Cellulite doesn’t care how much you weigh or how much fat you have — anyone with any body type can get it.
So if you suddenly discovered some new cheek dimples — and no, not on your face — what the heck is the cause of your cellulite?
Cellulite happens when fat deposits (typically on your butt or thighs) push through underlying fibrous tissue that connects your skin to muscle. But the reason your skin creates these little dips and grooves is a bit more complex.
What causes cellulite?
While the pros aren’t exactly sure what causes cellulite, research suggests it might be caused by several factors:
- your biological sex
- weight changes
- sedentary lifestyle
- constricted blood flow
Cellulite kinda looks like craters on the moon, a dappled orange peel, or cottage cheese — it really just depends on your POV.
It happens when the distribution of fat under the skin is visible as a result of collagen fibers between skin and muscle separating the underlying fat into little pockets.
Cellulite can become more visible with age or as your skin loses elasticity. It typically forms on the:
Cellulite is more visible in women, and an estimated 80 to 90 percent of women will experience it. (Props to those embracing unedited pics and showing us the #truth.)
Despite what society might make you think, cellulite IS NOT harmful. It’s a normal part of having a body.
Though the pros don’t know for sure what causes cellulite, it seems to happen due to an interaction between the connective tissue in the skin’s inner layer (aka the dermis) and the layer of fat just beneath it.
Some of the following factors might also increase your chances of having cellulite or of cellulite being more noticeable on your body.
Your biological sex
Maybe men aren’t really from Mars and women from Venus, but their fat and skin formation definitely tends to differ.
In females, the fat cells and connective tissue are typically arranged vertically, which may be why females are much more likely to get cellulite. In males, the fat cells and connective tissue tend to have a crisscross structure.
So, while males can get cellulite, it’s more common in females.
Hormones related to sex, pregnancy, and age
According to a 2014 research review, some hormones also likely play a role in cellulite formation. Estrogen, progesterone, growth hormone, melatonin, dehydroepiandrosterone, androgens, and insulin all contribute.
Though scientists still don’t know exactly *how* these hormones impact cellulite production, one theory is that as estrogen decreases in people approaching menopause, blood flow to the underlying tissue also decreases.
Less circulation could mean the area gets less oxygen, resulting in decreased collagen production. Fat cells also tend to become larger as estrogen levels decrease.
Some research from 2018 also notes that weight gain and hormonal changes (such as an increase in estrogen) may speed up the development of cellulite or make it more noticeable during pregnancy.
But this is all just speculation — the science on cellulite isn’t conclusive yet.
Weight gain, diet, and inactivity
Despite Insta influencer wellness claims, there’s absolutely no science that says cellulite is caused by “toxins” from your food choices. However, maintaining a nutritious diet and an active lifestyle might reduce the risk of developing cellulite brought on by weight gain.
If you don’t move your body, a lack of muscle in particular may cause cellulite to become more apparent. But even if you follow every wellness tip out there, you still might have cellulite. It’s simply natural.
Genetics and ethnicity
You can prob thank your parents for everything from your tongue-curling abilities to the cellulite on your thighs.
Certain genes may be play a role in cellulite development, including ones that impact:
- fat distribution
- circulatory levels
Studies show that cellulite is more common in Caucasian folks, that Latin American women typically get cellulite on their hips and thighs, and that European women tend not to get it on their abdomen.
Lifestyle choices that constrict blood flow
Since reduced blood flow can increase cellulite formation, lifestyle choices that contribute to constricted blood flow may increase your risk of cellulite.
Smoking cigarettes *might* impact cellulite because it reduces blood flow and weakens collagen formation. This may cause cellulite to form more easily and become more visible.
This one is a little iffy, but wearing tight clothing or underwear that constricts blood flow might increase your chances of developing cellulite too.
No need to burn your yoga pants, though — unless you’re extremely uncomfortable, you’re probably fine.
So can you even prevent cellulite?
Even if you think you’re a perfect specimen of health and wellness, you still might get cellulite.
While it’s possible that exercise and eating healthfully *could* help prevent it or minimize its appearance, sometimes your genetics give you what you got.
Lots of therapies may claim to remove cellulite, but none have been scientifically proven.
Basically, there’s no way we can say for sure that removing cellulite is even possible. That being said, here’s what people have tried so far.
At-home topical creams
Some medicated creams have been proposed as a cellulite treatment due to their ability to act on fatty tissues:
- Caffeine. Caffeine dehydrates cells, which might temporarily make them less visible. For that reason, caffeine cream needs to be applied often to reap any supposed results.
- Retinol. Retinol can stimulate collagen production, which can thicken your skin over time and help contour the elastic fibers. This might make cellulite less visible. Just note that retinoids can make your skin dry and irritated, and it takes at least 6 months before retinol starts kicking in.
Heads-up: If you use an over-the-counter cellulite cream, check the ingredient list for aminophylline, a medication used for asthma that’s sometimes included in these creams. Some people are allergic to this medication, and using it on large surface areas can cause internal reactions like increased heart rate and anxiety.
Some medical treatments might *temporarily* reduce the appearance of cellulite. Here’s what might work:
- Acoustic wave therapy. A handheld device that transmits sound waves supposedly smooths out the appearance of cellulite after several sessions, at least temporarily.
- Laser treatments. Tiny laser probes inserted under the skin may break up the tissue, thereby thickening the skin and reducing cellulite’s appearance. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), results may last up to 1 year, but more research is needed to know for sure.
- Subcision. According to the AAD, the medical procedure Cellfina, which uses needles to break up skin bands, appears to reduce skin dimpling for potentially up to 2 years. However, a 2017 review concluded that there’s not enough standardized evidence so far to know whether it works.
- Vacuum-assisted precise tissue release. Here’s another method that supposedly breaks up bands of skin — this time with a bladed, vacuum-like device. (Yeah, ouch.) The AAD says this could potentially reduce cellulite for a year or more, but there’s only one small, sponsored 2015 study of 55 women that backs up this idea.
- Carboxytherapy. This procedure involves inserting CO2 gas just under the skin. This can cause some serious discomfort and bruising, but one tiny study of 10 women suggests it might work.
You may also see other treatments offered, such as radiofrequency, ionithermie cellulite reduction treatments, and endermologie. For now, these appear to have few, if any, proven benefits.
Avoid these cellulite treatments
The AAD advises against these treatments for cellulite:
- Cryolipolysis. This procedure involves freezing unwanted fat. It works for fat but not for cellulite.
- Mesotherapy. This therapy involves injecting the skin with a concoction of ingredients, from caffeine to hormones to herbal extracts. Since it can come with side effects and a lot of unknowns, it’s best to skip this one.
- Supplements. There’s no evidence to suggest that supplements like caffeine, grapeseed extract, or gingko biloba can reduce cellulite.
Since removing cellulite would likely require extensive tissue remodeling, the jury’s still out on most remedies.
Still, some methods may help make cellulite less visible without requiring you to spend big bucks (and worse-case scenario is they just don’t work).
Despite a lack of decent supporting evidence, some people swear by cellulite remedies like:
The cause of cellulite remains somewhat mysterious, but it may have to do with the way skin stretches over fat. Genes, hormones, age, and lifestyle factors may play a role in its development.
There’s no solid science to back up a method of preventing or removing cellulite. However, some early research suggests certain medical treatments might temporarily reduce its appearance. More research is needed before we’ll know for sure.