There's no sugarcoating the fact that cellulite isn't pretty. Whether it’s on the thighs, butts, stomachs, or arms, the unsightly puckered dimples are basically the bane of our vanity—a far cry from the smooth and firm skin we'd all prefer.
But what can be done? Do products that claim to banish cellulite actually work? Can certain foods cause or prevent it? We sought the help of Dr. Robert Centeno of Bitar Cosmetic Surgery Institute to uncover the hard, er, lumpy truth, about cellulite.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Robert Centeno is a board certified plastic surgeon at the Bitar Cosmetic Surgery Institute. He has extensive experience in laser and phototherapy treatments.
Click through for the real scoop on cellulite.
Cellulite is subcutaneous fat (meaning: underneath the skin), that pushes up against the skin creating a lumpy appearance. It's most present and visible in the areas of our body that naturally have the thickest layers of subcutaneous fat—the buttocks and thighs—which also happen to be the areas of our body that get the least blood flow and activity thanks to sedentary 9-to-5 jobs.
But it's not just about fat. Hormones, as well as the structure and composition of the skin itself, play a role in the appearance of cellulite. See the next slides for further explanation.
Cellulite is more prevalent in woman because the connective tissue of men and women is fundamentally different. Centeno explains, “women have fewer and vertically-oriented fibrous attachments that connect the skin through the fat to the underlying fibrous layers and muscles than men.”
In men, the fibers are crisscrossed more like a chain link fence. The chain link scenario is stronger and fat cells can be held in better because the matter is dispersed across the links. In women, however, the fat builds and gets pushed up to the surface between the fewer vertical bars. In other words: there is less "net" to contain the fat cells, so we actually see that bumpy fat puckering under the surface of the skin.
Hormone-wise, estrogen is a double-edged sword. Estrogen in women actually creates fat and causes existing fat cells to grow larger, which of course makes cellulite more prevalent. But decreasing estrogen levels in women affects blood vessels, meaning less circulation and a related decrease in collagen production, which results in even more pronounced lumping of subcutaneous fat. Because estrogen levels in women begin to decrease in their mid 20's, continuing into menopause, this is why women start to see the appearance of cellulite in their 20's.
The truth is, with cellulite, it's more about reducing its appearance (or preventing it to begin with) than actually eradicating it. You can't exactly banish its existence altogether because we all have fat cells in our bodies and the structure of female collagen fibers will never be the strong chain link fence for fat cells that they are in men. This is why even 85 percent of women have cellulite (it has very little to do with your weight).
But it can be made to look better with certain treatments. “Cellulite can be improved temporarily with combination treatments that include vacuum and roller treatments with radiofrequency,” says Centeno. “More permanent reduction or improvement in appearance can be achieved with laser treatments such as CelluSmooth or CelluLaze. None of the treatments completely eliminate the problem but can help,” he says.
Most topical creams and lotions that claim to fight cellulite work only for so long as you’re using them. “Over the counter products and massage may temporarily improve the appearance, but ongoing treatments are necessary to maintain it. If you stop, the appearance will return to baseline” Centeno cautions.
You can also prevent cellulite by maintaining regular physical activity, though Centeno addresses the undeniable role of genetics. “Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the best way to reduce your risk of forming cellulite or it worsening, but these practices cannot completely overcome a genetic predisposition. There is a genetic and anatomic predisposition to getting cellulite which can occur even if your diet and exercise religiously,” he says.
Still, building muscle mass and tone can help reduce the look of cellulite because unlike fat, muscle is smooth and firm (compared to lumpy fat) thus making skin look taut.
Cellulite is also less visible on darker skin, so a spray tan or self-tanner will help reduce the look of dimples while you're working on your food and fitness.
The Bottom Line
Eating well and building fat-burning muscle is simply the best weapon for preventing cellulite from a non-invasive lifestyle standpoint. Cosmetically, Centeno says laser treatments provide the best and most long-lasting improvement at this time, with about 40-50 percent improvement. “No one gets a 100 percent improvement. Radiofrequency devices are continuously being refined to improve the effectiveness of the treatments without downtime. We still don't have a silver bullet.”
Keep clicking for eight products that will help reduce the appearance of cellulite.