Cellulite is a condition that can be found in 80-90 % of post-pubertal women and attracts a wide range of products and treatments (1). Marketers take full advantage of the prevalence of cellulite knowing that women, in particular, will try anything at some point to get rid of it. But what really works? In fact, just what the heck is cellulite anyway? Well, like many questions about the human body, the answer is complicated. But the good news is that I’m here to break it down into smooth elegant terms for you.
What Is Cellulite?
Cellulite is really just an accumulation of fat cells close to the skin. But, because the fat cells are arranged vertically and are interspaced by blood vessels that connect two layers of fat separated by a coating of fascia, there can be an appearance of lumpiness at the surface of the skin. Cellulite can start as soon as we are born, but most often develops after puberty. Cellulite appears in women more often because estrogen drives fat cell activity of thigh, buttocks, and abdomen. Additionally, prolactin (the breastfeeding hormone) also makes cellulite more visible because it increases water retention in the fatty tissue. Finally, prolonged periods of sitting or standing may impede normal blood flow worsening microcirculation of cellulite prone areas, and decrease insulin control which increases fat storage (2).
What To Do About It
Because cellulite is made up of a layer of fat interwoven between the muscle, skin, blood vessels, and fibrous connective tissue, there isn’t really a way for many therapies to efficiently work to get rid of it. However, there is no shortage of snake oil salesmen out there willing to take advantage of your insecurities. Here are some examples of the garbage people will try to sell you (3):
🤦♀️Acoustic wave therapy/ultrasound
🤦♀️Supplements to burn the fat – (theobromine, theophylline, aminophylline, caffeine)
🤦♀️Supplements to increase micro-circulation – Ivy and Indian chestnut extracts, ginkgo biloba and rutin, pycegnol
🤦♀️Antioxidant and immune modulatory supplements – Vitis Vinifera, borage oil
🤦♀️Asiatic centella extract aka guta cola
🤦♀️Topical creams/lotions (4)
So what does work? Well as tricky as that answer may appear to be, it’s really quite simple. Exercise, healthy lifestyle, and pick your parents wisely. Let me break those down for you a little bit more:
Kick your bad habits – decreasing smoking and drinking will ensure that your microcirculation near the skin is at healthy levels.
Exercise – a lack of exercise will lead to increased fat retention, decreased vasodilation, increased weight gain, increased water retention, increased risk of diabetes. All of which worsen cellulite.
Stress less – too much stress can decrease your ability to renew the structural parts of the skin.
Genes – if your mother and grandmother had it, chances are you will develop it, as well.
Hypothyroidism, diabetes, & high estrogen, low progesterone – While these can be passed on genetically, they can also be managed with help from your doctor. Get these issues under control, and you will see your cellulite go away as a bonus!
The bottom line is that we all know someone who has struggled with cellulite. The good news is that there are practical and easy steps that can be taken to help them, or yourself, manage and possibly eliminate cellulite without wasting boat loads of money on nonsense treatments. As with many other ailments, the first step for most people is to exercise a little bit more. Just another reason to work your butt off at the gym!
1. Luebberding, S., Krueger, N., & Sadick, N. S. (2015). Cellulite: an evidence-based review. American journal of clinical dermatology, 16(4), 243-256.
2. Khan, M. H., Victor, F., Rao, B., & Sadick, N. S. (2010). Treatment of cellulite: part I. Pathophysiology. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 62(3), 361-370.
3. Adis Medical Writers. (2015). Cellulite: no clear evidence that any type of treatment is effective. Drugs & Therapy Perspectives, 31, 437-440.
4. Turati, F., Pelucchi, C., Marzatico, F., Ferraroni, M., Decarli, A., Gallus, S., … & Galeone, C. (2014). Efficacy of cosmetic products in cellulite reduction: systematic review and meta‐analysis. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 28(1), 1-15.