A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Not all body fat is the same: How is cellulite different?

Cellulite 5-12 inside

Cellulite appears most often in women and can sometimes be caused by genes.

No matter how hard you work out or healthy you eat, some forms of body fat just will not go away in some people. This type of fat is called cellulite.

Many products and treatments on the market claim to get rid of cellulite, but what really works? Lawrence Scherrer, M.D., a Marshfield Clinic dermatologist, explains what cellulite is, why it develops and what may help treat it.

What is cellulite?

Cellulite is a rippling or dimpling of the skin, usually in the buttocks or thighs. The problem is caused by fat’s lack of elasticity, which increases with time.

Fat fibers keep the structure of the fat intact. Over time, these fibers rupture and there is fat herniation. The fat starts pooching out where the “septae,” the thin wall dividing two fat cells, has weakened.

Cellulite appears most often in women and can sometimes be caused by genes.

“There may be some genetic component, but the bigger thing is the difference between fat in men and women,” Scherrer said. “The fat fibers are longer and taller in women, which is part of the reason why cellulite is in women more than men.”

Some people wonder why their cellulite is still there even if they lose weight. Scherrer says you lose some volume, but the fat herniation is still there. Losing weight may change the significance of the cellulite, but it won’t completely go away.

Trying to get rid of cellulite?

Here’s what doesn’t work.

Scherrer says there are many companies that lead consumers to believe a product can get rid of cellulite, but the product doesn’t.

“The topical treatments we hear are creams, but they do not do anything,” Scherrer said. “I would not spend the time and money on them. We’ve also heard of retinol creams that try and strengthen fat tissue, but that doesn’t really work either.”

Caffeine derivatives also are supposed to cause lipolysis, or the breaking down of fat cells, but dermatologists believe they do not have measurable benefits.

Some noninvasive forms of treatment like laser light are sometimes used. Also, radio frequency probes are used on the surface of the skin to try and break down the fat in areas. However, these treatment options usually are minimally effective.

One rumor is that certain workouts can help eliminate cellulite. However, Scherrer says there is no long term benefit with working out when it comes to cellulite.

What actually works?

For a larger benefit, you may want to look for a more aggressive treatment. However, usually risks are bigger and treatment results also vary between patients.

“Go to a cosmetic dermatologist who does a lot of these procedures,” Dr. Scherrer said. “Many of the results for these procedures are operator and experience dependent. The dermatologist should show before and after pictures of patients, and confirm the patient’s chance of getting good response. You will get a better sense of how well something will work.”

A more invasive approach includes subcision, a procedure during which a needle is inserted into the skin to try and disrupt or break down fat. Cellfina™, a brand of invasive cellulite treatment, also may work for certain patients. However, Scherrer says it is a longer procedure, more expensive and has possibility of bruising or risk of infection.

Another treatment uses lasers under the skin to destroy fat.

If you have any questions about getting rid of cellulite or are seeking treatment, Scherrer suggests talking to a cosmetic dermatologist about what is right for you.

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