Cellulite is not harmful. The dimpled, puckered skin that characterizes cellulite is a normal variant in the way fat beneath the skin is distributed. But the appearance of cellulite, which is most often found on the thighs and buttocks of as many as 8 in 10 women, is distressing for many. "While there is as of yet no single solution that can permanently eliminate cellulite," says Joshua Fox, MD, of Advanced Dermatology, P.C., there are steps a woman can take and there are effective treatments that can reduce cellulite and improve the appearance of the skin."
What causes cellulite?
Cellulite is most common on those parts of the body that have fat deposits under the skin. When the fat pushes against connective tissue, the skin above it puckers, causing the distinctive bumpy look of cellulite. It is more common in women than in men because fat and connective tissue are distributed differently in the skin of women and men. Cellulite also becomes more common as skin loses elasticity with age. "Cellulite may become more noticeable with weight gain," says Aza Lefkowitz, MD, associate director of the Smart Lipo Unit at Advanced Dermatology P.C., "but lean people have cellulite as well. Genetics are thought to play a role in determining who will develop cellulite. Other factors that may affect its development or visibility are diet, exercise and metabolism—how the body burns energy."
Fox offers several suggestions on how can cellulite be reduced.
- Weight loss and exercise won't eliminate cellulite, but losing pounds through a healthy diet and strengthening the muscles of the legs, thighs and buttocks will improve appearance by helping keep the body taut and smooth and improving skin tone and texture.
- Massage therapies have been developed that utilize a hand-held, electrically powered device that kneads the skin between rollers to smooth its texture. Treatment typically constitutes six-to-eight 35-minute sessions.
- Laser and light therapy are used with the goal of disrupting and shrinking fat tissue, sometimes in conjunction with massage to soften the connective tissue and reduced the dimpled appearance. Cold lasers can damage fat cells painlessly and decrease cellulite.
"There are a wide variety of topical creams and other treatments that purport to reduce cellulite," says Fox, "but there is little evidence that they are effective." "The best advice we can give is to try to avoid the development of cellulite or to minimize its severity by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight (and avoiding yo-yo dieting), drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding smoking."