The Science of Cellulite

What is Cellulite?

With the summer just around the corner, many women are pulling out their short skirts and teeny bikinis. They also are much more concerned about the appearance of their cellulite. The scourge of short shorts, cellulite affects not just women, but men as well. It shows no distinction in body weight either. Not only those who are overweight are plagued by cellulite. It can appear on the thin as well. And, not just on legs either, but on many parts of the body.

What exactly is cellulite, and what causes it?

Cellulite is a condition where the layer of adipose tissue (or fat tissue) just below the surface of the skin bulges upward towards the skin. Since adipose tissue is lumpy, it produces a dimpled effect on the skin.

See Figure 1.

The Anatomy of Cellulite

The skin is composed of three layers, the epidermis, dermis, and the subcutaneous layer. The epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin. The dermis contains elastin and collagen (connective tissue), which help retain the shape of skin. The subcutaneous layer contains the fat tissue. See Figure 2.


Where Can Cellulite Appear?

Cellulite can appear almost anywhere on the body. Most people think of the buttocks and saddlebags when thinking of cellulite, but it can appear on the front and side of the thighs as well. Cellulite is also commonly found on the arms and stomach (Figures 3-6). Cellulite can be found anywhere there are fat deposits in the body. Even those who are thin have body fat, which is part of a healthy anatomy. Since cellulite is mainly a condition caused by the breakdown of the connective tissue, skinny minis have to worry about cellulite.

What Causes Cellulite?

As with most conditions, many factors contribute to the appearance of cellulite:

Anatomical Differences

Although it can affect men, cellulite is most common among women due to anatomical differences between men and women. Female connective tissues are more inflexible than male, therefore as the adipose cells expand, they are more likely to bulge toward the skin, whereas in a male’s body, the connective tissue is more able to keep the expanding fat tissue in place. Also, men’s skin is thicker than a female’s, so when excess fat is present, its lumpy appearance is less noticeable underneath the skin.


Hormones are believed to play a part in the appearance of cellulite because it is more likely to appear in a woman after she reaches puberty or during pregnancy. Estrogen, especially seems to initiate and exascerbate cellulite. This is another reason men are less likely to have cellulite.

Diet and Exercise

Lack of exercise and a poor diet contribute to cellulite, for obvious reasons. While it can and does occur in people of a healthy weight, excess fat cells will only add to the appearance of cellulite.


Stress is also a major factor in the development of cellulite. Remember we said that hormones affect cellulite? Well, stress causes excess amounts of the hormone catecholamine, which has been linked to cellulite appearance.


Smoking can also affect cellulite. This is probably likely to how smoking effects the connective tissue. Remember, it is the connective tissue in the skin that keeps everything where it should be. If the connective tissue is compromised, the adipose tissue (fat tissue) is not contained and will bulge up towards the surface of the skin.

How to Treat Cellulite

Diet and Exercise

So, what can be done? Obviously, a healthy diet and exercise will reduce the appearance of cellulite. Most personal trainers recommend a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training to combat cellulite. A healthy diet, containing healthy portions of protein, fat, and carbohydrates will control excess weight and help build muscle.


Liposuction is not recommended to treat cellulite. Liposuction removes deep layer fat, while cellulite is caused by fat near the surface of the skin.

Anti-Cellulite Lotions

What about over the counter (OTC) lotions that seem to be all the rage? They will not be a miracle cure, but they will help to a small degree. Anti-cellulite lotions contain ingredients which help to increase circulation and boost collagen production. These lotions are effective when combined with a healthy diet and exercise.

Sunless Tanning Products 

Another trick? Sunless tanning products. The dimpled appearance is less noticeable on darker skin. Outdoor or indoor tanning is not recommended. All possible cancerous side effects aside, UVA radiation reaches deep into the dermis and wreaks havoc on connective tissue. Remember that it is the connective tissue that keeps cellulite in check, so you’ll want to use a sunless tanner to disguise and diminish the appearance of cellulite.

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Comments 2 comments

nomorecellulite profile image

nomorecellulite 4 years ago from Carmel, Indiana

Would decreasing stress be enough to get rid of cellulite or only to prevent more from forming?

sunbeachsurf profile image

sunbeachsurf 4 years ago Author

Deceasing stress may or may not decrease cellulite, as it depends on how you go about decreasing your levels of stress. Exercise and yoga will decrease your stress levels and have the added benefit of decreasing cellulite and increasing muscle tone. If, however, you only remove stressors from your life, this may not have any effect on cellulite, as cellulite is influenced by many different factors. I recommend you tackle your stress and your cellulite through diet and exercise, to include yoga, meditation, or tai chi.

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