Learn more about this common skin condition that causes dimpling of the thighs and buttocks. Treatment may result in temporary improvement.
Cellulite is a very common, harmless skin condition that causes lumpy, dimpled flesh on the thighs, hips, buttocks and abdomen. The condition is most prevalent in women.
Many people try, with variable success, to improve the appearance of their skin through weight loss, exercise, massage and creams marketed as a solution to cellulite. Medically proven treatment options are available as well, though results aren't immediate or long lasting.
As fat cells increase, they push up against the skin. Tough, long connective cords pull down. This creates an uneven surface or dimpling, often referred to as cellulite.
Cellulite looks like dimpled or bumpy skin. It's sometimes described as having a cottage cheese or orange peel texture.
You can see mild cellulite only if you pinch your skin in an area where you have cellulite, such as your thighs. Cellulite that is more severe makes the skin appear rumpled and bumpy with areas of peaks and valleys.
Cellulite is most common around the thighs and buttocks, but it can also be found on the breasts, lower abdomen and upper arms.
Treatment isn't necessary. But if you're concerned about the appearance of your skin, talk with your primary care doctor or a specialist in skin diseases (dermatologist) or plastic surgery about treatment options.
Little is known about what causes cellulite. It involves fibrous connective cords that tether the skin to the underlying muscle, with the fat lying between. As fat cells accumulate, they push up against the skin, while the long, tough cords pull down. This creates an uneven surface or dimpling.
In addition, hormonal factors play a large role in the development of cellulite, and genetics determine skin structure, skin texture and body type. Other factors, such as weight and muscle tone affect whether you have cellulite, though even very fit people can have it.
Cellulite is much more common in women than in men. In fact, most women develop some cellulite after puberty. This is because women's fat is typically distributed in the thighs, hips and buttocks — common areas for cellulite. Cellulite is also more common with aging, when the skin loses elasticity.
Weight gain can make cellulite more noticeable, but some lean people have cellulite, as well. It tends to run in families, so genetics might play the biggest role in whether you develop cellulite. An inactive lifestyle also can increase your chances of having cellulite, as can pregnancy.
A variety of treatment approaches are available to improve the appearance of cellulite, at least temporarily. Each has its own set of potential results and side effects. Some studies indicate that a combination of treatments may yield the most satisfying results.
Laser and radiofrequency treatments. Various wounding (ablative) laser treatments are available to treat cellulite. In one method, a thin fiber is slipped under the skin to deliver laser heat that destroys the fibrous bands binding fat. This approach has shown to reduce the appearance of cellulite for six months to a year. Further study is needed.
There's also a device that uses heat (radiofrequency) for nonablative treatment that improves how the skin looks. You'll likely need several sessions before you notice an improvement in the appearance of your skin. Nonablative treatments typically need to be repeated more often than do ablative treatments.
Surgery. Your doctor may offer one of various procedures that use needles, blades or other special tools to separate the fibrous bands under the skin (subcision) in an effort to smooth the skin. One method also uses fat grafting to improve skin appearance. Results from these techniques may last two to three years.
Complications of these techniques may include pain and bleeding beneath the skin.
Cellulite treatments aren't usually covered by insurance. Also, any of the procedures can have side effects, so be sure to discuss them with your doctor. Make sure your dermatologist or plastic surgeon is specially trained and experienced in the technique you're considering.
Researchers are studying possible medical treatments. Some that show potential use a combination of liposuction and ultrasound or laser. Liposuction alone won't remove cellulite, and it might worsen the appearance of your skin. But when combined with ultrasound or laser treatment, it might be effective at skin tightening. More study is needed.
Some cellulite treatments are based on the concept that vigorous massage will increase lymphatic flow, remove toxins and reduce excess fluid in cellulite-prone areas. One method in particular, Endermologie — which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a medical device with little potential to cause harm — uses a hand-held machine to knead the skin between rollers. You might notice a slight improvement to your skin, but the results are typically short-lived.
Self-care can make a big difference in improving the appearance of your skin.
Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For cellulite, some basic questions to ask your doctor include: