Cellulite looks like dimpled or bumpy skin. It's sometimes described as
skin with a cottage cheese or orange-peel texture. Cellulite ranges in
severity. Mild cases can only be seen when the skin is pinched — the
dimpling appears in the pinched skin. More-severe cases make the skin
appear rumpled and bumpy with areas of peaks and valleys. Cellulite is
most common around the thighs and buttocks, but it can be found on the
breasts, lower abdomen and upper arms as well.
When to see a doctor
Cellulite isn't a serious medical condition and treatment isn't
necessary. In fact, many doctors consider cellulite a normal occurrence.
However, if you're concerned about the appearance of your skin, see
your doctor or a dermatologist.
Cellulite is caused by fibrous connective cords that connect the skin to
the underlying muscle. The cords tether the skin to deeper structures,
with the fat lying in between. As the fat cells accumulate, they push up
against the skin, while the long, tough cords are pulling down. This
creates an uneven surface or dimpling.
Cellulite is much more common in women than in men. In fact, the
majority of women — at least eight out of 10 — have some degree of
cellulite. This is because fat is typically distributed in women in the
thighs, hips and buttocks — common areas for cellulite. In addition,
cellulite is more common with aging, when the skin loses some of its
Weight gain can make cellulite more noticeable, but cellulite may still
be present in lean individuals. It tends to run in families, so genetics
may play the biggest role in whether you develop cellulite.
Other factors that may increase your chances of having cellulite include:
* An inactive lifestyle
* Using hormonal contraceptives
Preparing for your appointment
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot to
cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment.
Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your
appointment. List your questions from most important to least important
in case time runs out. For cellulite, some basic questions to ask your
* What is the best course of action?
* What are my treatment options and the pros and cons for each?
* What will the treatments cost? Does medical insurance cover these costs?
* What results can I expect?
* What kind of follow-up, if any, should I expect?
Treatments and drugs
Weight loss — through healthy diet and regular exercise — is probably
the most beneficial cellulite treatment. Losing pounds and strengthening
muscles in your legs, thighs and buttocks can improve the appearance of
the dimpled skin. The benefits of weight loss alone are limited,
however. Though the cellulite may be less noticeable after weight loss,
it won't go away completely.
Lasers and radiofrequency systems
Perhaps the most promising medical therapy is lasers and radiofrequency
systems. One system uses combined negative tissue massage,
radiofrequency and infrared light to treat cellulite. The other system
delivers combined tissue massage with diode laser energy. Both systems
offer improvements to cellulite after a series of several twice-weekly
treatments. Results may last up to six months.
Some people may turn to liposuction as a treatment for cellulite. During
liposuction, a surgeon inserts a narrow tube under your skin through
tiny incisions, and then suctions out fat cells. Though liposuction can
shape the body, it won't remove cellulite, and it may make the cellulite
Many devices, products and creams claim to treat cellulite. But there is
little or no scientific evidence to support these claims. If you do
find a cellulite treatment that improves your skin, the results aren't
likely to last long term.
The following are a few of the many advertised cellulite treatments.
Keep in mind that these treatments haven't been proved effective in
* Vigorous massage. Some cellulite treatments are based on the
concept that vigorous massage will increase blood flow, remove toxins
and reduce excess fluid in cellulite-prone areas. One method in
particular, Endermologie (also referred to as lipomassage), uses a
hand-held machine to knead the skin between rollers. You may notice a
slight improvement to your skin after this treatment, but the results
are typically short-lived.
* Mesotherapy. This procedure involves injecting a solution — which
may contain a combination of aminophylline, hormones, enzymes, herbal
extracts, vitamins and minerals — under the skin. This treatment can
cause several unwanted effects, including infection, rashes, and bumpy
or uneven skin contours.
* Cellulite creams. Creams that contain a variety of ingredients,
such as vitamins, minerals, herbal extracts and antioxidants, are often
marketed as the cure for cellulite. But no studies show that these
creams offer any improvement. And in some cases, the ingredients in
these products cause skin reactions or rashes.
There is no way to prevent getting cellulite. Keeping off excess pounds
and strengthening your muscles through regular exercise, however, can go
a long way toward maintaining your skin tone and texture.