There’s nothing pretty about cottage-cheese thighs, but up to 90% of all women over the age of 20 have some degree of cellulite, and most would like to get rid of it. Cellulite is most common around the thighs and buttocks, although some women have it on their upper arms, breasts and tummy too. Needless to say, cellulite isn’t a fun problem to have when bathing suit season rolls around.
What Causes It?
Cellulite is really nothing more than subcutaneous fat poking up into the dermal layer of the skin. The reason it dimples and has a cottage cheese consistency is because of the way the fibrous bands that hold the fat to the muscle underneath are constructed. In men, these bands have a configuration that doesn’t allow fat to poke through spaces in the bands to reach the dermis of the skin. That’s why cellulite is less common in men. In women, these fibrous bands are constructed in such a way that fat can more easily push up through gaps in the fibrous bands where it’s visible as dimpling. Cellulite becomes more common with age as these fibrous bands lose their elasticity.
Genetics also play a role in who gets cellulite. If your mother had cellulite at a young age, you’re at higher risk. Other factors that contribute to cellulite are hormones, especially estrogen. Women who take birth control pills containing estrogen may experience worsening of their cellulite. Being obese or overweight also increases the risk, although thin people can have it too. Smoking also makes the problem worse by destroying skin elasticity.
Cellulite Reduction: What Are the Options?
There’s no magical pill that will cure cellulite, although there are ways to improve its appearance. Losing excess weight and exercising may have some impact. Strength training to develop the muscle underneath can help the overlying fat lay more smoothly. Aerobic exercise helps with weight loss and may boost lymphatic drainage, another factor that contributes to cellulite. Fluid retention and tissue congestion can worsen the appearance of cellulite, and improving lymphatic drainage through massage may temporarily improve its appearance. A lipomassage machine that kneads the skin has been approved by the FDA for temporary reduction in cellulite, and there are home devices designed to knead and massage areas of cellulite to improve lymphatic drainage.
There are skin creams available that contain a mixture of ingredients including caffeine and theophylline that may temporarily improve the appearance of cottage cheese thighs. Caffeine and theophylline activate an enzyme that increases the breakdown of fat. These creams may have some temporary benefit if the ingredients reach the underlying fat tissue. Some small studies show that these creams decrease thigh circumference slightly and may improve the appearance of cellulite, but the verdict is still out.
Another treatment that shows some promise is creams that contain retinoids, available by prescription, and retinols. Retinoids and retinols help to improve the thickness of the dermis overlying the subcutaneous fat. This helps to contain the underlying fat so it doesn’t poke through and create dimpling. Creams and lotions that contain glycolic acid may also have some benefit for treating cellulite by improving the texture of the overlying skin. Unfortunately, there haven’t been a lot of studies carried out to confirm this.
Other treatments that have shown some potential for cellulite reduction include radiofrequency and laser treatments to boost collagen production and thicken the skin overlying the fat. Unfortunately, these treatments are expensive and aren’t widely available pending further testing.
Treatments that don’t appear to work for cellulite include mesotherapy and body wraps. Liposuction isn’t the answer for cellulite reduction either. It can actually make cellulite more obvious.
The Bottom Line?
Cellulite is a common problem that affects most women, and there is no cure, but there are treatments that may temporarily reduce the appearance of dimpled skin affected by cellulite – and that’s good news for women with cottage-cheese thighs.