The dimply, “cottage cheese” skin most women over the age of 20 carry on their buttocks and thighs is just fat, but to most women it’s more disturbing than body fat they carry in other areas. That’s because the dimpling and “orange peel skin” are so obvious when they put on a swimsuit or a pair of shorts. Women can take solace in the fact that they’re not alone. Up to 90% of all adult women have some degree of cellulite.
What Causes Cellulite?
The skin is composed of two layers called the epidermis (the outer layer) and the dermis (the deeper layer). Underneath the two layers of skin lies a layer of subcutaneous fat. These fat cells are attached to the underlying muscle by fibrous bands that hold them taut. When fat cells expand, it puts pressure on these cords and causes the lumpy, dimply look of cellulite.
Cellulite is primarily a problem that women experience because the fibrous cords that attach the fat cells to muscle are constructed differently and are better reinforced in men, so fat cells are less likely to poke through and lead to cellulite.
Genetics play a role in who gets cellulite. It often runs in families. Contrary to popular belief, even thin people can get cellulite if they’re genetically predisposed. Cellulite can be even more obvious on thin people. Cellulite also becomes more common with age as skin loses its elasticity, and the dimpling becomes more visible. Loss of skin elasticity, inflammation and poor circulation all contribute to formation of cellulite.
Lifestyle Factors That Affect Cellulite
Exercise won’t cure cellulite, but some experts believe that building and toning the muscle underneath helps the fat lay more smoothly against the muscle. This can help cellulite look less pronounced. Building more muscle definition also makes cellulite less obvious. Losing weight helps by reducing the amount of fat on the body. Eating a diet high in processed carbohydrates may also worsen cellulite by increasing inflammation. Chronic inflammation breaks down the elastin and collagen that gives skin its support and helps to keep cellulite at bay.
Topical Treatments for Cellulite
Some research shows that creams and lotions that contain caffeine increase the breakdown of fat stores that contribute to cellulite, although they aren’t a cure. They have to be used consistently to keep cellulite under control. Many cellulite treatment products contain caffeine along with other ingredients that help to reduce the appearance of cellulite and give skin a smoother appearance. When used daily over several weeks, they help to reduce the appearance of orange peel skin.
Topical retinoids, available by prescription, may improve the appearance of cellulite by improving skin elasticity and firmness. These products may also contain caffeine along with retinyl palmitate. Retinyl palmitate is converted to retinol, a weaker form of retinoid that helps to boost skin firmness and elasticity while smoothing out the skin surface.
Other treatments that have been promoted in the past but have not proven to be effective include Endermologie, a treatment that uses a machine with rollers to massage the skin. Another treatment for cellulite called mesotherapy involves injections with herbs and vitamins and is risky due to potential side effects such as uneven skin contours, scarring and infection.
Other Treatments for Cellulite
For severe cases of cellulite, there are more expensive treatments that show some promise. One type of treatment combines tissue massage, infrared light and radiofrequency waves to treat cellulite. Another treatment involves laser treatment combined with tissue massage. These treatments are costly and require multiple, ongoing treatments.
The Bottom Line?
Many treatments for cellulite have been proposed, but not all have held up to scientific scrutiny. There is no cure for cellulite, but exercising, maintaining a normal weight and using topical creams that boost elasticity and smooth the surface of the skin can help make the problem less noticeable and that’s a good thing, especially during bathing suit season.