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Cellulite: What Is It and How Do I Get Rid of It?

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Cellulite is a common problem that plagues women in all walks of life. In your quest to look and feel your best, cellulite can be one of the things that can drag you down. Many women spend a lot of time and money trying to get rid of cellulite and prevent it from coming back.

It is hard to sort through all the claims of products that can treat cellulite. If they worked as well as they claim, there wouldn’t be such a pervasive problem with the disfiguring condition. To understand how best to treat cellulite, you have to start by learning what it is and how you end up with it.

Where Does Cellulite Come From?

Cellulite is a unique collection of fat cells just under the surface of the skin. The puckered, or cottage cheese, appearance is a result of how those fat cells are stored. You may notice that men do not tend to develop cellulite, although they do store fat cells.

Your skin consists of several layers of cells right on top of each other. This is why it is possible to cut your skin but not see the muscle or bone underneath. It takes a fairly deep cut or puncture wound to go all the way through your layers of skin.

That skin does not sit directly on top of the muscle, though. If it did, it would probably be smoother. Instead, the skin is attached to the muscle by fibrous bands, creating a space between skin and muscle. That space is filled with fat cells.

The fibrous bands run perpendicular from the muscle to the skin, creating pockets to contain the fat cells. When the pockets are filled with too many fat cells, they press against the underside of your skin because the fibrous bands keep them from traveling into adjacent pockets.

The reason men do not usually get cellulite has to do with how their skin is structured. In men, the fibrous bands connecting skin and muscle are not perpendicular. Instead, they form a web that more evenly contains fat cells. The fat cells trapped between the skin and the muscle are better able to move evenly between the pockets.

When the fat cells beneath a man’s skin increase, his skin can expand more evenly than a woman’s can. The web-like fibrous bands that attach a man’s skin to his muscles hold the skin tighter. When the fat cells build up and apply pressure underneath the skin, the skin expands more evenly near the fibrous bands and between them.

The perpendicular fibrous bands under a woman’s skin are connected and pulling in only one direction. If there is an excess of fat cells, the skin is more likely to expand in the middle of the pocket but remain tight near the fibrous bands, creating an uneven appearance.

Why Does Cellulite Appear?

Since cellulite is a bunch of fat cells pressing up underneath the skin, there are only a couple reasons why it appears. The fibrous bands holding the skin in place are tight, but there is a lot of slack in the skin between them. The quality of the skin itself also affects the appearance of cellulite.

Fibrous bands that hold the skin in place have a limited amount of elasticity. They can give and flex to accommodate more or fewer fat cells, but there is a limit. These fibrous bands are not as flexible as skin or other types of soft tissue. Over time, the fibrous bands can become even more rigid, which puts more pressure on the skin between the bands to give way for additional fat cells.

A nice, thick layer of healthy skin can remain smooth despite the pressure from fat cells underneath. But over time, skin becomes thinner and starts to lose some of its flexibility. A thinner layer of skin stretched over a wad of fat cells reveals the contour of those cells the way tight pants made of a silky material might show panty lines.

Skin can also lose some of its flexibility and strength when it is stretched too much too quickly or remains stretched for a long period of time. Skin is very much like elastic in this way. If your older sister squeezed into your bathing suit, you might notice it does not fit you as well as it used to. If she wears it all summer, it is not likely to go back to the size it was when you wore it. You will also notice the fibers breaking down and becoming transparent in high-stress places.

When the fat cells underneath your skin multiply rapidly, they put extra stress on your skin to expand to accommodate them. The fibrous bands hold your skin in place reach their maximum, and your skin has to continue to stretch to make up the difference needed. The thinner skin reveals the contour of those fat cells as cellulite.

What Causes Cellulite?

Some of the common reasons cellulite develops are:

  • Genetics — Some people are predisposed to cellulite by their genetic make up. The appearance of cellulite can be affected by gender and race, for instance. Women are more likely to develop cellulite than men, and certain racial or ethnic backgrounds show a higher propensity for its appearance. To the extent that genetics control your body’s ability to circulate fluids and distribute fat underneath the skin, cellulite is also caused by genetics.
  • Clothing — Circulation can play a big role in the development of cellulite, since it is partly a build up of fluid in the areas just beneath your skin. Tight clothing that limits circulation can contribute to cellulite, especially in the upper legs and buttocks area. Habitual impingement of circulation can be a problem, although the occasional wearing of tight clothing might not be a factor.
  • Hormones — Cellulite is produced as a result of the interaction of several hormones. The amount of these hormones in the body can speed up or slow down the process. Thyroid hormones, estrogen, insulin, noradrenaline and prolactin are believed to play an important role in cellulite production. There are many conditions that alter the levels of these hormones in the body, either by the day or by the year.
  • Diet — Eating too much salt, fat and carbohydrates in combination with too little fiber can contribute to cellulite production. Fiber is the substance that helps remove fat from your system during the digestive process. If too much of the fat you consume remains in your body, it can be stored underneath your skin. Excess carbohydrates are also stored as fat, and excess salt encourages your body to maintain water weight. Without enough fiber to rid your body of the excess fat and water, it is likely to build up under your skin as cellulite.
  • Lifestyle — Smoking is one lifestyle choice that can be linked to cellulite and other unattractive skin conditions. Skin dries out and loses its elasticity when exposed to smoke over a long period of time. Smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop cellulite and pre-mature wrinkles. A sedentary lifestyle also contributes to cellulite development. Circulation is important to remove excess fat and fluid from the body. Daily moderate exercise keeps the circulatory system functioning optimally.

Cellulite is a natural condition that appears in many people at some point in their lives. It is not only a problem for people who are overweight. It can also afflict people of moderate weight and those with thin skin.

What Are the Most Common Places for Cellulite to Appear?

Since cellulite is caused by fat cells, there are a few places where it tends to be most common:

  • Abdomen — Both men and women are most likely to develop cellulite in the abdominal region. Although men do not tend to get cellulite, this is one area where it could happen. Cellulite is about pooling fat, which both men and women can do in their midsection. The typical beer belly can stretch a man’s skin beyond its limits and slow circulation to that region. Since a beer belly is usually a result of a sedentary lifestyle, it is a sign that circulation is slowed.

For women, abdominal cellulite can be associated with childbirth or breastfeeding. This is usually a result of drastic changes in hormone levels. Maintaining extra weight in the midsection after puberty can also be the culprit. The fat cells put stress on the skin and create the perfect condition for cellulite development.

  • Thighs — Probably the most stereotypical image of cellulite is the cottage cheese thighs. Women store a majority of their excess fat in this region, so it is a prime target for cellulite formation. The problem is not restricted to the thighs, either. It also affects the hips and buttocks, as well. Cellulite in this region can be hard to treat, since hormones and gravity are working with it.
  • Arms — The arms, especially the back of the upper arms, is another common place for cellulite to develop. Skin in that area can be stretched by an accumulation of excess fat and lose its elasticity. The skin on the back of the arm tends to be thinner and more delicate than other areas of the body as well.

Cellulite is most likely to appear in the fatty, fleshy areas of the body where the skin is farthest away from the bone. Any place where fat is stored beneath the skin could potentially develop cellulite if the conditions are right.

Why Cellulite Creams Don’t Work

Cellulite appears on the surface of the skin, so it is only natural to want to remove it from there. There are a lot of topical products on the market that claim to reduce or even eliminate cellulite on your thighs, abdomen and arms. Creams and lotions seem like a perfectly simple solution to this disfiguring problem, but they are not.

If it were possible to rub some potion over your cellulite and make it disappear, no one would have visible cellulite anymore. Cellulite is a stubborn problem for exactly that reason: Cellulite creams don’t work. They can be expensive and take you on an emotional roller coaster ride, but in the end, you will still have cellulite.

Although cellulite appears on the surface, the problem is much deeper. Creams and lotions would have to work through your skin and get to those excess fat cells underneath. Even if the topical treatments could go that deep, what concentration of ingredients would be left to fight the fat cells?

Most cellulite creams contain caffeine, retinol and DMAE. Caffeine is meant to stimulate circulation of blood to the skin to help remove unwanted fat. It serves to firm the skin, which can reduce the appearance of cellulite, but it is a temporary measure. Caffeine is a diuretic that removes moisture from the skin. Dry skin appears tighter and is prone to wrinkle. The caffeine only removes the excess moisture from the skin as long as you put the cream on. When you stop using the cream, the appearance of cellulite returns. In fact, the cellulite never went away — you just couldn’t see it as well.

Using retinol on your skin can be tricky. It does exfoliate and increase collagen production. However, it also dries the skin out and can cause a reddening, peeling irritation. What are the chances that the retinol works before you have to stop using it? Is red, peeling skin more attractive than the orange peel look you have now?

DMAE is an antioxidant and is supposed to firm your muscles. There is no proof that the DMAE in the topical cream ever gets near the muscle tissue, though. It would have to penetrate the skin and work through the fat cells to access the muscle. Simply firming the muscle would not eliminate the cellulite anyway. The cellulite is fat cells in storage under your skin, and it appears at the surface because of the condition of your skin to allow it to show through.

How to Reduce Cellulite

The most natural approach to reducing cellulite is to reduce the fat cells under your skin and restore the healthy condition of your skin. There are a number of ways to do this:

  1. Diet and Exercise

Cellulite develops as a result of a natural condition. It is your body’s way of handling what you put in it. Even if you are not overweight, you might benefit from realigning your diet to address the cellulite problem. Try reducing your consumption of fat, salt and carbohydrates, and increasing your fiber intake. The increased fiber in your diet will help eliminate excess fat you consume, setting up a healthier cycle.

Improving your circulation will help nourish your skin and remove built-up fluid. Increase your level and frequency of exercise to achieve better circulation. Strenuous exercise is not necessary. Simply add at least a half hour of moderate exercise like walking to your daily routine. If you already do this, you can try increasing the amount or intensity of your workout.

Changes to your diet and exercise routine can stop the development of cellulite, but it is not as likely to expel the cellulite you already have. Diet and exercise are a slow, gradual solution to your cellulite problem. A healthy lifestyle, with exercise and no smoking will improve the situation, however.

  1. Massage

Massage improves circulation and can be used to reduce cellulite. There are many accepted forms of massaging cellulite away, including some you can do yourself at home. The idea is to concentrate your efforts on the area of cellulite and allow the increased blood flow to remove built-up fluids causing some of the pressure.

One specific type of massage used for cellulite is endermology. A special device with suction cups is used to apply a deep tissue massage to the area. Deep tissue massage is believed to break up connective tissue, which is part of what causes the dimpled look of cellulite. The results are not permanent, though, and the procedure needs to be repeated often.

Endermology is not proven to reduce cellulite. Breaking up the connective tissue could also cause the skin to sag. The vigorous massage can loosen skin and give it a pre-mature aged look — and loose, saggy skin could be a bigger problem than cellulite.

  1. Cryolipolysis

This procedure attacks the fat cells and is non-invasive. It kills the fat cells under your skin and leaves them there for your body to remove naturally. As your body circulates blood and lymph, the dead cells are carried away. With the fat cells gone, there is nothing to press on the underside of your skin and look like cottage cheese.

The results of this procedure are especially good for women who are also overweight. It can reduce the appearance of cellulite and change the body shape in problem areas. The permanency of the results, however, are questionable.

The body produces and stores fat in response to natural conditions. Fat is stored in the same places as a matter of routine. If the conditions that cause your body to produce and store fat are not altered, it will continue this practice. Where the old fat cells died and were carried away, new fat cells will appear to take their place.

What Is Cellulaze?

So, how can you treat cellulite truly effectively? You can opt for a laser treatment known as Cellulaze. It’s minimally invasive and offers long-lasting results. Cellulaze uses laser technology to improve the natural health of your skin and release the tension that causes the pocketing that results in the appearance of cellulite on the surface.

Thicker, healthier skin does not show the contours of the fat cells beneath it. Cellulaze energizes your skin to plump it up and rejuvenate its elasticity. This reduces the look of cellulite by returning a youthful quality to your skin without dehydrating or pre-maturely aging it.

In addition, Cellulaze tackles the puckering problem by loosening the fibrous bands that attach it to the muscle beneath. Those bands may have fit right at one time, but now they are strained by the fat cells between the muscle and the skin and are causing the skin to look puckered.

A 25% increase in thickness of skin is shown with Cellulaze treatment, a lasting effect that will continue to hide cellulite. Since the treatment stimulates your body’s own natural abilities to maintain healthy skin, results continue to increase months after the treatment. One year after the Cellulaze treatment, 93% of clients were satisfied with their results.

The procedure takes anywhere from one to two hours, depending on the size of the treatment area, and it’s performed under local anesthesia. There is only mild discomfort involved, and clients return to normal activities with some minor bruising a day or two after the procedure.

Since the incision sites are small, there can be little to no scarring from Cellulaze procedures. In most cases, the desired results are seen with just one treatment.

Cellulite FAQ

Have questions about cellulite? Here are the answers to some of those common questions:

  1. What is cellulite?

It is a build up of fat cells under the skin, constrained by fibrous bands, showing their texture through the skin.

  1. Where does cellulite come from?

Cellulite is actually a natural condition based on fat storage and skin health.

  1. Does everyone get cellulite?

Anyone can get cellulite, but it is more prevalent in women than men.

  1. Where do most people get cellulite?

The appearance of cellulite is most common in the hip, thigh and buttocks area.

  1. Can you avoid getting cellulite?

A healthy diet and regular exercise could prevent or reduce the appearance of cellulite.

  1. Why won’t cellulite creams work?

They cannot penetrate the skin or change the body’s routine for storing fat.

  1. Which cellulite treatments work?

A laser treatment called Cellulaze presents the best chance of permanent cellulite treatment.

Learn More

To learn more about cellulite and one of the fastest, most effective treatments for it, Cellulaze, contact Synergy Wellness today.

Read More About Cellulite Reduction:

Picture of Dr. Jan Trobisch

About the Author:

President, Medical Director: Jan Trobisch, MD

Dr. Jan Trobisch was born and raised in Berlin, Germany. He began his journey into medicine at the esteemed Freie Universität Berlin, graduating in 1999. Driven by an eagerness to broaden his experience and knowledge, he moved to the United States in 2000. There, he undertook and completed his residency training in Internal Medicine at Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, California, by 2004.

After his residency, Dr. Trobisch worked as a hospitalist and served as an attending physician for the residency program. His passion for helping people overcome their struggles led him to work in outpatient addiction recovery treatment. In his quest to provide a comprehensive and integrative approach to wellness, Dr. Trobisch founded the Synergy Wellness Center in 2009.

In the decade-plus since its inception, Synergy Wellness Center has experienced significant growth and expansion. The center is committed to offering a wide array of services, including medical weight loss, hormone optimization, medical aesthetics, and addiction recovery treatments. Emphasizing comfort and tranquility for its patients, Synergy is known for its luxurious, spa-like environment, blending the aesthetics of a wellness spa with the rigor and expertise of a medical facility.

With his multifaceted medical expertise and commitment to holistic well-being, Dr. Trobisch continues to lead the Synergy Wellness Center, shaping it into a beacon of integrative health and wellness.

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