What is Cellulite and What are Cellulite Treatments?
SparkWhat is Cellulite and What are Cellulite Treatments?

What is Cellulite and What are Cellulite Treatments?

Your patients and clients may have other aesthetic goals beyond their faces. Specifically, they may have cellulite on their bodies that they would like to minimize the appearance of. Let’s take a deeper dive into cellulite.

Cellulite: A few fast facts.

Cellulite usually affects the buttocks and thighs but can also occur in other areas.

  • Between 80 and 90 percent of women may experience cellulite.
  • Cellulite is also known as orange peel skin, due to its texture.
  • Numerous treatments are available, but the effect is mostly temporary.
  • A diet low in fat, smoking cessation, and an active lifestyle may help reduce the incidence of cellulite.1

What is cellulite?

Cellulite is a term for the formation of lumps and dimples in the skin. It can affect both men and women, but it is more common in females due to the different distributions of fat, muscle, and connective tissue.1

In order to help provide more effective treatments for cellulite, an evaluation and rating scale has been developed to grade the severity of cellulite. Based on standardized photographs of 55 patients with cellulite, five key morphological aspects of cellulite were identified. A new photonumeric severity scale was developed and validated. The five key morphological features of cellulite included the number of depressions, depth of depressions, clinical appearance of evident raised lesions, presence of flaccidity, and the grade of cellulite. Each item was graded from 0 to 3, allowing final classification of cellulite as mild, moderate, and severe.2

Here is an overview of the cellulite grades developed through the validation process:

  • Grade 1, or mild: There is an “orange peel” appearance, with between 1 and 4 superficial depressions, and a slightly “draped” or sagging appearance to the skin.1
  • Grade 2, or moderate: There are between five and nine medium-depth depressions, a “cottage cheese” appearance, and the skin appears moderately draped.1
  • Grade 3, or severe: There is a “mattress” appearance, with 10 or more deep depressions, and the skin is severely draped.1

Using this standardized grading scale may help healthcare providers assess and recommend potential treatments.

The causes of cellulite.

The exact cause of cellulite is unknown, but it appears to result from an interaction between the connective tissue in the dermatological layer that lies below the surface of the skin and the layer of fat that is just below it.1

Cellulite may be caused by a buildup of fat underneath the skin. Some women are more predisposed to it than others. The amount of cellulite you have and how noticeable it is can be based on your genes, body fat percentage, and age. The thickness of your skin also affects the appearance of cellulite. People of all body types and weights can get cellulite.3

Other potential factors that are thought to cause cellulite include:3

  • Hormones
  • Poor diet
  • An unhealthy lifestyle
  • Accumulated toxins
  • Genetics
  • Weight gain
  • Inactivity
  • Pregnancy



The differences between men and women when it comes to cellulite.

In women, the fat cells and connective tissue in this layer are arranged vertically. If the fat cells protrude into the layer of skin, this gives the appearance of cellulite.1

In men, the tissue has a criss-cross structure, which may explain why they are less likely to have cellulite than women.1

The distribution of fat in women is more visible than in men. The collagen fibers between the skin and muscle separate the underlying fat into multiple pockets. Cellulite can become more visible as you age and your skin becomes thinner and loses elasticity. This exposes the rippled connective tissues underneath.3

Treatments for cellulite.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reports dermatologists have done extensive research and clinical studies to evaluate the effectiveness of various cellulite treatments. Here is an overview of their findings. The research shows some treatments can make cellulite less noticeable temporarily.4

  • Acoustic wave therapy: Studies show that this can reduce the appearance of cellulite. Several treatment sessions are needed to see a reduction in cellulite.4
  • Laser treatments: Different types of laser treatments are used to treat cellulite. During one minimally invasive laser treatment, a tiny laser fiber is inserted beneath the skin. When the laser is fired, the laser energy breaks up the tough bands beneath the skin that cause us to see cellulite. This treatment may also thicken your skin. Skin often thins where cellulite forms. Thickening the skin may help reduce the appearance of cellulite for a year or longer.4
  • Subcision: This medical procedure involves your dermatologist inserting a needle just under the skin to break up the tough bands beneath the skin that cause us to see cellulite. Subcision treatments have been shown to reduce the skin dimpling often associated with cellulite. The results can last 2 years and possibly longer.4
  • Vacuum-assisted precise tissue release: This also breaks up the tough bands that cause us to see cellulite. During this procedure, a dermatologist will use a device that contains small blades to cut the tough bands. After the bands are cut, the tissue moves upward to fill out and eliminate the dimpled skin. This may be an effective treatment for reducing cellulite. A small study shows that many patients who received this treatment had less cellulite for up to 3 years. It’s too soon to tell whether results may last even longer.4
  • Weight loss and exercise: Extra weight can make cellulite more visible. For some people, losing weight and staying at a healthy weight reduces the amount of cellulite they see. However, developing loose skin while losing weight may cause cellulite to be more visible. Additionally, building muscle mass through exercise may improve the skin’s firmness and smoothness. Replacing fat with muscle can also make cellulite less noticeable.4

Dermal injections for cellulite treatment.

A more recent option to treat cellulite is the new generation dermal filler injections, such as calcium hydroxyapatite (CaHa) and poly-l-lactic acid microspheres. These fillers have been used extensively to treat scars and can also be applied to smoothen cellulite-induced skin irregularities. As this is a more recent innovation in cellulite treatment, there has not been extensive research or clinical studies to provide a fuller picture of the efficacy.5

A cellulite-specific dermal injectable has been approved by the FDA as recently as 2020.6

Using topical treatments for cellulite.

Topical treatments may help to reduce the visibility of cellulite, but the effects may not be long-lasting. The products usually require daily application to maintain results. Creams are said to tighten the skin, which makes the skin appear smoother and firmer. They also add moisture, which can reduce the appearance of cellulite.3

However, creams don’t remove the cellulite. Instead, they temporarily reduce the appearance of it. The fat cells still exist under the skin.3

A common ingredient in topical cellulite creams is caffeine. Caffeine increases blood flow to the area and works as a diuretic. That can change the water content of the fat, which may reduce the appearance of cellulite.1,3

Products containing 0.3 percent retinol may reduce the appearance of cellulite by thickening the outer layer of the skin. It may take six months or longer of daily use for your patients to see results. Retinol can cause skin sensitivities such as dryness, redness, and peeling. It can also increase sensitivity to the sun.1,3

The final word on cellulite.

Because cellulite is so prevalent, especially among women, it may be a common issue that your patients or clients ask you about. It may be worth exploring treatment options so you can better provide your patients with helpful advice and treatment options.