July 20, 2012
Dear Mayo Clinic:
I am a 36-year-old woman in decent health, but lately I have noticed unsightly cellulite on my thighs. How does cellulite form, and how can I get rid of it without surgery? Will exercise or losing weight make it better, or am I stuck with what I have for life?
Cellulite — the appearance of dimpled skin that is sometimes described as having a cottage cheese-like texture — is common in women and even occurs in some men. It most often appears on the thighs, buttocks or abdomen, but can also be found on the breasts or upper arms. Although having cellulite makes many people feel self-conscious, it's important to know that you are not alone: at least 8 out of 10 women have some amount of cellulite.
The good news is that the condition is nothing to be concerned about medically. Unfortunately, there are no tried-and-true methods for getting rid of cellulite altogether.
Cellulite is the result of normal fat beneath the skin breaking up. In areas where cellulite often appears, the layer of fat contains fibrous connective cords that hold your skin to your muscle. Fat cells are bound to the connective tissue cords, but over time the connecting fibers degenerate. When this happens, the surrounding fat starts to break apart and push up against the skin. In some areas of the body, this process occurs but might not be noticeable. But when the process occurs on your legs, buttocks, or other areas prone to cellulite, the result is dimpled or uneven skin.
Cellulite can develop or become more noticeable after gaining weight. An increase in fat tissue in certain areas of your body will be the areas most likely to show cellulite. Cellulite also can occur when there is significant friction or rubbing, such as the upper arms or inner thighs.
Cellulite is more common with aging. This is because the skin loses some of its elasticity over time, so the prominence of the existing cellulite becomes more evident. Genetics also may play a role in whether or not you develop cellulite, since it can show up in very lean individuals.
Because cellulite resides in the fatty tissue underneath the skin, any claims that a cream or lotion can eliminate it are just not true. The same goes for products or devices that promise to treat cellulite: there is little or no scientific evidence that supports these claims.
Losing weight and strengthening the muscles in the legs, buttocks and abdomen may make cellulite less noticeable in those areas, but it won't go away altogether. That is because once a fat cell develops, it is yours for life. Weight loss can only shrink the contents of the fat cells, but doesn't eliminate the fat cell itself. Maintaining a healthy weight over your lifetime is the best way to prevent additional cellulite from appearing.
Finally, if you're concerned about the appearance of cellulite, finding ways to creatively cover yourself with the right clothing can go a long way to making you feel less self-conscious about your body.
Although cellulite may be a source of frustration, remember that you are not alone. Living a healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and regular exercise will make you look more toned and, most likely, feel better about your body regardless of any perceived flaws.
— Dawn Davis, M.D., Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.