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What Is Cellulite?

Everyone hates cellulite — but what's the real culprit behind this unsightly friend? And (more importantly) are there actually ways to hide it?
What Is Cellulite?
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Nothing forces bathing suits and short shorts back into the closet like the sight of cellulite. But what are we actually trying to fight? While treatment options are still being investigated, the bad guy here is likely plain old fat [1].

Blame the Genetics — The Need-to-Know 
While men can develop cellulite, it’s most well known as a problem with the ladies, affecting 80 to 90 percent of females and only about 10 percent of men [2] [3]. This dimply, cottage-cheese looking fat typically shows up on the thighs and butt (perfect placement, not so much). But what causes its unflattering appearance? Blame the connective tissue — comprised primarily of collagen — that separates the fat beneath the skin. For women, this connective tissue is shaped like honeycomb, causing fat in the thighs to take on a less-than-sleek appearance. The same tissue in men is arranged as more of a grid and therefore causes less of a visual dilemma.

Everyone has perfect friend (either girl or guy) who never shows an ounce of cellulite — what's the deal? While men and women do not have to be obese to have cellulite, genetics play a major role in determining how much cellulite (and fat cells in general) we have and where they are distributed.

Fight the Fat — Your Action Plan

While anyone can have cellulite (regardless of weight), there is no one proven way to prevent it outright (bummer). There are, however, more than a few treatment options on the market to help reduce the appearance of cellulite, ranging from the cheap (topical creams and ointments) to the ritzy (laser treatments), and everything in between (massage techniques) [4] [5] [6] [7]. If lasers and creams seem daunting, there are several natural methods — yoga, acupuncture, reflexology, and even meditation — that claim to help get rid of those dimples, though none have been categorically proven effective.

A recent study showed that while a combination of diet and exercise in obese women can significantly reduce body fat, the same measures might not knock out the appearance of cellulite [8]. And women who also wear tight fitting pants during their weight loss regimen might see greater cellulite reduction, suggesting the application of lower body pressure could affect the skin's connective tissue [8]. Maybe those Lululemons are good for more than just bow pose...

Smooth-looking limbs might be yet another good reason to put down the cigarettesQuitting smoking has a plethora of health benefits, both internal and external. Smoking impairs the body's ability to generate collagen, a protein found in connective tissue that gives skin its smooth, wrinkle-free appearance [10]

Cellulite may soon be a thing of the past, though. This past January, the Food and Drug Administration approved a laser treatment called "Cellulaze" designed to freeze and diminish the appearance of cellulite. And researchers at Stony Brook University are launching a new study to find a non-surgical treatment for cellulite later this year. 

The Takeaway

Cellulite gets its dimply, cottage-cheese-like appearance because of the pattern of connective tissue beneath the skin (in women). In men, it typically appears less dimply. While there's no proven way to get rid of cellulite (yet), methods ranging from yoga to cellulite creams to laser treatments to tight-fitting pants are often used to try and reduce its appearance. 

Does cellulite bum you out? What are some ways you’ve discovered to help get over it? 

Originally published on December 16, 2011. Updated July 2013. 

Works Cited +

  1. Cellulite and its treatment., Rawlings A. V., AVR Consulting Ltd., Northwich, U.K. International of Journal of Cosmetic Science, 2006 Jun;28(3):175-90.
  2. Cellulite—the greatest skin problem in healthy people? An approach. Pavicic, T., Borelli, C., Korting, H.C.. Klinik und Poliklinik für Dermatologie und Allergologie, Klinikum der Universität München, Germany. Journal of the German Society of Dermatology, 2006 Oct;4(10):861-70.
  3. Evaluation of anti-cellulite efficacy: a topical cosmetic treatment for cellulite blemishes - a multifunctional formulation. Sparavigna, A., Guglielmini, G., Togni, S., et al. Derming, Monza, Italy. Journal of the German Society of Dermotology, 2006 Oct;4(10):861-70.
  4. Efficacy of cosmetic products in cellulite reduction: systematic review and meta-analysis. Turati F, Pelucchi C, Marzatico F, Ferraroni M, Decarli A, Gallus S, La Vecchia C, Galeone C. Department of Clinical Sciences and Community Health, University of Milan, Milan, Italy. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. 2013 June 14.
  5. An evidence-based assessment of treatments for cellulite. Wanner, M., Avram, M. Department of Dermatology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. Journal of Drugs Dermatology, 2008 Apr;7(4):341-5.
  6. A bipolar radiofrequency, infrared, vacuum and mechanical massage device for treatment of cellulite: A pilot study. Hexsel, D.M., Siega, C., Schilling-Souza, J. Brazilian Center for Studies in Dermatology, Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul , Brazil. Journal of Cosmetology and Laser Therapy, 2011 Dec;13(6):297-302.
  7. Low-level laser therapy for fat layer reduction: a comprehensive review. Avci P, Nyame TT, Gupta GK, Sadasivm M, Hamblin MR. Wellman Center for Photomedicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine. 2013 Aug; 45(6):349-57.
  8. Can alternating lower body negative and positive pressure during exercise alter regional body fat distribution or skin appearance? Löberbauer-Purer, E, Meyer, N.L., Ring-Dimitriou, S. Department of Sport Science and Kinesiology, University of Salzburg, Rifer Schlossallee 49, 5400, Hallein, Austria. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2011 Sep 16.
  9. Can alternating lower body negative and positive pressure during exercise alter regional body fat distribution or skin appearance? Löberbauer-Purer, E, Meyer, N.L., Ring-Dimitriou, S. Department of Sport Science and Kinesiology, University of Salzburg, Rifer Schlossallee 49, 5400, Hallein, Austria. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2011 Sep 16.
  10. Smoking affects collagen synthesis and extracellular matrix turnover in human skin. Knuutinen A, Kokkonen N, Risteli J, Vahakangas K, Kallioinen M, Salo T, Sorsa T, Oikarinen A. Department of Dermatology, University Hospital, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland. The British Journal of Dermatology. 2002 April; 146(4):588-94.

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