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Cellulite: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention, Risk Factors

What is Cellulite?

Cellulite is nothing but deposition or accumulation of fat in the subcutaneous areas of the body, giving a dimpled appearance to the skin. Cellulite is medically known as Edematous Fibrosclerotic Panniculopathy (EFP). Cellulite is commonly seen on thighs, hips and buttocks. Women more commonly have cellulite than men. This is because of the different manner of distribution of the fat, connective tissue and muscle in women’s and men’s skin. The lumpy appearance of cellulite occurs from fat deposits which push and distort the underlying connective tissues resulting in the characteristic dimpled appearance of the skin.

What is Cellulite?

Cellulite may be confused with a medical condition known as cellulitis, which is in no way related to it. Cellulitis is a bacterial infection or inflammation of the skin, which spreads to the underlying tissues whereas Cellulite is accumulation of fat beneath the skin.

Causes & Risk Factors of Cellulite

Cellulite gives a dimpled appearance to the body and skin which actually is considered a normal variation seen in perfectly normal human beings. The extent of cellulite that is seen or present depends on the person’s heredity, gender, age, skin thickness, the quantity and the distribution of body fat. It is thought that cellulite occurs from shortening or shrinkage of the fibrous tissue cords which attaches or secures the skin. Women are more commonly affected from cellulite; however, it is also seen in men. Cellulite can affect individuals of all races/ethnicity. There may be a role of female hormones contributing to the pattern of fat distribution; however, cellulite cannot be treated by hormone therapy.

Women have a higher tendency to develop cellulite than men. Individuals with a family history of cellulite are at a greater risk for developing it. Sedentary lifestyle and pregnancy can also contribute to development of cellulite.

Symptoms & Diagnosis of Cellulite

As mentioned before, cellulite gives a dimpling and a lumpy appearance to the skin and flesh. This can also be referred to as an “orange peel” appearance of the skin. This is most commonly seen in buttocks, hips and abdomen. This characteristic appearance of cellulite is sufficient for confirming the condition and there is no need for further diagnostic tests for cellulite.

Treatments to Get Rid of Cellulite

As cellulite is not a medical problem and considered to be a cosmetic problem, treatment is done by dermatologists, plastic surgeons and other aesthetic specialists. None of us would like the appearance of cellulite i.e. a dimpled and lumpy body, and every one of us desires a smooth and even skin. Some of the treatment/therapies for cellulite include dietary changes, creams, massage etc. and are mentioned below:

Dietary Supplements for Cellulite: These include ingredients, such as sweet clover, ginkgo biloba, bladderwrack extract, grape-seed bioflavonoids, fish oil, evening primrose and soy lecithin. These ingredients have a positive effect on the body, such as breaking down fats, improving circulation, speeding up metabolism and preventing cell damage. However, it is difficult to evaluate such claims as things like “circulation,” “metabolism,” “cell damage” etc. cannot be measured easily on an objective basis and thus make it difficult to determine if there is any improvement in the reduction of the cellulite. Other than this, research is still going on regarding the use of dietary supplements for treating cellulite, as there are some dietary supplements which claim to treat cellulite, but also carry health risks or can have some dangerous interaction with certain prescription drugs.

Methylxanthines: These are the group of chemicals, which include caffeine, aminophylline and theophylline and are found in many cellulite creams and are recommended for cellulite treatment because of their ability to break down the fat depositions. However, these creams applied on skin cannot deliver or release the required concentration of these chemicals and for the duration of time needed for significant breakdown of the fat. According to studies, there is a mild reduction in cellulite with these creams, but no significant cellulite loss.

Massage Therapy to get Rid of Cellulite: There are several machines that are used for massaging the areas where cellulite is present. These machines include the use of rolling cylinders to collect the affected areas of skin and massage them. Endermologie is one of the massage treatments that are used for cellulite. An electrically powered device is used in this technique which suctions, pulls and squeezes the regions affected with cellulite. This is an expensive massage treatment and each session lasts for around for 35-45 minutes. Around 10 to 12 treatments are needed before the desirable results are seen. There is temporary reduction in the cellulite seen; however, this technique apparently redistributes the fat. There is no permanent change in the fat configuration under the skin and also a person requires regular maintenance treatments to maintain the initial effect or the initial loss of cellulite to prevent it from returning.

Light Therapy/Laser Therapy/Radiofrequency Therapy: Certain light-therapy devices have been approved by the FDA for treating cellulite. These devices use a combination of light therapy with suction/ massage. This gives a temporary reduction in the appearance of cellulite. TriActive is another treatment which uses a combination of suction and manipulation of the cellulite along with low-level laser treatment. VelaSmooth and VelaShape treatment uses a combination of massage and laser therapy. Both these treatments also need multiple sessions along with maintenance treatments to prevent further buildup of cellulite. Laser/massage treatments are costlier than massage treatments alone.

Collagenase: Collagenase is an enzyme present in the body which breaks down the collagen, which is a component of connective tissue. It is thought that injections with collagenase can help in improving the appearance of cellulite; however, long-term effects of collagenase injections are not known. Research is still going on to determine the duration and the extent of improvements, if any, in the reduction of cellulite with this treatment. This is an experimental treatment and is not available routinely yet.

Mesotherapy: This is a controversial treatment for cellulite where drugs and other substances are directly injected into the affected tissue. Vitamins and herbs are also used in the injection. Multiple sessions of injections are required. However, this treatment is not yet proven and is considered risky.

Cellulite Diets: There are special “cellulite diets” which claim to treat cellulite. It is claimed that certain combination of foods will help in improving the circulation and reducing the inflammation in the affected areas and leads to reduction of cellulite. However, there is no concrete evidence to support these claims. It is a well known fact that consumption of healthy diet helps in cutting down of fluid retention and also improving the overall health and appearance of the skin. However, there is no evidence of specific diets which target cellulite and reduce it.

Wraps: There are many different types of wraps, such as herbal body wraps for treating cellulite. However, as in the case of cellulite diets, there is no proof of the effect of the wraps in decreasing the cellulite. Wraps do help in improving the overall appearance of skin and decreasing fluid retention; however, these effects are only temporary.

Subcision: Subcision is a technique where the fibrous cords (septae), which pull down the lower part of the skin, are incised. Subcision helps in improving the appearance of cellulite on thighs and buttocks; the effect of which can last up to two years.

Application of retinol cream twice a day helps in decreasing the appearance of dimpling on the skin. The time required for the effect of retinol cream to be seen is about six months. However, these effects are only temporary and patient needs ongoing treatments for continued benefit.

Prevention of Cellulite

Prevention of cellulite is not always possible; however, certain measures can be taken to prevent cellulite, such as regularly exercising and maintaining a healthy weight, will help in preventing as well as reducing the appearance of cellulite. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids and maintain adequate hydration for a healthy and clear skin and also for a healthy body. It is also important for smokers to quit smoking; this will help in reducing the appearance of cellulite.


  1. Medical News Today – What Is Cellulite?: Find out more about cellulite, its symptoms, and potential treatments. Medical News Today – Cellulite

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 31, 2023

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