Skip to main content

Cellulite

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Nov 21, 2023.

Overview

Cellulite is a very common, harmless skin condition that causes lumpy, dimpled flesh on the thighs, hips, buttocks and abdomen. The condition is most prevalent in women.

Many people try, with variable success, to improve the appearance of their skin through weight loss, exercise, massage and creams marketed as a solution to cellulite. Medically proven treatment options are available as well, though results aren't immediate or long lasting.

Anatomy of cellulite

As fat cells increase, they push up against the skin. Tough, long connective cords pull down. This creates an uneven surface or dimpling, often referred to as cellulite.

Symptoms

Cellulite looks like dimpled or bumpy skin. It's sometimes described as having a cottage cheese or orange peel texture.

You can see mild cellulite only if you pinch your skin in an area where you have cellulite, such as your thighs. Cellulite that is more severe makes the skin appear rumpled and bumpy with areas of peaks and valleys.

Cellulite is most common around the thighs and buttocks, but it can also be found on the breasts, lower abdomen and upper arms.

When to see a doctor

Treatment isn't necessary. But if you're concerned about the appearance of your skin, talk with your primary care doctor or a specialist in skin diseases (dermatologist) or plastic surgery about treatment options.

Causes

Little is known about what causes cellulite. It involves fibrous connective cords that tether the skin to the underlying muscle, with the fat lying between. As fat cells accumulate, they push up against the skin, while the long, tough cords pull down. This creates an uneven surface or dimpling.

In addition, hormonal factors play a large role in the development of cellulite, and genetics determine skin structure, skin texture and body type. Other factors, such as weight and muscle tone affect whether you have cellulite, though even very fit people can have it.

Risk factors

Cellulite is much more common in women than in men. In fact, most women develop some cellulite after puberty. This is because women's fat is typically distributed in the thighs, hips and buttocks — common areas for cellulite. Cellulite is also more common with aging, when the skin loses elasticity. Weight gain can make cellulite more noticeable, but some lean people have cellulite, as well. It tends to run in families, so genetics might play the biggest role in whether you develop cellulite. An inactive lifestyle also can increase your chances of having cellulite, as can pregnancy.

Diagnosis

A diagnosis of cellulite involves looking at the skin to assess the dimpling and what may have caused it. This helps determine which treatment may improve the look of your skin. Some methods treat fat but don't remove the dimpling. And methods that remove cellulite aren't intended to remove excess fat.

Treatment

A variety of treatment approaches are available to improve the appearance of cellulite, at least temporarily. Each has its own set of potential results and side effects. Some studies indicate that a combination of treatments may yield the most satisfying results.

Cellulite treatments aren't usually covered by insurance. Also, any of the procedures can have side effects, so be sure to discuss them with your doctor. Make sure your dermatologist or plastic surgeon is specially trained and experienced in the technique you're considering.

Potential future treatments

Researchers are studying possible medical treatments. Some that show potential use a combination of liposuction and ultrasound or laser. Liposuction alone won't remove cellulite, and it might worsen the appearance of your skin. But when combined with ultrasound or laser treatment, it might be effective at skin tightening. More study is needed.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Self-care can help improve the look of your skin.

Preparing for an appointment

Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For cellulite, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

© 1998-2024 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. Terms of use.

Learn more about Cellulite

Treatment options