Cellulite is natural, normal, and very common. Despite that, it's ok if you are interested in learning how to get rid of cellulite or at least reduce the appearance. Here's what you need to know.

By Stephanie Dolgoff and Jessica Matthews
Updated November 03, 2020
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Photo: Pavlovska Yevheniia / Shutterstock

The dimples on your face: adorable. The dimpling on your butt: you might not love as much. Neither are flaws, and both are totally normal. That said, if you're curious about how to get rid of cellulite or cellulite reduction options that actually work, there are a few things to consider.

What Is Cellulite?

Cellulite is the result of subcutaneous fat-the kind beneath the skin-protruding into the dermis, the layer of skin just below the epidermis (the outermost layer). Within the dermis is a network of connective tissue that looks like honeycomb. As fat cells increase in size, the connective tissue within this layer become weakened and fat bulges through, giving the skin a dimpled appearance, says Len Kravitz, Ph.D., an exercise science researcher at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Your amount of body fat, distribution of fat (which is influenced by genetics), skin thickness, and the strength of your connective fibers all factor into if you get cellulite. And thank hormones for sparing guys but giving most women this condition. According to a study in the Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, nearly 85 percent of women over the age of 20 have cellulite while, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, only about 10 percent of men have it. Guys have thicker layers of skin, so it's harder for fat to push through to the dermis.

Starting around age 25, women who do not regularly exercise lose an average of 5 pounds of muscle per decade and gain 15 pounds of fat, says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., author of the book No More Cellulite: A Proven 8-Week Program for a Firmer, Fitter Body. Throw in the fact that collagen stores decrease by about 1 percent per year and that females naturally have a higher body fat percentage than men, and it's no surprise that as women get older, cellulite becomes more prominent. (Related:5 Cellulite Myths to Stop Believing)

Beyond that, surprisingly little is understood about cellulite. Here are seven things docs do know.

  • It's more than skin-deep. In the simplest terms, cellulite is pockets of fat that have squeezed between bands of tissue, called septae, that are under your skin.
  • Cellulite definitely discriminates. Women of all races get it, while virtually no men do. That's because septae are different in women than they are in men. Guys have sturdier bands in a crisscross formation that keeps fat in place more effectively. Women have flimsier vertical septae that fat can more easily push through.
  • Size doesn't matter. Women of all body types and weights get cellulite. The more body fat you have, the more likely you are to also have significant dimpling. But even leaner women have some fat between their muscles and skin. That's all it takes for cellulite to happen.
  • You can't diet cellulite away. Losing weight sometimes makes it better, but ironically, it can also make it worse. When you drop pounds, your skin can become saggy after weight loss-making cellulite more pronounced.
  • Cellulite runs in families. Genes help determine how you store fat and how likely that fat is to push through the septae that are supposed to contain it.
  • Hormones play a role. But exactly what role isn't known. Because cellulite starts at puberty, doctors think estrogen is involved. However, that hasn't been proved.
  • Treating it isn't easy. Liposuction, which has been marketed as a treatment for cellulite, often makes the condition worse. Removing fat with lipo can leave your skin even bumpier-looking than it was before.

Cellulite Causes

Cellulite is sneaky. Even the experts don't agree on the reason it suddenly appears. Some derms say that cellulite is due to poor circulation in the skin covering your butt, thighs, and the back of your upper arms. They believe that the capillaries and blood vessels that bring nutrients to the skin there begin to deteriorate and leak lymphatic fluid into your fat cells, which get engorged. These fat cells cluster together, poofed up with liquid, and move toward the surface of the skin, causing lumps and bumps.

The health of the skin itself deteriorates in this scenario, says Howard Murad, M.D., a dermatologist in Los Angeles and the author of The Cellulite Solution, who is a proponent of the circulation theory. That, combined with declining amounts of collagen-a protein that gives skin its structure-as we age, causes our skin to slacken and become weaker, making any engorged fat cells even more visible.

The trouble is, there's not much reliable scientific data behind this rationale, says Molly Wanner, M.D., an instructor in dermatology at Harvard Medical School. Yet it's the basis for many popular treatments, including endermologie, in which your fat is vigorously squished and rolled in a machine that supposedly increases circulation and removes stored fat. Numerous treatments, at $100 a pop, are recommended.

How to Get Rid of Cellulite

There is limited evidence to back up claims that topical creams, medications, or liposuction eliminate cellulite for good. As for the FDA-approved, one-time laser-assisted procedure Cellulaze-which purports to level out bumps and dimples while stimulating collagen production to increase skin elasticity and thickness by more than 25 percent-the long-term effects are yet to be fully known (and the short procedure costs anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 depending on the size of the area treated).

If you read cellulite treatment claims closely, you'll notice that reputable ones tend not to say that their cream, laser, or massage therapy will get rid of cellulite. The truth is that because cellulite is most likely a structural problem, it's going to return like the proverbial bad penny if the structure is unchanged. "You cannot cure it," says Neil Sadick, M.D., a clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, who has conducted much of the available research on cellulite and its causes. "But you can help make it look significantly better."

That's the good news: There are ways to temporarily minimize the appearance of cellulite. Here are five cellulite reduction techniques to try:

  • Hit the weight room. Exercise is crucial. While there is-shockingly-no specific research on how working out affects cellulite, a toning routine can tighten up the whole package. "Women need to start lifting weights two to three times a week. I'm a big proponent of this," says Patricia Farris, M.D., a dermatologist in New Orleans. "Resistance exercise acts like fillers for your skin. If your muscles are more defined, your skin will look smoother." Dr. Wanner agrees: "If you lose weight and replace it with muscle, you're going to have a fat layer that's not as thick, and your cellulite is going to improve." (Try this workout to sculpt strong legs and an incredible butt.)
  • Scale back. Getting to a healthy weight can help reduce cellulite. Yet just ditching pounds without firming up is not always the no-brainer cellulite-reduction move you would think it is. When you lose weight, "your skin may be more lax, pulling on the septae, and cellulite may become more visible," says Dr. Wanner. The younger you are and the better your skin elasticity is, the smoother the results. For the rest of us, strength training is the number-one way to keep things as taut as possible. In an eight-week study conducted by researchers at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA, pairing a healthy diet (heart-healthy grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, low-fat and nonfat dairy, and healthy fats) with 40-minute exercise sessions (half cardio and half strength) three times a week helped women shed an average 9.1 pounds of fat and 1.8 inches from their hips while adding 1.2 pounds of lean muscle. All 79 of the women in this study self-reported some level of improvement in cellulite-even those who only followed the workout routine-with more than 70 percent of them noting less observed cellulite in addition to a more well-defined and improved overall physique.
  • Make your skin stronger. Topical treatments that may build collagen in the skin, like Retin-A or creams with retinol or vitamin C, couldn't hurt and may help, Dr. Sadick says.
  • Stop smoking (if you do). Research published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology shows that cigarette smoke can weaken the formation of collagen, the main structural component of connective tissue, making cellulite more visible.
  • Don't get sucked into trying lipo. A lot of doctors still suggest it, but it doesn't work and can actually make skin look more dimpled by removing too much fat, Dr. Wanner says.

The bottom line: The same things you would do to keep your body fit and healthy are your best tools if you're wondering how to get rid of cellulite.

The Future of Cellulite Treatment

Clinical trials are underway for a remedy developed by Stony Brook University researchers Marie A. Badalamente, Ph.D., and Alexander B. Dagum, M.D. Their work has led to the development of a collagenase injection, a nonsurgical method aimed at smoothing skin by breaking down the collagen that secures fat tissue beneath the skin. The 10 women treated had an average 76 percent reduction in the appearance of cellulite and reported being extremely happy with the results six months after. While a larger phase 2 study is still taking place, researchers are optimistic that this could potentially be the first medically-based effective and FDA-approved treatment for cellulite.

Comments (18)

January 24, 2020
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January 23, 2020
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January 3, 2019
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November 15, 2018
Hi, my name is Kate and I would like to share my story. A few years ago, my body was full of cellulite. I used to be disgusted at how much cellulite I had. But, with patience and determination (and a lot of research!), I managed to almost eliminate it. All it took, was the right exercise program and a way to manipulate estrogen metabolism. Read my story here ==> http://bit.ly/mycellulitestory
October 28, 2018
Trying to find out how to get rid of cellulite? There are some exercises for cellulite reduction that are quite effective but they need to be done regularly and diligently. General body exercises are good but they do not address the cellulite problem areas specifically. There are specific exercises that target the legs and cellulite thighs and belly fat reduction. The most effective anti-cellulite exercises are cardiovascular exercises that burn the excess fat very fast. Aerobic exercises and workouts are also beneficial as they help in toning up the skin and tissues in the affected area. If you want to to get rid of cellulite visit this article https://bit.ly/2EOmMso
September 28, 2018
I've always been told and believed that I would never be able to loose the cellulite. In the last few months I've discovered that to be untrue. Through weight lifting and eliminating some foods from my diet, the little dimples on the side and back of my thighs are GONE! When I followed this method to a tee: cellulite.smart-tips.org
September 3, 2018
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August 9, 2018
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June 30, 2018
I am not a believer in products for cellulite. After I started to train my butt, my butt got bigger but my thighs started to have cellulite on. I tried many ways, the best way is the 3 step system workout my trainer recommend (he is often featured by Men's Health, Women's Health, Men's Fitness, Cosmopolitan and Harper's Bazaar), in case you'd like to know, here is the link: https://bit.ly/2tq9fOP
June 21, 2018
There are two steps in eliminating cellulite: strengthening your connective tissue and lowering your body fat. You can enhance the health of your connective tissue by avoiding sugar and by incorporating more omega-3s and glucosamine into your diet. However, the most powerful way to strengthen your connective tissue is to take gelatin together with vitamin C. By losing fat you will be able to reduce the size of your fat cells, so they won't bulge as much. The best way to implement this step is to follow a targeted exercise program that can help you burn fat and build muscle mass in the right places: http://bustcellulitefast.weebly.com/
April 21, 2018
With the right exercise plan, you can reduce your cellulite and make your lower body look smoother and firmer. The trick is working all your lower body muscles from every angle, reducing the underlying fat stores and replacing lost muscle tissue to give the area a taut, toned appearance throughout as shown here: bit.ly/Get-Rid-of-Cellulite
April 8, 2018
After just 2 weeks of doing this program ( http://certifiedtreatment.com/cellulite ) day & nite I can already see results. Finally an affordable, easy-to-follow program that actually works! My skin feels firmer, tighter and looks smoother. Highly recommended - https://tinyurl.com/ya5brpyw
January 25, 2018
After 3 pregnancies in 4 years, it definitely left a mark on my body...Stretch marks. I have them on my breast, stomach and back from my body growing to accommodate little humans. Since using the Somaluxe Glycolic Mask on them, it seems to have drastically lightened my stretch marks! I know they may never be gone but I am very happy with what the oils has done to them after almost 2 weeks. You just apply the mask on your cellulite, leave it on for 10 minutes and then rinse it off.
August 22, 2017
May 17, 2017
Hi there. I believe that exercise is the best thing we can do to get rid of cellulite. Those costly procedures and injections ain't for me. But since i have no time for exercises or workouts what so ever, not just because of my work but also because i have a four months old boy, so time it's very very limited. So i did a google search, and i found a cream from revitol that did just what i needed. Great product by the way. There's a big difference between the now me and the 7 weeks ago me. For people and mom's like me with little time i strongly recommend this revitol cream. If you're interested these is the link that i use to purchase it. http://www.lnk123.com/SHfKl They even give you a free bottle on your purchase :) Best regards and goodbye cellulite.
May 8, 2017
Dermalmd Cellulite Serum is a great , not only do I see improvement(as far as tightening) in my thighs and stomach area, my skin has become extremely smooth and exceptionally soft. Im definitely purchasing again once I am finished with this jar. Ladies it work!!!!
April 15, 2017
I was skeptical to try dermalmd cellulite serum. I was going on a cruise and needed some extra help with cellulite and tried this. It worked. I notice an incredible difference within the first month of using this serum.
April 2, 2017
I have been using dermalmd cellulite serum morning and night for a few days and I am starting to see progress. After weight loss surgery, I lost a considerable amount of weight and I am left with some cellulite problems after this that are embarrassing when I am not in long pants or a skirt. So far, I am really starting to notice a difference in the appearance of the lumps and bumps in my thighs and belly. I will keep using this in hopes that (with good diet and exercise) I can rock shorts this summer.