Cellulite: Everyone has it, everyone hates it, and everyone's on the quest to eradicate the dimpled nuisance that plagues our thighs, butts, and bellies. Although nearly 90 percent of women experience cellulite sometime during their lifetime, many are murky on the facts, and misinformation is just as common as the condition.
The thing about cellulite is that even the experts don't always agree on treatments and causes, making it even more difficult to separate the myths from the facts. To help demystify the subject, we asked two New York City dermatologists specializing in cellulite to give us their opinions about what it is, what causes it, and if there's any hope in eliminating the dreaded dimples.
What Is Cellulite?
Well, to begin, it's not excess fat. According to Robyn Gmyrek, MD, founder of Columbia University's Cosmetic Skin and Laser Center, that dimpled appearance you see is the result of fat cells pushing up against the skin over the fibrous connective tissue bands.
Jeannette Graf, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, agrees, saying cellulite has nothing to do with weight.
"People diet and diet and diet and they still have cellulite," she says.
What Causes Cellulite?
Here's where things get tricky. According to Gmyrek, no one really knows why cellulite develops, but our experts weighed in on the often-blamed causes.
Dr. Gmyrek says it's unclear whether genetics play a factor, although she says there does seem to be a link between the two.
"Like I tell all my patients with genetic predispositions, you may have the genetic predisposition, but the expression of the genes can be modified by your lifestyle choices," she explains.
Dr. Graf, however, believes that some people are born with a higher chance of developing cellulite.
"Cellulite is a genetic thing," she says. "We start to see it when we're in our 20s."
First, you're probably wondering what the lymphatic system does. Basically, it serves as drainage that helps the body get rid of waste — kind of like a sewer system, according to Graf. She believes lymph nodes can become bloated by unhealthy habits, like a bad diet and lack of exercise, which can increase the appearance of cellulite.
People often think that getting older causes cellulite, but both doctors agree it's not necessarily age that's the problem — it's more that the effects of mature skin make cellulite more noticeable.
"The incidence doesn't seem to increase with age, however, it may look worse because as the skin ages, it loses elasticity and will sag more," explains Gmyrek.
Toxins and Diet
Contrary to what many cellulite creams claim, Graf doesn't believe toxins cause cellulite. However, she firmly believes diet plays a role.
"What I would say is the diet you have and the diet you eat can worsen cellulite if it's not a healthy one," she says.
So How Do You Get Rid of Cellulite?
It's the question everyone is dying to get an answer to, but here's the bad news — both doctors say there isn't a cure.
"There's no permanent fix, no matter how invasive, or expensive, a procedure is," says Gmyrek.
The dermatologist says that while individual dimples may disappear, if you're predisposed to cellulite, your body will just make more.
But it's not all bad news. There are plenty of things you can do to minimize cellulite with and without the help of expensive medical treatments.
People often think they can exercise away the dimples, but that's far from the truth. Even the most dedicated gym goers are still plagued with dimpled butts and thighs, says Gmyrek. However, regular cardio and strength-training will tone muscle and decrease the appearance of cellulite. Gmyrek also points to data that suggests highly stressful lifestyles increase adrenaline and noradrenaline hormones, which have been associated with producing cellulite.
For Graf, it always seems to come back to lymphatics, and she advises doing your own deep tissue massage or using a scrub to stimulate these vessels and increase blood flow. Whipping up a scrub using seaweed, algae, and olive oil will stimulate your lymphatic drainage. Of course, this isn't a one-time fix and needs to be done regularly to see a change.
While most store-bought creams won't provide the results you're looking for, Gmyrek says to look for caffeine and retinol-based topicals, as they could stimulate the production of collagen and elastin, making your skin look temporarily tighter.
At the Doctor's Office
Some think liposuction is the answer, but the procedure can actually make cellulite worse. Because you're simply removing fat, it could make the skin look even more wrinkled. The doctors point to treatments such as VelaShape and Cellfina for the most optimal results.
VelaShape is a short-term treatment that uses infrared laser, radio-frequency, and vacuum suction to pull in the skin and thicken the tissue, making cellulite less visible. As the results will fade after you stop treatments, this option is only recommended for special occasions like a beach honeymoon or preparation for bikini season.
Cellfina is the best option for longer-term, dimple-free skin and can last for two or more years, the longest FDA clearance for a cellulite treatment. It works by changing the underlying structure that causes cellulite by breaking the fibrous tissue bands pulling on the skin.
Even though there's no simple solution for smoother skin just yet, that doesn't mean you can't feel more confident in your body, cellulite or not.
"It's amazing that truly every medical condition can be improved by decreasing stress, eating well, and exercising regularly," Gmyrek observes.
The main takeaway is that living a healthy, balanced lifestyle will always make you look and feel better. Making cellulite less noticeable is just an added bonus.