The Truth About Getting Rid of Cellulite

Cellulite doesn’t pose any health risks, and it doesn’t need to be treated.

Despite what you may have heard, people with dark skin need to wear sunscreen, and shaving your hair won’t make it grow back thicker. In Myth Busters, we debunk common beauty misconceptions and set the record straight.

Listen up, ladies: Having cellulite is a very normal part of having skin. It doesn’t have anything to do with your weight, diet, athleticism, or skincare routine. Truthfully, it’s way more common than you may think. One study reported that between 80 and 90 percent of women over the age of 20 experience cellulite, but despite its commonality, cellulite remains a major cosmetic concern. Unfortunately, we’ve been taught that the dimpled skin created by cellulite doesn’t quite fit society’s beauty norms (ugh). Because of this, many women wonder: Can you get rid of cellulite? 

We checked in with experts to find out if those cellulite-reducing creams and other products are actually doing anything, plus if there are any science-backed ways to get rid of cellulite. 

What is cellulite?

Cellulite is a condition in which the skin has a lumpy, dimpled appearance. It usually affects the buttocks and thighs but can affect other areas as well, including the abdomen and upper arms. NYC-based dermatologist Hadley King, M.D., tells us that cellulite occurs when fat deposits push through the connective tissue beneath the skin.

“The exact cause of cellulite is unknown, but it appears to result from an interaction between the connective tissue in the layer that lies below the surface of the skin and the layer of fat that is just below it,” she explains. “In females, the fat cells are contained in chamber-like structures that favor the expansion of fat tissue into the dermis, which gives the appearance of cellulite.” Typically, women experience cellulite more than men, and that’s because dermatologists have found that hormones—specifically estrogen, insulin, noradrenaline, thyroid hormones, and prolactin— likely play an important role in cellulite development.

But it is important to note that while cellulite may be annoying, it doesn’t pose any health risks and doesn’t need to be treated. As we said, this condition is totally normal.

Why do some people develop it?

Dr. King tells us that whether or not you develop cellulite is purely a game of genetics. She says that our genetic makeup determines the structure of the connective tissue, so it really doesn’t have anything to do with weight, although extra weight can make cellulite more visible. Also, Dr. King says that hormones and other factors influence the distribution of fat, muscle, and connective tissue, which can contribute to the onset of cellulite.

Can you get rid of cellulite?

If you’ve been slathering on creams infused with caffeine or vigorously dry-brushing in the hopes that these methods will rid your thighs or buttocks of cellulite, we hate to break it to you, but they probably won’t work. 

According to Dr, King,  these methods don’t do anything to change the anatomy that is creating cellulite, so although they’ll sometimes diminish its appearance temporarily, the fibrous connective cords underneath the skin remain fully intact. “Caffeine dehydrates fat cells, making them less visible, but this needs to be applied daily, and the effect will be modest at best,” says Dr. King of the popular skincare ingredient.

Additionally, Dr. King explains that retinol and other retinoids may reduce the appearance of cellulite by thickening the skin, but it takes at least six months of use to get visible results. And remember: You’re still merely masking the cellulite underneath.

Dawn Davis, M.D., a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, agrees that topical products won’t do much to impact the causes of cellulite. She told the Mayo Clinic that there is no way to completely eliminate cellulite.

Moreover, a 2015 review of the efficacy of various cellulite treatments ruled that either the procedures did not work or the research methodology was flawed. Because of this, “any promise to get rid of cellulite should be approached with caution,” advises Dr. King.

How can you reduce the appearance of cellulite?

Okay, so we can’t completely eliminate cellulite, but there has to be a way to reduce its appearance, right? According to Dr. King, The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reviewed a number of techniques that may be successful in reducing the appearance of cellulite. She explains that the procedures work by breaking up the bands of connective tissue under the skin’s surface. But beware: These aren’t the kind of treatments that can be done at home, and many are invasive. You’ll need to visit your dermatologist or healthcare provider to find out what method might be right for you.

Some cellulite treatments include:

  • acoustic wave therapy, which uses a hand-held device to transmit sound waves but may require multiple sessions for results;
  • laser treatment, which involves inserting a very small laser probe under the skin to break up the tissue;
  • subcision, which involves a dermatologist putting a needle under the skin to break up the connective tissue bands;
  • and vacuum-assisted precise tissue release, which cuts the bands using a device containing small blades.

Ultimately, the decision to tackle your cellulite is completely up to you, but if you’re struggling to accept your dimpled skin, Dr. King says this:Try to remember that it is very normal and you are in excellent company. We don’t have any perfect solutions. And we are always our own worst critics.”

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