To be completely clear and transparent, almost everyone has cellulite. No matter how nutritious your diet or how regular your workout routine, cellulite is a normal part of having skin. And it actually has very little to do with weight. Cellulite is subcutaneous fat (meaning underneath the skin) that pushes up against the skin creating a dimpled 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 nine-to-five 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. 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-20s, continuing into menopause, women start to see the appearance of cellulite in their 20s.
Meet the Expert
- Jonathan Drysdale, MD, is a physician at Hēla Medical Spa in Washington, DC, where he offers a holistic approach to skin rejuvenation via lasers, injectables, and functional medicine.
- Lynn Wojton is a nurse at New York's Center Aesthetic & Dermatology, specializing in cellulite treatment.
Keep scrolling to see the truth about six cellulite treatments.
Topical Creams and Serums
Some topical cellulite creams and lotions that claim to fight cellulite might help, but they will work only for so long as you’re using them. “Topical creams can be used for appearance at best. Many are expensive and most over-promise,” Drysdale cautions.
Vacuum and Rolling Treatments
Cellulite can't go away completely, but certain treatments can lessen its dimpled appearance on the skin. "It is possible to lessen the appearance of cellulite," says Drysdale. "While not a permanent removal, if you stay on the proposed regimen, patients are pleased with their results."
Vacuum and rolling treatments target the connective tissue which, in women, is largely to blame for the appearance of cellulite, and the reason it's more prevalent than among men. Women have fewer 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.
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).
Also important to note is that, when combatting cellulite with laser treatments, multiple treatments will likely be required. "Like all regimens, it requires maintenance treatments on the targeted area, just as Botox requires maintenance treatments on your face," says Drysdale.
Cosmetically, Drysdale says laser treatments provide the best and longest lasting improvement at this time. "Radiofrequency power is the gold standard for treating cellulite," he notes. "We recommend VelaShape III, the first FDA approved non-invasive, non-surgical treatment for body reshaping and cellulite." The VelaShape III treatment produces a gradual smoothening of the skin with a noticeable reduction in cellulite and reshaping of body areas and generally requires four treatment sessions. "Using a combination of bi-polar radiofrequency, infrared, and vacuum, this treatment precisely and effectively heats and breaks up the tissue, smoothing the texture of the skin and adding a lift," adds Drysdale. "It is the most recognized non-invasive body shaping treatments—proven to help reduce the appearance of cellulite."
Wojton points to a device called EMTone, which delivers both thermal and mechanical energy to the skin to break up cellulite. "EMTone is the gold standard for cellulite treatment," she says. "Other devices that have come to market failed patient expectations by only targeting one of the several causes of cellulite leaving minimal if any improvement after several sessions." A single EMTone treatment takes anywhere from five to 15 minutes per area, with no downtime.
One easy way to lessen the appearance of cellulite? Hide it by slathering on self-tanning lotion. "We all wish there was a topical cream that could scientifically treat or even lessen the appearance of cellulite," says Wojton. "Self-tanning lotion is the best hack out there when trying to beat the appearance of cellulite topically. It’s often about how both light and shadow are reflected on the surface of the skin, highlighting or diminishing areas of dimpling and skin laxity. Self-tanner can help minimize the light and shadow variances, giving the skin a smoother appearance."
You can also prevent cellulite by maintaining regular physical activity, though it's difficult to deny the role of genetics. While maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the best way to reduce your risk of forming cellulite or seeing it worsen, some people simply have a genetic predisposition to getting cellulite, which can occur even if they maintain a consistent diet and exercise routine. "Recommendations for best long-term results are to stay hydrated," says Drysdale. "This removes toxins that can lead to fat accumulation, and encourages lymphatic flow and circulation."
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. "Reducing fat while also building up muscle will also make noticeable, visible improvements in the appearance of cellulite," says Wojton.
Dehydration causes thinner, weaker skin—so it stands to reason that well-hydrated skin is more plump. "Hydration plus exercise and nutrition help maintain a healthy BMI and weight," says Drysdale.
Drinking water can also help flush toxins out of the body, aiding the body in metabolizing fat. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends women consume roughly 2.7 liters of fluid per day and that men consume 3.7 liters.
Lympathic massage works to stimulate the body's lymph nodes, encouraging the movement of fluids through the body. Practitioners swear by its ability to change the shape of the body and face, slimming it down with continued use.
But, as Drysdale notes, the results won't be as noticeable as those from radiofrequency treatments, such as VelaShape III, mentioned above. "The heat generated by Vela simulates something similar, but more powerful than, a lymphatic massage," says Drysdale. "It breaks down the cellulite tissue and stimulates the production of collagen. The best part is this deep, therapeutic treatment delivers consistent, reproducible results with minimal downtime or discomfort."