Cellulite is not an illness.  It’s just a pattern of fat distribution.

Underneath your skin, you’ve got a layer of fat.  Everybody does.  You’d look pretty weird without it.  Sometimes, the fat layer is distributed evenly, but other times it’s distributed in little pockets, and fibrous bands of tissue connect the skin (dermis) to the muscle that sits beneath that layer of fat.  When the fat bulges through the fibrous bands, it makes the skin on top look lumpy.  It’s like having one of those egg carton mattresses underneath a sheet.

About 85% of women have this kind of fat distribution on their hips, thighs, and buttocks.  (Men can have it too, but men typically have thicker skin so it’s less visible.)  Cellulite shows up around puberty (probably due to hormonal changes, which is probably why it tends to worsen with pregnancy), and tends to become more pronounced with age (probably due to the thinning of the dermis and decrease in elasticity associated with aging).  It’s genetic.  If your mom has it, you probably will too.

What Makes Cellulite Worse:

  • Hormones (as mentioned).  But unfortunately that doesn’t mean balancing your hormones will diminish the appearance of cellulite.
  • Age (as mentioned), due to changes in the skin.
  • Being heavier.  The higher your percentage of body fat, the more fat will get distributed  throughout your body – which means it’ll show up in the layer between your skin and your muscle too.  More fat = more bulge.
  • On that note, weight fluctuation.  Most of the time weight loss helps with the appearance of cellulite, but it depends on how your body is predisposed to lose it.  Those women who lose weight too rapidly can sometimes end up with sagging skin, which can worsen the appearance of cellulite.
  • Being dehydrated.  Hydrated cells (in the skin) are plumper, which means the underlying bulge will be less visible.  In the same way, dehydrated cells will camouflage the appearance less.
  • Poor circulation.  Sedentary individuals, or even those who wear restrictive clothing, can increase the appearance of dimpling.

What Treatments for Cellulite Are Out There: 

  • Mechanical stimulation: most of these address the “poor circulation” cause above.  That’s why massage and suction treatments (temporarily) seem to diminish the appearance of cellulite, as do radiofrequency stimulation, thermal stimulation, ultrasound, and electromagnetic stimulation.  Unfortunately these treatments are expensive, must be frequent to see results, and must be continued for results to remain.
  • Laser stimulation: This one seems to target the fibrous connective tissue, and is often combined with mechanical stimulation to achieve results.  It is expensive and short-lived.
  • Mesotherapy: a controversial treatment involving injection of fat-dissolving substances under the skin – sometimes these are pharmaceuticals, and sometimes they are natural substances.  Honestly I don’t know enough about this to have an opinion – I’d just say this: do your homework.
  • Getting a tan: this will minimize the appearance of cellulite temporarily… but because it may damage elasticity of the skin in the long run, over time it may actually make the appearance of cellulite worse.
  • Creams: Results on these are mostly inconclusive or at best debatable, but it’s agreed that any benefits require continued use.
    • With methylxanthines (caffeine): this works by supposedly increasing metabolism locally, decreasing water retention (it’s a diuretic), and improving local circulation.
    • With dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE): these are antioxidants derived from fish.  The argument is that these cause the muscle to contract and become firmer.
    • With retinol: this is supposed to increase collagen production, making skin thicker and thus hiding the cellulite beneath.

What Treatments Definitely Work for Cellulite:

(No surprises here.)

  • Eat a Good Diet: low in processed carbohydrates (which turn to sugar as soon as they hit your saliva, which are then converted to fat for storage), high in vitamins and minerals (which will help to keep the dermis healthy, thick, and elastic, and will also improve your metabolism).
  • Drink Plenty of Water: half your body weight in ounces daily, more if you’re active (which you should be.  See #3).  Make sure you’re getting plenty of electrolytes too.
  • Get Your Exercise: the best choice is a combination of both cardio and resistance (weights).  The former burns fat and the latter tones muscle.  Not only will toned muscle improve the appearance of cellulite overall, it will burn more calories in a resting state than fat will (by FAR).  Plus, this will help minimize water retention, and increase overall circulation, which will further improve the appearance of cellulite.
  • And if you DO decide to try some of the anti-cellulite creams on the market, READ YOUR LABELS.  Make sure none of the no-no ingredients are on the list. And then as long as you’re applying them anyway, you might as well massage them in well – that way you get the benefit of both kinds of treatment.