The appearance of cellulite can be incredibly frustrating and embarrassing. It might seem that you can’t do anything about the dimpled skin on your thighs and other areas. But there are things you can do to help diminish cellulite. While exercise is a great way to address the problem, it’s not the only solution.
How Cellulite Occurs
Cellulite poses no threat to your health. But while it’s a cosmetic issue, it can lead to a lot of stress. It makes the thighs, buttocks, and other parts of your skin look dimpled and lumpy. And it’s also extremely common. Almost all women have to deal with the appearance of cellulite.1
In a nutshell, cellulite occurs when changes take place in the connective tissue and fat cells just underneath the skin. These structural changes make the fat cells push the connective tissue outward. Changes in the way that blood flows to the thighs and other areas can lead to the accumulation of fluid, leading to the lumpy appearance.2
There are different levels of cellulite development. For example, your skin might be smooth when you stand, but look somewhat like an orange peel when you sit. Or, the skin can look dimpled whether you stand or sit. In the worst cases, the skin has pronounced bumps, as well as depressed areas.
It’s just not attractive. But …
Why Does it Happen?
It’s not completely clear why cellulite develops. More than likely, it’s a combination of factors, including hormones, gender, and lifestyle.
There is some evidence that hormones play a role in the changes in fat cells that can lead to the appearance of cellulite. For example, insulin is a hormone that helps control the storage and breakdown of fat. It could be a potential contributing factor to cellulite.3 If you have a high level of insulin, you might be at a higher risk of developing the problem.4
Cellulite is almost exclusively seen in women. One possible explanation is that women’s connective tissue is arranged differently than men’s. The cells under a woman’s skin tend to stand, while those in men tend to lie flat against each other. Think of the structure of these cells as a fence. In a woman, the cells will resemble a picket fence. In a man, the cells look somewhat like a cross-linked fence. The cross-linked structure is stronger, and as a result, does a better job of keeping in fat.5
If you eat too much fat, you may be at a greater risk of developing cellulite. The same is true if you smoke, or if you lead a sedentary lifestyle. There is even a possibility that you’ll be at a higher risk if you wear undergarments that are too tight around the buttocks area. The reason is that they hinder blood circulation. This, in turn, causes fluid to accumulate in the buttocks and thighs.6
Exercise and Getting Rid of Cellulite
Unfortunately, there isn’t any sort of magic “fix” to get rid of cellulite. You see a lot of marketers claiming that specific exercises can eliminate the problem entirely. But while there are exercises that can help diminish the appearance of cellulite, they won’t take care of the issue on their own.
Combining proper diet with regular workouts might help make the skin on your thighs firmer. It will also help make sure your blood flows properly.7
Losing fat may help. One of the best ways to do that is to eat a diet high in vegetables and lean proteins. This means staying away from alcohol, processed foods, and sugar. Reducing your carbohydrate intake may also help you lose weight.8
Massages also help promote better circulation in your thighs (and throughout your body).9
Strength training can help firm the muscles underneath your thighs, possibly reducing the appearance of cellulite. Two good exercises to try are lunges and squats. Lunges involve taking one long step and bending so that your knees are at 90-degree angles. Keep your front knee over your ankle. Return to the starting position, and switch sides. Repeat the exercise 20 times.10
Cellulite Treatments – Do They Work?
There are several treatment methods that claim to reduce the appearance of cellulite. Here’s a brief breakdown of some of them:
This type of treatment will typically combine radiofrequency treatment with massage and suction. However, results typically don’t last very long. In addition, many treatments are needed before even minor changes occur.11
Liposuction is a type of surgical procedure designed to remove areas of fat. This is an invasive procedure, and it’s unclear whether it’s truly effective. Many believe that it redistributes fat in a way that actually makes the appearance of cellulite more obvious than before the procedure.12
Some people opt for injections of certain substances that are supposed to get rid of cellulite. These include caffeine, herbal extracts, enzymes, and hormones. This is a questionable practice. The reason is that it can be difficult to tell exactly what a particular practitioner is injecting. Also, little research exists to indicate this method works. In addition, injections can sometimes cause side effects, such as allergic reactions and skin infections.13
However, an approach known as mesotherapy has shown some promise. It involves several injections of different compounds in the affected area. These compounds include glycolic acid, and trace elements of minerals such as copper, zinc, and manganese, as well as several vitamins.14
There are a lot of faulty perceptions when it comes to cellulite. For example, many people believe you have to be out of shape in order to have this problem. Yes, cellulite tends to be more obvious in people who are overweight. However, women of all sizes and shapes have to deal with it. Many people also think that cellulite is just something that happens to older women. While the problem can become more prevalent as a woman ages, it can occur at any age.15,16
The Final Word
Unfortunately, no single product has been proven effective in getting rid of cellulite. And exercise alone won’t solve the problem. In order to have the best chance of firming up your skin for good, the best approach is to exercise regularly and follow a healthy diet. Before you start working out, however, talk to your doctor first to make sure you can do so safely.
About the Author
Dr. Amy Lee
Dr. Amy Lee has board certifications in internal medicine, physician nutrition and obesity medicine specialty. She practices internal medicine with a heavy emphasis on nutrition, wellness and weight management. Her Clinical nutrition fellowship training at UCLA has allowed her to incorporate realistic lifestyle modification in all her medicine patients.