How do I get rid of my cellulite?

Uneven skin texture. Natural dimples. Common skin variations. These terms describe what many of us recognise as cellulite. So, what can you do about it?

About 85 per cent of women over 20 have the natural skin texture commonly known as cellulite.

Medical and cosmetic dermatologist Dr Katherine Armour says cellulite is commonly found on the thighs, buttocks and abdomen.

“It is completely normal in women of all shapes and sizes – even the slimmest and fittest,” Dr Armour says.

What causes cellulite?

“Cellulite occurs when adipose (fat) tissue pushes through the connective tissue of the skin,” explains Body Science sports dietitian Harriet Walker.

Despite literally millions of us walking around with this skin dimpling, Harriet says the precise cause is “multi-factorial and not fully understood”.

There are some recognised contributing factors, including genetics and ethnicity.

And if don’t yet have any, it may not stay that way.

Clinical nutritionist and naturopath Michaela Sparrow explains that hormonal changes that occur during menopause and pregnancy can increase our susceptibility.

“Hormones impacts the amount of fat we store, the quality of our skin and connective tissue health,” says Michaela. “When this occurs, it’s more common to start noticing cellulite.”

Lifestyle choices including smoking, excess alcohol, lack of exercise and poor diet can also be factors.

“These all affect the body’s healthy connective tissue structure, detoxification processes and circulation, which can all increase the appearance of cellulite,” Michaela says.

Can cellulite be removed or reduced?

Bluntly, no.

“Cellulite is part of the structural makeup of the skin,” explains Dr Armour, of the Australasian College of Dermatologists.

But it is possible to reduce its appearance, with a variety of treatment options ranging from inexpensive DIY products to costly in-clinic procedures.

Dr Armour explains that these treatments aim to help by “stimulating new collagen production, decreasing fat mass, or improving blood and lymphatic drainage”.

It’s a booming industry, with the market projected to reach US$1438.5 million by 2026.

However, a 2015 systematic review of a range of cellulite-busting products and treatments was unable to find substantial evidence that any of the methods effectively minimised its appearance.

And Dr Armour cautions that “visible improvements are often temporary”.

Can your diet and lifestyle prevent or reduce cellulite?

“There is no clear evidence of a specific diet or exercise protocol to reduce cellulite,” says Harriet.

But she says some likely contributing lifestyle factors can be improved, such as eating a balanced diet low in processed and inflammatory foods. And weight and resistance training can “theoretically encourage lean muscle and give a toned appearance”.

Melbourne dietitian Melanie McGrice says while there is no evidence that particular foods cause or reduce skin dimpling, “there is some research to suggest excess body fat may be a key contributing factor”.

And so it follows that foods that cause excess body fat should be limited, she says.

“Things like alcohol, excess sugar and other bad fats in our diet,” she says.

There is also some expert opinion to suggest hydrating with plenty of water may help the appearance of cellulite.

Melanie says improving lean muscle mass may help reduce its appearance.

“Exercise is important for muscle mass, as is making sure you have adequate lean protein,” she says.

“There is also some expert opinion to suggest hydrating with plenty of water may help the appearance of cellulite, as adequate hydration can help smooth out the appearance of dimpling.”

Michaela says people can try drinking ginger tea to support circulation and white tea to slow collagen breakdown, as well as foam rolling exercises to support fascia health and stretch out connective tissues.

It may be worth investigating any underlying hormonal imbalance, she says.

Cellulite reduction treatment methods

  • Creams: These contain caffeine or aminophylline to dehydrate fat cells in the skin and temporarily shrink cellulite.
  • Supplements: Dr Armour stresses there’s “little data supporting the effectiveness of cellulite-targeting supplements”.
  • Massage: A limited study found lymphatic system massage may reduce the appearance of advanced cellulite.
  • Light, laser and vacuum devices: “These professionally administered devices break up the tough bands that make cellulite visible,” says Dr Armour. “Multiple treatments are usually required.”
  • Cryolipolysis: This low temperature device destroys fat cells and has been trialled as a way to improve the appearance of skin dimpling.
  • Biostimulatory injectable fillers: “This relatively new treatment involves using fillers to improve the appearance of cellulite,” says Dr Armour.
  • Subcision: Branded as Cellfina, this skin-needling procedure received US Food and Drug Administration approval for demonstrating a five-year improvement in reduction of cellulite appearance.

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Written by Sharon Hunt. Originally published December 2019.