Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Cellulite
Nearly every woman has it, yet there are so many myths surrounding cellulite and what *actually* works to get rid of it. Here, we break down the science.
This article first appeared on Shape.com.
While beauty standards are always evolving (we like to think for the better!), it's undeniable that one of the most common fitness goals is still to get rid of cellulite. Yeah, we get it. We've all been told through pop culture, media portrayals of the "ideal" body, and maybe even our friends and family that cellulite is ugly. But the truth is, it's really, really normal, and for many women, unavoidable. So why are we still spending our time and money trying to get rid of it? Ahead, read what experts in the field want you to know about cellulite, plus what you can (and can't) do about it.
Almost all women have it.
"Cellulite is an exceedingly common concern for women, affecting up to 90 percent of women and approximately 10 percent of men," says Stephen T. Greenberg, M.D., a plastic surgeon based on Long Island. "Cellulite is considered normal and very, very common," he emphasizes. Most people think that cellulite is simply fat, but it's a little more complicated than that. Cellulite is actually caused by fibrous tethers that run through your fat and pull on the fascia that lies underneath your skin, creating a dimpled appearance, meaning that it's not just fat accumulation, but rather the structure of the fat, that causes it.
You can thank your DNA.
There's a reason that only 10 percent of men have cellulite. Turns out, most women get cellulite because of the way our bodies are built, which makes it even more infuriating that conventional beauty standards tell us we're not supposed to have it. "It has to do with hormones and the way male connective tissue is created versus women's," explains Margarita Lolis, M.D., a board-certified cosmetic and medical dermatologist based in New Jersey. First, the hormones: Women have higher levels of estrogen (duh), which fat cells respond to differently than male hormones. As we age, estrogen rises, exacerbating the issue. Then there's the structural element. "Men's connective tissue is more interwoven than women's," Dr. Lolis explains. "Imagine men's connective tissue like mesh on a screen door—it's harder for fat to get through—while women's connective tissue isn't as tightly formed, leaving more spaces for the fat to bulge through." Thanks, science!
And as for why some women have cellulite on their arms and stomach while others only get it on their butt and thighs? You guessed it: Genetics! Obviously, there's nothing you can do to change your genes, so there's no need to use valuable energy wondering why some people have cellulite in certain places and others don't.
It's only loosely related to your weight.
There's a misconception that losing weight is the best way to get rid of cellulite, but this is only partially true, experts say. "If a person's weight is above their recommended BMI, and is 'overweight,' then weight loss may be beneficial to reducing cellulite," explains Kally Papantoniou, M.D., a dermatologist practicing in the NYC area. "If you are at your ideal body weight, more weight loss will likely not improve the appearance of cellulite."
And while living a healthy lifestyle is awesome for a whole host of other reasons, it's safe to say that cellulite reduction doesn't rank anywhere near the top. "A good diet, plenty of rest, avoiding cigarettes and sun exposure, and modest alcohol consumption are excellent lifestyle choices, but they won't significantly improve your cellulite," says Stephen Warren, M.D., a plastic and reconstructive surgeon based in NYC.
Fit women have it, too.
It's true that exercise can have some effect on cellulite, but it's definitely not a cure-all. "Daily exercise will help, but only when it focuses on building muscle," Dr. Lolis says. That means cardio is *not* the cellulite solution it was once touted to be. "Most women notice cellulite on their thighs and buttocks, so squats, lunges, and even things like Zumba, Barre Motion, exercise bands, and resistance training will help." Still, she's careful to point out that working out isn't a guaranteed way to get rid of the stuff.
Even professional trainers accept cellulite as part of life as a woman. "Exercise will not get rid of cellulite, because aging will happen no matter what, but it can reduce its appearance," says Sandy Liang, C.P.T., a personal trainer at Crunch. "With sufficient exercise, you'll drop body fat percentage, earn lean muscle mass, and your body will eventually look firmer and tighter, reducing the obvious appearance of cellulite." But it will still be there, she says. "I myself have cellulite, along with many fitness trainers and models I've come across. You just may not notice it because you're so focused on how strong and fit their legs look, instead!"
Luckily, we have fit, body pos models like Iskra Lawrence and Ashley Graham breaking down this stereotype by showing the world that yes, you can hit the gym on the reg and still have cellulite—and there's nothing wrong with that. (Related: Ashley Graham Is Not Ashamed Of Her Cellulite)
There's no miracle treatment.
You've probably seen creams, gadgets, and tools that are supposed to completely get rid of cellulite. Bad news: They don't work. Foam rolling, for example, is sometimes suggested as an all-natural way to reduce cellulite, but its effects (on cellulite, at least) are temporary at best. As for lotions and potions, "unfortunately, there are no miracle creams that have been proven to effectively treat cellulite," Dr. Greenberg says. "While some creams contain high levels of caffeine, seaweed, and collagen, for example, these products consistently fall short on their promise of smooth and dimple-free skin." Most of these products work by tightening the top layer of the skin, according to Dr. Lolis, but after a few hours their effects wear off. (Related: I Tried All the Non-Surgical Cellulite Treatments I Could Find and Here's What Worked)
Even surgery doesn't always work.
There are quite a few surgical treatments that are meant to help get rid of cellulite, but it's important to know that none of them are permanent. "Treating cellulite is tough," Dr. Warren says. "While many treatments claim to improve the appearance of cellulite, lasting success remains elusive. I think it's safe to say that no treatment is completely successful and none is more than mildly and temporarily effective." Here's a quick breakdown of the treatments available and their pros and cons.
Liposuction: This one has actually fallen out of favor with regard to cellulite treatment. "In general, liposuction is not an appropriate choice for cellulite and it can make the condition worse," Dr. Warren says.
Cellulaze: "This is the first FDA approved 'cure' for cellulite," Dr. Lolis explains. "The procedure calls for a small laser tube inserted under the skin. The laser heats up, melting the fat and then softening the fibrous bands that hold the fat in place. While it does deliver a very good result, it doesn't get rid of cellulite entirely." And if you want it, you'll have to have deep pockets, because it costs about $5,000 depending on the treatment area and requires multiple treatments over time.
Zwave: "This treatment sends high-energy radial shock waves to the affected areas, leading to the breakdown of the tissue surrounding the dimpled areas and the collapse of the gas bubbles within the fat structure," Dr. Lolis says."It requires around 10 sessions done two to three times weekly, so you can see the time requirement involved. Plus, the cost is about $300 to $450 per session, so it adds up."
Cellfina: This treatment takes less than an hour and requires three steps. "First, the different sites are marked for treatment. Second, each spot gets numbed. Then, a specialized tool grips the skin and nips the connective tissue with a very small blade," Dr. Lolis says. There's a three-day recovery period, but there's absolutely no scarring. Since the results can last a little more than two years, this is probably the best option, although it's pricey, clocking in at somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000.
Here's the bottom line.
So, if cellulite is so freaking hard to get rid of, and virtually all women have it, why are we ~still~ trying so hard to get rid of it? We're all for working toward your goals, and if one of them is to reduce cellulite, that's totally understandable. At the same time, it's important to acknowledge that it's 100 percent okay to not care about whether you have cellulite, and switching your mindset might even help ease body image hang-ups. "When you understand that cellulite is just part of being a woman, you understand that eliminating it just isn't possible," Dr. Warren says. Need a little help getting there? Take a cue from this plus-size model who is determined to stop seeing her cellulite as ugly.