Orange peel skin. Cottage cheese thighs. Dimpled derrière. There is an endless supply of slang terms for cellulite, but they all mean the same thing: lumpy, visible fat deposits under the skin.
"Cellulite is basically changes in the superficial layer of fat," says Dr. Larry Pollack, a board-certified plastic surgeon affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital. "This fibrous layer of fat is just under the skin. As fat cells increase, they push upward toward the connective tissue and create a 'pillow effect' on the skin's outer layer."
Everyone has fat and many have cellulite, but it doesn't mean that we have to like it. Although it is not hazardous to your health, cellulite is more visible than fat that is deeper under the skin, and it creates an unwelcome dimpled appearance, usually on the thighs, stomach, knees, hips and buttocks.
"No one is sure what causes cellulite," says Dr. Pollack. "It appears on a variety of body types, primarily in women, and can even be seen on teens and younger, fit women."
Dr. Pollack says that cellulite may be related to the following:
- Diet high in carbohydrates
- Lack of exercise
- Poor hydration
- Weight gain and loss
There are a variety of treatments geared toward removing cellulite — creams, massage, liposuction, laser treatment and more. However, Dr. Pollack says that only firm, deep massage treatments — that draw skin and fat into rollers at the skin's surface to break up the fat cells that cause the dimpling — have shown slight improvement in approximately half of those treated. The results most sufferers desire are difficult to reach.
In fact, the National Institutes of Health reports that there are no treatments, including weight loss, exercise, wraps, creams, supplements or surgery, that have proven to effectively treat cellulite — though potential laser treatments are being researched. They further recommend that liposuction is not used to treat cellulite because it may damage the treated area, causing it to look worse post-treatment.
Dr. Pollack says there are things you can do to help prevent the development of cellulite:
- Eat a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight and avoid repeated weight gain and loss
Talk with your doctor if you are concerned about your diet, weight or health. Though cellulite cannot be wholly alleviated, basic lifestyle changes can improve your overall health, wellness and appearance.