(Last Updated On: October 17, 2018)
Around 90% of women will experience cellulite at some point during their lives compared to around 10% of men.
Cottage cheese thighs and an orange peel butt might not be attractive, but cellulite on the lower body is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of.
Many claims have been made about the causes of cellulite, and many more have been made about how to cure it.
Sadly, much of the information out there is mistaken or intentionally misleading, and if you want to stand any chance at all of minimizing cellulite, you need to be armed with facts, not falsehoods.
- 1 What Is Cellulite?
- 2 Age
- 3 Hormones
- 4 Genetics
- 5 Lifestyle
- 6 Ways To Reduce Cellulite
- 7 Stop Smoking
- 8 Try Topical Treatments
- 9 Caffeine
- 10 Retinol
- 11 Lose Weight
- 12 Build Muscle
- 13 Squats
- 14 Walking Lunges
- 15 Dumbbell Rows
- 16 Dumbbell Lateral Raises
- 17 Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- 18 Balance Your Hormones
- 19 Provide The Building Blocks For Collagen
- 20 Some Cosmetic Procedures Can Help Reduce Cellulite
- 21 Acoustic Wave Therapy (Ultrasound)
- 22 Subcision
- 23 Laser Treatments
- 24 The Bottom Line
What Is Cellulite?
Cellulite is the term used to describe lumps and dimples in the skin. The bumps aren’t actually in the skin, they are due to the arrangement of fat deposits and connective tissue underneath the skin.
The more fat you have, the higher your likelihood of developing cellulite, and this is especially the case as you get older .
However, cellulite isn’t always the result of being overweight, and many otherwise lean and fit women complain of lumpy problem areas on their thighs, hips and buttocks.
Cellulite appears gradually after adolescence, and its severity is graded by its appearance at 3 different stages.
Mild (Grade 1) cellulite has an orange peel appearance. Skin is slightly draped (sagging) and has 1 to 4 superficial depressions. While standing, skin is smooth, but lumps and bumps appear when sitting down. You can also detect mild cellulite when you pinch an area of skin.
Moderate (Grade 2) cellulite has a lumpier, cottage cheese appearance, a moderate skin draping, and 5 to 9 medium depressions. This cellulite is evident whether sitting or standing.
Severe (Grade 3) cellulite has a mattress appearance (similar to the surface of a mattress where the buttons create depressions), severe skin draping, and 10 or more deep depressions present while sitting or standing.
Men rarely experience cellulite because their pattern of fat distribution and connective tissue arrangement is different from women’s .
Men’s fat cells lay horizontally and tend to remain flat while the fibrous strands connecting skin with the underlying muscle form a criss-cross pattern and don’t pull the skin down creating lumps and depressions.
Women’s fat cells are vertically aligned and the upper portion of a fat cell may bulge and push against the skin. The bands of fibrous tissue connecting skin and muscle in women are also vertical, and as fat cells push against the skin, these bands pull down and form the phenomenon we know as cellulite.
When collagen in the skin is weak, skin loses thickness and firmness. Looser, thinner skin is less able to resist the fat pushing against it.
Factors that influence the development of cellulite and its severity include:
Cellulite begins after adolescence and its severity tends to increase with age. This is because the amount of collagen, which is the main structural protein in your skin and connective tissue, decreases as you get older.
Collagen production peaks at age 25, from that point on the skin, gradually becomes thinner and less firm.
With thinning upper layers and weaker connective tissue support, fat pushing against the skin is more noticeable.
Several hormones have an impact on cellulite.
Estrogen directly impacts collagen production, and as estrogen production declines dramatically during perimenopause and menopause, many women find that their cellulite changes from the milder orange peel type to the more noticeable cottage cheese variant.
Falling estrogen levels aren’t the only way that this hormone affects cellulite. High estrogen levels trigger fat storage, and more fat means more visible cellulite.
Insulin regulates your blood sugar levels. When blood sugar is too high, it is insulin’s job to return it to a safe level. To do this, insulin sends the sugar away to be stored as fat.
Blood sugar shoots up when you eat too many fast releasing carbohydrates or other foods high on the glycemic index. The more fat you have stored the more visible the cellulite will be.
Relaxin is a hormone produced during pregnancy, and its job is to decrease collagen production. Without relaxing, your pelvis wouldn’t be able to widen for the birth.
Because extra fat tends to accumulate on the hips, thighs, and buttocks during pregnancy, cellulite often makes an appearance at this time, thanks in part to the weaker connective tissue caused by relaxin. You can also thank relaxin for stretch marks.
Researchers have noticed that cellulite has a tendency to run in families. If your mother or grandmother developed cellulite fairly early on, there’s a good chance that you’ll follow the same pattern. Your genetics influence your metabolism and set your baseline for either burning fat or storing it.
Lifestyle is a biggie. Cellulite can be affected by your diet, your activity level, smoking, alcohol consumption, birth control, and even the clothes you wear, if those clothes are tight and restrict blood flow .
Ways To Reduce Cellulite
Although cellulite can’t be eliminated completely, there are steps you can take to improve its appearance.
However, since cellulite is affected by several different factors, no single step will work in isolation.
For best results, you’ll need to overhaul your diet, adopt an appropriate exercise program, address hormonal imbalances, and make any necessary lifestyle changes.
Smoking is bad for your health in every way and it certainly ruins your skin, accelerating the development of those deep lines and wrinkles that make you look years older than you really are.
Smoking is also a culprit when it comes to cellulite because it contributes to weaker collagen which is less able to resist the pressure of fat pushing against it.
Try Topical Treatments
Cellulite creams are big business and to keep the money rolling in many brands make unsupported, misleading claims about their products. However, there are a couple of simple topical ingredients that are worth trying out.
Creams containing caffeine dehydrate tissue and tighten the skin, improving the appearance of cellulite temporarily. To maintain the effect, you’ll need to apply the cream every day. Vichy CelluDestock Smoothing Body Treatment is formulated with a higher caffeine percentage than other products.
Retinol appears to improve cellulite by strengthening collagen and by making skin thicker and less prone to puckering. Don’t expect quick results with retinol, you’ll need to apply it for at least 12 weeks before you can hope to see any improvement.
If you’re overweight, weight loss is one of the most important steps you can take to address cellulite. By reducing the amount of fat beneath your skin, you’ll reduce the pressure of those fat cells pushing against your skin.
Weight loss won’t eliminate the cellulite, but it will decrease the severity of it and lessen its appearance .
As you surely know, wanting to lose weight and actually losing weight is not the same thing, and finding a weight loss plan that works can be hit or miss.
With weight loss, it’s better to take a sensible approach with a diet that produces sustained weight loss over a longer period of time and ignore the temptations of crash or fad diets.
Diets that consistently deliver on their weight loss promises include the Atkins Diet which is a strict low carbohydrate weight loss plan and the Fast Diet.
The Fast Diet is easier to follow because you only have to diet two days each week. On those ‘fast’ days you limit yourself to 500 calories. The rest of the time, you can eat a normal (but healthy) 2000 calories.
Once you’ve chosen a diet, you need to set yourself a target, and it’s often better to include inches lost along with actual weight loss as your goal.
Failure of the scale to consistently move downward is a big reason why people throw in the towel with their diets, and that’s a big shame because scales are fickle things and they don’t always measure progress accurately.
So grab a tape measure and measure your body.
Take measurements for your:
- Bust – measure around your bust in line with your nipples.
- Chest – measure underneath your breasts.
- Waist – measure above your navel at the narrowest point of your torso.
- Hips – measure around your hips at the widest point of your buttocks.
- Upper arms – measure around the fullest part of each upper arm above your elbows.
- Forearms – measure the fullest part below your elbows.
- Thighs – measure each thigh at the fullest part while standing.
- Knees – measure above each knee.
- Calves – measure around the widest part of your calves.
Record your measurements each week to help keep track of your progress. Seeing a half inch disappear from your thighs will motivate you to keep going even when the scale stubbornly refuses to budge.
Weight loss and muscle building go hand in hand if you want better body composition and a reduction in cellulite.
Strength training burns more calories than cardio while you’re doing it, and because your body is busy repairing muscle after you’ve finished your workout, you’ll still burn calories for hours afterward.
The extra muscle mass will help to smooth out bumpy areas because it pushes uniformly against your skin.
It’s not necessary to spend hours at the gym working with weights because you can do bodyweight exercises and dumbbell exercises in the comfort and privacy of your own home.
A squat is like lowering yourself onto a low chair without there actually being a chair. This exercise uses your body weight to work your muscles, and even though the effort of a squat is primarily focused in the legs, every muscle in your body is activated when you squat.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bring your arms out in front of you and hold them up parallel to the floor.
Keep your back straight and slowly lower your butt down, bending your knees as you go.
Drop as low as you can go, then push through your heels to come back up.
Repeat 10 times to complete 1 set of squats and aim for 3 sets in your workout.
Make squats more challenging by placing your hands behind your head, or more challenging still by holding your arms up above your head. Because you don’t have your arms for balance, your core muscles have to work harder and therefore they will get a deeper workout.
These lunges are another bodyweight exercise.
Stand up straight with your hands on your hips and your feet hip distance apart.
Take a big step forward with your right leg, and at the same time lift up onto the ball of your left foot. Make sure the weight of your forward leg is on your heel, not your toes.
Dip down as low as you can comfortably go and try to bring your right thigh parallel with the floor. Make sure to keep your back straight and avoid leaning over.
Push from your back foot to come out of the lunge, bring your feet together, then step forward with your left leg and lunge again.
Complete 3 sets of 10 lunges for each leg.
You’ll need a dumbbell for this exercise.
Place 2 dining chairs side by side.
Put your right knee on one chair and your right hand on the other. Your left foot stays on the floor.
Pick the dumbbell up with your left hand and pull it straight up toward your left armpit. Lower back down, then repeat to complete a set of ten.
Turn around and work your other side.
Complete 3 sets.
Dumbbell Lateral Raises
This exercise can be done sitting or standing. In either case, place your feet shoulder-width apart.
With a dumbbell in each hand, hold your arms down at your sides to begin.
Slowly raise your arms, bringing them out to your sides. If you can, raise your arms until they are parallel with the floor, then slowly bring your arms back to the starting position.
Repeat 10 times for one complete set. Aim to complete 3 sets each time you workout.
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Seated or standing, take a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides.
Bend your elbows, bringing your hands level with your shoulders, then keeping your elbows in line with your wrists, push the dumbbells straight up over your head.
Lower back to the shoulder position, then repeat.
Aim for 15 repetitions and 3 sets.
Balance Your Hormones
To keep insulin levels steady, reduce the simple carbohydrates in your diet. Simple carbohydrates (sugars) are starches that are easily digested and that quickly raise blood sugar levels. Foods like, bread, potatoes, rice, pasta and cakes should be avoided altogether or only eaten in small amounts.
For a list of 100 foods and their effects on blood sugar take a look at this glycemic index produced by Harvard Medical School.
Excess estrogen is harder to tackle, but there are a few things you can do.
If you’re taking a birth control pill, you may want to talk to your doctor and find out if you can take a lower dose of estrogen in order to reduce its impact on fat storage.
Take a look at your beauty products. Many products contain parabens, and these substances can mimic the action of estrogen in your body. If your product labels list parabens (for example methylparaben, ethylparaben, or butylparaben), then switching to paraben free alternatives will lighten your estrogen load.
Plastic food packaging is another hidden source of estrogen in the form of xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are foreign estrogens and they are much stronger than your own version of the hormone.
If you drink coffee from Styrofoam cups, heat food in plastic packaging in the microwave, drink bottled water etc, you could be exposing yourself to extra estrogen unnecessarily.
Provide The Building Blocks For Collagen
While collagen production is affected by age and hormones, there are some steps you can take to make sure that you can make the maximum amount of collagen your body is capable of producing.
Collagen is a protein and as with all of the proteins your body uses, it is built from amino acids.
Your body synthesizes some amino acids itself but there are others that must come from the foods that you eat. These are called essential amino acids and the easiest way to ensure adequate consumption is by eating complete proteins.
Meat, dairy, fish, and soy are all complete proteins, however, soy is problematic because it contains phytoestrogens which act like estrogen in your body.
Vegetables, beans, and grains are not complete proteins because they are missing one or more of the essential amino acids. But you can still get a full complement of amino acids by eating a variety of these vegetable-based foods throughout the day.
Together with amino acids, your body needs vitamins and minerals for collagen production, and according to Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling, vitamin C is the most important nutrient when it comes to optimal collagen formation.
Vitamin C is a nutrient that many people don’t get enough of, and this is for two reasons.
One, modern diets are low in vitamin C because the foods are eaten and the way those foods are prepared.
Two, vitamin C is used for many processes in the body so any vitamin C present gets used up quickly as a matter of course. Then, things like illness, stress, smoking, sun exposure, and air pollution all put additional pressure on the available vitamin C.
With so many demands on vitamin C, it’s important to make sure your body has all the vitamin C it needs. Because it’s difficult to get adequate vitamin C from the diet, a supplement is the best way to keep your levels topped up. 1 gram taken 3 times a day is a good place to start.
Vitamin E works in conjunction with vitamin C to stimulate collagen production. Eat nuts and seeds, and green leafy vegetables to ensure you get plenty of vitamin E in your diet. Since vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin, be sure to eat healthy fats like coconut oil and olive oil to enable your body to absorb this nutrient.
Vitamin A is another important vitamin for collagen production. You don’t need huge amounts of vitamin A and it’s easy to obtain from a healthy diet.
You’ll find vitamin A in meat, fish, and dairy, as well as in many fruits and vegetables like sweet potato, spinach, broccoli, cantaloupe, red bell peppers, butternut squash, carrots and grapefruit.
Finally, trace minerals like copper and silica play an important role in collagen formation. You should be able to obtain those from a normal, healthy diet, but if you want to make sure you’re getting enough, then a simple daily multi-mineral supplement will do the trick.
Some Cosmetic Procedures Can Help Reduce Cellulite
While no cosmetic procedures can ‘cure’ cellulite, some treatments will significantly reduce cellulite for a period of time. If you’re interested in pursuing any of these (expensive) treatments you’ll need to visit a good dermatologist.
Acoustic Wave Therapy (Ultrasound)
This is a noninvasive cellulite therapy which uses sound waves to improve the appearance of cellulite. Several sessions spanning two to three months are necessary before a reduction in cellulite will be noticeable.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a procedure called Cellfina is able to reduce skin dimpling for up to 3 years.
Following a study, 99% of patients said they were satisfied with their results.
During this medical procedure, your dermatologist will insert a needle under dimpled areas of your skin to break up the vertical bands of connective tissue that pull the skin down. Once the band is released, skin bounces back and a smooth look is restored.
During laser treatment, a small laser fiber is placed beneath the skin to break the fibrous bands that are causing the dimples. Laser therapy also results in the slightly thicker skin which helps to resist fat pushing against it and minimize the appearance of cellulite.
Results appear to last for at least one year.
The Bottom Line
Cellulite is a completely normal occurrence that affects almost every woman on the planet at one time or another. It’s only a problem because those faceless arbiters of female beauty have made it one, and given us yet another imperfection to stress over.
Even so, once an imperfection is noticed we want to get rid of it. Because cellulite is a normal condition of fatty areas on the female body, it’s one of the more difficult ‘problems’ to treat.
Fat loss along with muscle building exercise will help a lot. Balancing hormones will help too, as will ensuring that your body can make plentiful amounts of collagen.
But ultimately, especially as you get older, you may have to be willing to accept that cellulite is simply a normal part of being a woman.
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