If cellulite bothers you, you are not alone. Many of my patients worry about putting on shorts and swimsuits as summer approaches. Almost daily, they ask me how to reduce cellulite. They seem desperate to get rid of the unattractive orange-peel textured skin on their upper thighs, hips, and/or buttocks.
The Complicated Relationship We Have with Our Cellulite
Although completely harmless, many women consider this condition unsightly. Cellulite is extremely common, affecting about 85% of all women after puberty. It happens when fat deposits push through the connective tissue beneath the skin, causing a dimpled or lumpy appearance. Various factors such as genetics, hormones, lifestyle, and age factor into why some people get cellulite and some don’t. And it affects people of all body types, regardless of how thin or fit they are. The portrayal of flawless and airbrushed bodies in media contributes to unrealistic beauty ideals and makes individuals feel self-conscious about their bodies. The relationship we have with our bodies is complex, and we let the presence of cellulite eat away at our self-esteem.
What Causes Cellulite?
Cellulite is when the skin’s surface puckers when fibrous connective tissue cords tether the skin to the underlying muscle while an abundance of fat pushes up against the skin, creating an uneven surface or dimpling. Some people say it looks like cottage cheese. We don’t know exactly what causes it, but we know hormones play a role, which is why we often see it appear after puberty and during pregnancy. There may also be a genetic component that determines cellulite development. And yes, like many conditions, it is more common with age. Cellulite is particularly common in overweight women; however, even thin women have cellulite. It can show up on anyone regardless of body mass index.
Can I Get Rid of My Cellulite?
That’s the million-dollar question. Everyone wants to know how they can get rid of the dimpled mess. The short answer is NO. Treatments are available, but all too often these so-called solutions are neither immediate nor long-lasting.
Available Treatments for Cellulite
There are several available treatments for cellulite you can try. Here’s a brief description of each.
A ton of over-the-counter products available in the beauty aisle claim to eliminate this undesirable textured skin. Unfortunately, there is little or no research that shows any of these costly creams permanently reduce cellulite. Also, these products usually contain caffeine or aminophylline and require constant reapplication.
FDA approved treatments
There are several FDA-approved options to reduce cellulite. For example:
Spa treatments that use approved medical devices to give deep tissue massages may temporarily improve the appearance of cellulite. Unfortunately, little evidence supports enduring results.
More invasive treatments
Subcision is a medical procedure where your dermatologist inserts a needle just below the skin to break up the fibrous bands beneath the skin. This treatment can reduce skin dimpling and last two years or possibly longer.
Vacuum-assisted precise tissue release cuts through the fibrous bands that cause us to see cellulite with the help of small blades. After your dermatologist cuts the bands, the tissue moves upward to fill out and eliminate the dimpled skin. A small study showed patients who received this treatment had less cellulite for up to three years.
Carbon dioxide gas application below the skin is another technique used to destroy underlying fat with the hopes of minimizing cellulite. This procedure originated in France in the 1930s but is still relatively new to the U.S. It appears to take two – to six months to see results.
Recently, the FDA approved a new injection called QWO™ for cellulite reduction, an enzyme thought to break up the fibrous bands to improve the appearance of dimpled skin. This procedure requires multiple treatments for optimal results. We don’t yet know if this technique provides permanent benefits.
Ultrasound and surgical techniques like liposuction are additional treatments offered to minimize cellulite. Unfortunately, the research does not show these procedures by themselves to be effective.
My Best Advice to Minimize Cellulite
Treatments to reduce cellulite are expensive and generally not covered by insurance. Some come with unwanted side effects and none of these procedures by themselves appear to provide quick or lasting results.
Here’s my recommendation: Eat a nutritious diet, exercise regularly, remain hydrated, and maintain a healthy weight. There are no guarantees, but it may reduce the appearance of those unwanted skin dimples. While cellulite is not harmful, it is sometimes associated with underlying factors such as poor circulation, lack of exercise, unhealthy diet, or hormonal imbalances.
Perhaps more importantly, love yourself for who you are, despite the “physical flaws” defined by a disingenuous beauty industry. Unrealistic cultural norms are designed to make us feel inadequate to encourage us to spend money to fix ourselves. Try not to worry about what other people think which I know is often easier said than done. Cellulite is a normal and natural part of many people’s bodies, and it does not define one’s worth or beauty. Beauty standards are subjective and vary across cultures and individuals. Embracing body positivity and self-acceptance can help challenge societal expectations and promote a healthier and more inclusive perspective on beauty. The bottom line is that I hope you will stop obsessing over a few dimples and flaunt that bathing suit!
The Bottom Line
Cellulite is a common cosmetic concern that can affect people of all genders. It is a natural condition caused by fat deposits pushing against connective tissues beneath the skin. Genetics, hormones, and other factors influence the appearance of cellulite on our bodies, and it doesn’t have a direct link to a person’s health or fitness level. Despite this, the beauty and fashion industries perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards, which leads some people to feel dissatisfied with their bodies, including their cellulite. Promoting body positivity and challenging unrealistic beauty standards can help create a more inclusive and accepting society where everyone feels comfortable in their skin, regardless of the presence of cellulite or other physical characteristics.
If you have concerns about cellulite or any other aspect of your health, it is always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide personalized advice and guidance.
About the Author: Fayne Frey, M.D.
Fayne Frey, M.D., is a board-certified clinical and surgical dermatologist practicing in West Nyack, New York, where she specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. She is a nationally recognized expert in the effectiveness and formulation of over-the-counter skincare products, and, as a speaker, has captivated audiences with her wry observations regarding the skincare industry. She has consulted for numerous media outlets, including NBC, USA Today, and, the Huffington Post, and has shared her expertise on both cable and major TV outlets. Dr. Frey is the Founder of FryFace.com, an educational skincare information and product selection service website that clarifies and simplifies the overwhelming choice of effective, safe, and affordable products encountered in the skincare aisles. Dr. Frey is a fellow of both the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.
5 of Fayne Frey Podcasts Interviews | Updated Daily – OwlTail
The Podcast by KevinMD: Uncovering the truth about skincare: A dermatologist’s perspective (libsyn.com)
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