It’s believed that 80 to 90 percent of women have cellulite, yet somehow over time we’ve been conditioned to believe it’s ugly and needs to be “fixed.”
For what it’s worth, ugliness is a perception, and, medically speaking, cellulite doesn’t need to be fixed. At one point it was seen as the norm, and as the website Broadly so succinctly pointed out, “Cellulite used to be chill.”
Dr. Anne Chapas, a dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology, told HuffPost the word “cellulite” wasn’t even part of our vocabulary until the late 1800s, when French doctors coined the term.
In the 1930s, a popular magazine launched by Eugène Schueller, the founder of L’Oréal Group, called cellulite “water, residues, toxins, fats, which form a mix against which we are rather poorly equipped.” It was seen as an infection, and, according to Broadly, readers wrote letters of concern to the magazine.
Then in the late ’60s, Vogue wrote about cellulite, calling it “fat you couldn’t lose before.” As Refinery 29 wrote, Vogue essentially made cellulite “a fashionable new way for American women to hate their bodies.”
These days, we’ve reached a sort of love-hate relationship with cellulite. Champions of body positivity, such as Lena Dunham and models Ashley Graham and Charli Howard, show it off with pride, and some people even celebrate it. Meanwhile, numerous articles tell us how we can get rid of it, and there are countless creams, lotions, scrubs and treatments out there aimed at eliminating the dimples on our butts and “cottage cheese” on our thighs.
Now, whether or not someone wants to get rid of the cellulite on their body is their business. But in an effort to find out if it can even be done, we spoke to Chapas and Dr. Franziska Huettner, a board-certified plastic surgeon at Park Avenue Aesthetic Surgery, to get some answers.
How do we even get cellulite?
The term cellulite describes the dimpled appearance of the skin, usually on the thighs, butt and hips. Chapas noted that cellulite isn’t affected by weight, which means anyone can get it. As it turns out, the actual cause of cellulite is unknown, but she said there are a few factors that are believed to contribute to it.
One of those factors is the way women’s bodies store fat below the skin.
“Women store the fat in our legs in columns, so they look like an old mattress,” Chapas said. “When the skin on top gets a little loose or weak, the fat bulges out like an old mattress does.”
Huettner elaborated, “Underneath the skin, there’s a layer called fibrous connective tissue, which has fibrous bands made of collagen as well as elastin. When this tissue shrinks and shortens, it can cause indentations of the skin, and when the fat tissue then underneath is trying to protrude through it, that gives the cobblestone appearance.”
In men’s bodies, the fat is stored under a “fibrotic lattice of little Xs to keep the fat below the skin,” Chapas said, which helps explain why it’s much less common to see cellulite on men. (Men can still get cellulite, though.)
Hormone levels might also have something to do with the formation of cellulite, Chapas said, noting that females typically don’t get cellulite until after they hit puberty and have a menstrual cycle.
Some in the medical profession believe fluctuating hormone levels may cause blood vessels in our fat “to become a little bit leaky,” which leads to an inflammation that causes more fibers in the fat to form, Chapas added.
“These fibers form those columns and dimples we see in cellulite,” she said.
Can anything, even cosmetic procedures, get rid of cellulite?
In short, no. As Chapas said, “We don’t have a magic cure for cellulite.”
Because the actual cause of cellulite isn’t known, it can be difficult to treat, as there may be more than one factor responsible for it. Huetter said that, before going right to a treatment, know that “a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet as well as adequate hydration, no smoking and appropriate exercise can help to reduce the amount of cellulite and can help prevent it from forming.”
To supplement your healthy lifestyle, there are different treatments available that can help reduce the look of cellulite. These treatments usually involve laser or radiofrequency therapy or ultrasound technologies combined with massage.
“We can’t really change the structure of the fat or people’s hormonal factors,” Chapas said. “So what we’re doing is using different modalities to address all those problems.”
Laser treatments, like the VelaShape III or ALMA Accent, work on shrinking fat cells, improving circulation and thickening the skin, Chapas said. They won’t necessarily make cellulite go away, but “it certainly makes it look better after about three or four treatments,” she added.
There are also treatments that “attack the fibrous bands” that cause the dimples associated with cellulite. These treatments go underneath the skin, either with lasers, such as Cellulaze, or a needling system, such as Cellfina, and break down or cut the fibers, allowing the fat to sit more evenly under the skin, Chapas said. These treatments tend to be longer lasting, because once the fibers are cut they don’t go back. However, you can still develop new dimples and new cellulite down the line, Chapas said.
Treatments can be tailored to suit the needs of individual patients. Though some may see results after one treatment, others may not notice a change until their third or fourth visit, Huettner said. Chapas and Huettner agreed that maintenance and follow-up appointments for these treatments are often needed to achieve and maintain a patient’s desired results.
“None of the techniques are 100 percent. A lot of them are just helping to reduce it,” Huettner said.
What about all those fancy creams and scrubs? And is dry brushing helpful?
Both doctors agreed that using topical products with caffeine and/or retinol can help reduce the look of cellulite, but the results will likely be very minimal and won’t lead to “a complete eradication of the cellulite,” Huettner said.
Huettner added that the concentration of the chemicals or active ingredients in these topical products typically aren’t high enough to result in a significant breakdown of the collagen structures under the skin that give it the cobblestone appearance. But they can also be used in between treatments to help with maintenance.
Dry brushing, a method loved by Australian model Miranda Kerr, it can be somewhat helpful in reducing the look of cellulite as it helps with circulation, Huettner and Chapas agreed.
“As an additional treatment with part of your healthy lifestyle, [dry brushing] is helpful and it sort of works similarly to the other modalities that combine improvement of the tissue circulation as well as massage for improved lymphatic drainage,” Huettner said, adding that it can be a good supplement to other treatments.
“There is some benefit to these brushes, and when you apply these cellulite creams to kind of do some massage with them to improve the circulation in that area,” Chapas added. “Even laser really incorporates this kneading and massage, because that’s the vascular component that we’re trying to improve as well.”
So there you have it. While there isn’t truly a way to eliminate cellulite forever, there are treatments available to help you reduce its appearance. But if you’d rather try some at-home creams and scrubs, or invest in a dry brush, you can find some solace in the fact that they can have some benefit, even if it’s minor. At the very least, your skin will probably feel soft and moisturized, and there’s nothing wrong with that.