Cellulite – causes and treatment

Article

05. 04. 2022

Cellulite is a localised metabolic disorder of the subcutaneous tissue caused mainly by changes in the lymphatic system. More than anything, it is an aesthetic issue affecting up to 90% of women (more rarely men), regardless of body weight. It is typically localized around the thighs and buttocks, and with age, its occurrence often increases. Why do we get cellulite, what are the different stages and how can we fight it?

What is cellulite?

Cellulite is the term used to describe a cosmetic defect presenting with small dimples, bumps and skin irregularities, usually localised to the stomach, thighs and buttocks. In medical terms, it is considered as a condition, because cellulitis is a term for cell inflammation, however,  it is so widespread in the population and is deemed as something rather normal. 

This problem more commonly affects women because they have a higher fat cell count than men. The presence of cellulite is a consequence of poor blood and lymphatic microcirculation in the tissue. Cellulite is usually only a cosmetic issue. However, its presence can be a warning sign for other health issues such as chronic venous insufficiency and a sign of increased risk of developing varicose veins.

Most commonly, this skin imperfection usually appears on body parts that tend to store the most fat. Cellulite on the thighs, buttocks or hips tend to be the most commonly searched for terms on Google, but it's also typical to have cellulite appear on the stomach or arms. Cellulite tends to be more prevalent during certain life stages, such as in adolescence, during pregnancy or during or after menopause.

Causes of cellulite

“There’s a plethora of factors that contribute to the occurrence of cellulite- hormones, genetics, lifestyle, lymphatic health and not least importantly, the structure of the subcutaneous fat cells, which differs quite a bit between men and women. I would also like to emphasize, that cellulite isn’t solely an issue attributed to obese women- slim and sporty women are also affected” says Canadian Medical’s dermatologist Dr Lucie Polákl. Let’s go through the individual risk factors in a little more detail.

  • Gender – cellulite tends to affect women more often than men. Men’s connective tissue is structured in a cross (reticulate) pattern, thanks to which the fat cells remain deeper down in the subcutaneous tissue. Women, on the other hand, have vertical strips of connective tissue that make it easier for fat cells to reach the surface of the skin.
  • Genetics – if the mother and grandmother have cellulite, it’s very likely that the daughter will inherit it as well.
  • Changes in hormone levels – are most prevalent in adolescence, pregnancy, following childbirth or during menopause, when hormones tend to fluctuate. The most significant is excess oestrogen, which loosens and softens connective tissue and also increases the repository of fat into cells.
  • Arrangement of subcutaneous cells – women tend to store fat in cells which are located in between collagen ligaments more easily than men. They swell up and push their way to the upper layers of the subcutaneous tissue, while also reducing the blood and lympth flow. This is what causes the well-known bumps. In men, swollen fat cells cause the skin to stretch to the sides and stays smooth. Additionally, women's skin is a lot thinner, which is why the fat on the surface is more visible.
  • Nutrition – foods with a high salt, fat and preservative contents contribute to a number of metabolic diseases, which in turn support the development of cellulite.
  • Lifestyle – lack of exercise, excess weight or a poor drinking regime can contribute to ligament weakening. Risk factors also include stress, smoking and excessive alcohol intake. It can also be caused by the accumulation of toxins in the body or the use of hormonal contraception.

 

Stages of cellulite

Depending on the visibility and the structure, cellulite can be categorised into 4 stages, using a so-called “pinching test”, where the skin is pinched between the thumb and forefinger.

  • 1st degree cellulite visible only during the test - when the skin is pressed together. It starts by disrupting the blood circulation or lymphatic drainage of the subcutaneous tissue, which weakens the surrounding tissue.
  • 2nd degree – characterised by dimples on the buttocks, abdomen or thighs in a standing or sitting position, not when stretching the skin and in a supine position.
  • 3rd degree – visible even when lying down
  • 4th degree –visible while standing and lying down and in some cases may cause pain or other health problems in the form of ligament degeneration.

 

How to reduce the occurrence of cellulite

Below are a few tips aimed at helping reduce the occurrence of cellulite. Predominantly, they revolve around lifestyle changes which should be sustainable and long-term. There are of course some cosmetic procedures available nowadays which help keep the skin smooth.

Healthy lifestyle, diet and a good liquid intake

For a body that functions well, we need to feed it and take care of it properly through a balanced lifestyle. A healthy diet should contain high quality foods with a high intake of fruits and vegetables, and a good water/fluid intake shouldn’t be overlooked.

TOP TIP: Ideally, your fluid intake should come from unsweetened water, or green/black tea. To find out how much water you should be drinking, use the simple rule of thumb- 35ml of water for every 1kg of your body weight.

The presence of cellulite can be exacerbated by a diet containing a high proportion of simple carbohydrates and foods with a higher content of salt and saturated fats. Alongside processed flour and processed foods or certain food allergens (e.g. gluten). On the other hand, the following list of foods can have a net positive impact:

  • Linseeds - support healthy skin by altering oestrogen levels and increase collagen production. They are most easily digested when they are ground.
  • Healthy fats –for example coconuts contain a lot of healthy fatty acids which support skin vitality. 
  • Seaweed – contains a compound called fukoxantin which can help the body burn fats and thus it may have a positive impact on the occurrence of cellulite.
  • Foods with a high fibre content – vegetables, nuts, seeds and berries.
  • Fruits with a high water content – for example watermelon, cucumber or citrus fruits.

Regular physical activity

Exercise is a cure-for-all, and it has miraculous effects even on cellulite. The best kind of exercise is one that is sustainable and comfortable for you, doesn’t cause you stress and adequately stimulates the lymphatic system. Usually, this encompassess a slower and steadier exercise, but one that is done for a longer period of time, for example riding a bike, walking, running, swimming or yoga. Less favourable are more explosive sports like tennis or squash.

When sitting for a prolonged period of time, its advised to keep your legs uncrossed, and to stand up and stretch at least once every hour. Tight clothing is constraining for good blood and lymph flow, while sauna and cold showers have a positive impact.

 

Lymphatic drainage

Popular cellulite reducing methods include lymphatic massages or lymphatic drainage, which is performed to stimulate the lymphatic system in the body. The massage can be manual or using certain equipment.

Brushes and massage sponges against cellulite

Massages using special brushes and sponges supports blood flow and stimulation of lymphatic drainage and helps regenerate tissues. There are, for example, dry cellulite massage brushes, mechanical massage aids or various loofahs.

Cold shower massage

Alternating between hot and cold water will also help with problematic areas. The water stream massages the skin, and the cold water promotes blood flow due to contraction and dilation of blood vessels. The cold shower massage thus stimulates blood circulation in the skin, tightens it and smoothes it out.

Anti-cellulite creams, gels and oils

Special cosmetics against cellulite should only complement a healthy lifestyle and other methods used to combat cellulite - they are not a treatment on their own. There is a number of them, some of which contain substances (such as caffeine) that improve blood circulation to the skin and thus help reduce cellulite effectively.

 

TOP TIP: You can also find anti-cellulite products in our online pharmacy, in the section “Scars, stretch marks and cellulite”. We would recommend trch: birch cellulite oil, Happy Skin anti-cellulite care set (both from the Weleda brand), Celustin gel and cinnamon massage oil (TOPVET) or body and massage oil (Saloos).

 

Supplements and herbal medicine

There are various dietary supplements that help flush out excess water from the body can also reduce the appearance of cellulite. Some recommendations include: dandelion leaves, heather flowers, nettles or sagebrush. Food supplements that have been shown to positively reduce cellulite include, for example, zinc, which supports the production of collagen in the body as well as vitamins A, D, C, E and B-complex.

Specialised treatments

Ultrasonic Cavitation = non-invasive cavitation

A non-invasive radio frequency device that breaks down fat cells that are subsequently removed by the lymphatic system.

Shockwave treatment

A combination of acoustic and electrical pulses that disrupt adipose tissue and support the activity of lymphatic vessels. This method also promotes collagen production and restores skin elasticity.

 

Cellulite prevention

Quite unsurprisingly, the best prevention is a healthy lifestyle, a balanced diet and plenty of exercise. It should be remembered that cellulite is a common problem and only a cosmetic one at that. However, a significant deterioration in the  condition can indicate other problems, such as a poorly functioning lymphatic system or venous insufficiency. Therefore, try to listen to your body and seek medical attention if you have any doubts or problems. You can also turn to experts from the Canadian Medical.

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