According to a study in the Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, cellulite affects between 85 and 90% of the women. Though cellulite is not life-threatening, it can definitely be persistent and annoying!
If you are struggling with cellulite and you want to know why it appears and what exactly it is, this article is for you! And even though there are plenty of controversial opinions about the causes of cellulite, we will show you the true, science-backed-up reality!
Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
What is cellulite?
Cellulite is basically a textured and dimpled appearance of the skin, often referred to as orange-peel skin. People usually struggle with cellulite on specific body areas, such as thighs, butt, and belly. However, in some cases, it can affect multiple parts of the body.
Cellulite is formed in the third (deepest) skin layer, which is called hypodermis (also called subcutaneous tissue). There, a layer of fatty tissue pushes up against the connective tissue in the dermis (middle skin layer where collagen and elastin are produced). As a result, the subcutaneous tissue exerts pressure on the dermis, and the two skin layers push against each other. This causes uneven texture and dimpled appearance. 
What causes cellulite?
Cellulite appears due to the presence of fatty tissue layer below the skin. However, there are various factors that can trigger the appearance of cellulite. Here is a list of the most common ones:
The most common cause of this skin condition is the formation of new fat cells (or weight gain).  Of course, this does not mean that you should have 0% body fat! As you know, your body needs fat cells to use energy and to function properly!
However, when your adipose tissue (fatty tissue) is thicker, it exerts higher degree of pressure on your skin, making the dimpled appearance more visible.
Therefore, developing unhealthy dietary habits and lack of physical exercise can play a major role in the formation of cellulite.
Estrogen, testosterone, leptin, cortisol, and insulin play an important role in controlling your metabolic rate and weight.  For that reason, hormonal changes may be an important factor to look at if you experience sudden weight gain and cellulite formation. 
In that case, it’s important to seek advice from your healthcare provider or a board-certified dermatologist. Hormonal imbalance may be triggered by other underlying health conditions which may need medical attention, or by certain medications (like birth control).
According to a 2015 study, as you age you become more predisposed to cellulite formation.  The reason for this is the fact that the skin can become thinner while collagen and elastin production in the dermis decreases. This can make the skin less flexible and elastic, and increase the visibility of cellulite.
Poor lymphatic circulation
The lymphatic system helps your body to transport and drain fluids and toxins properly instead of storing them in the different body tissues. In that sense, blockage or impaired lymphatic circulation may cause swelling of the fat cells and saturation of toxins in the tissues.  This can lead to formation of cellulite or increase its visibility.
If the reason for your cellulite is poor lymphatic circulation, it’s important to seek medical advice in order to recognize the cause for the issue. This way you would be able to treat the cause for cellulite, and not the symptom itself.
Lasers: Early smaller studies show some promising results with certain lasers that go underneath the skin and help break up the thick bands in the skin that contribute to the textural changes and dimpling with cellulite. More larger studies are needed to really assess the long-term benefits of these types of lasers.
Weight-bearing exercises: Replacing fat with muscle, especially in the thighs and upper arms, will help reduce the appearance of cellulite and tone the skin.
Skin tightening devices (i.e. BTL Exilis) is a nonsurgical, cosmetic treatment for tightening the skin around the neck, arms, abdomen, legs, etc. This class of devices combines radiofrequency and ultrasound to not only reduce fat (adipose) tissue on the face and body, but also helps to tighten the skin (especially when there is saggy skin). This device is performed by a skilled profession where controlled heating is applied to the skin. The energy is then delivered to various depths in the skin with minimal discomfort. The cooling feature of this device is an added bonus as it protects the skin from any damage from the applied heat. Typically about 2-4 treatments are recommended performed one week apart with maintenance treatments. Results vary from person to person and so, it is important to discuss expectations with your dermatologist.
Topicals: The jury is still out whether or not topicals are effective in treating cellulite. Skin firming creams that contain hyaluronic acid, an ingredient that plumps and hydrates the skin, may help improve the textural changes in the skin. Creams and lotions containing caffeine may also help reduce the appearance of cellulite. Retinols have been used for decades for acne and anti-aging as they help to promote healthy cell turnover and improve skin textural changes (fine lines, wrinkles), how about its impact on cellulite. Anecdotal evidence shows some improvement with retinol creams with everyday use is recommended; however, additional studies are needed to fully understand its role and effect. Consultation with a board-certified dermatologist is an important first step to discuss an appropriate personalized treatment plan.
Cellulite is a skin condition characterized with dimpled and textured appearance. It mainly forms on thighs, belly, arms, and other body parts that are prone to storing fatty tissue. It develops when fatty tissue exerts pressure towards the skin.
The main causes for cellulite are weight gain, aging, hormonal imbalance, and poor lymphatic circulation.
In order to recognize the cause for your cellulite formation, it’s a good idea to have a consultation with a board-certified dermatologist.