Up to 90 percent of all women have some amount of cellulite on their body. And while cellulite can affect women of any age, it is especially prevalent in women over 35 and typically gets more noticeable as we get older. For most, it is a major source of embarrassment and it is notoriously difficult to get rid of. Because of this, there is a large and growing cellulite treatment industry taking aim at solving this globally widespread problem. Unfortunately, nearly all of the “quick fix” products out there short of surgery tend to leave buyers disappointed with the results. But why is this? For starters, let’s discuss the inner workings of cellulite and some of its common root causes.
While it doesn’t look like what we commonly refer to as ‘fat’, the truth is that cellulite is just the same as any other fat on your body. The difference in appearance is simply due to that fat bulging through your skin. Despite what you may have heard about “trapped toxins” or poor circulation, cellulite is nothing more than ordinary body fat. Several scientific studies have confirmed this, and anyone telling you otherwise is likely trying to sell you something. The ‘toxin’ theory was fabricated by marketers in the cellulite industry long ago and is unfortunately still around today.
The truth is, everyone has strands of fibrous tissue that separate fat cells into compartments and connect fat to the skin. In women, these fibers form a honeycomb-shaped pattern, so any increase in fat can cause it to bulge out like stuffing in a mattress. Because fat is very soft, it doesn’t keep our skin taut like muscle does. It also takes up more space, which makes it bulge out even further.
You see less cellulite in men because they genetically have a lower body fat percentage and store fat differently than women. Men tend to deposit fat in the stomach region where the skin is thicker and more padded, thus you don’t normally see the cottage cheese appearance there. Women tend to store fat in the lower body where the skin is thinner, making the orange peel look much more visible.
Though cellulite affects women of all ages, it does get worse with age. That’s because those strands of fibrous tissue thicken with age, and our skin also gets thinner and looser, allowing the cellulite fat to bulge through making it more noticeable. More importantly, the average woman loses 5lb of muscle and replaces it with about 15lb of fat every decade of her adult life. This combination makes cellulite much more abundant, and much more visible.
Causes of Cellulite
There are several factors that contribute to your cellulite problem, some you can help and some you can’t. No single thing can be blamed 100% and there is no silver bullet that can get rid of cellulite for everyone. Let’s start out by taking a closer look at some of the most common contributing factors.
Heredity: This is the only thing we really cannot fix. Some women are just genetically likely to get cellulite. This is mainly due to your body type and its preferred placement of body fat. Some women just tend to store more fat in the thighs and butt than other women do. There’s nothing you can do about it. Does this mean it’s a lost cause and there’s nothing you can do? Absolutely not. Just because you’re genetically more prone to cellulite, doesn’t mean you can’t get rid of it. It just may take a little more work to get the results you want.
Lack of the Appropriate Type of Exercise: This is one of the most common contributing factors when it comes to cellulite. The amount and visibility of cellulite you have is correlated with your overall body composition. If your body fat percentage is higher, you have a much higher chance of having cellulite.
Fortunately, you don’t necessarily have to lose weight to get rid of cellulite. Women with more muscle mass in the thighs and buttocks have significantly less cellulite than women who don’t. But not to worry. You don’t need to hire a personal trainer and spend hours in the gym every day. A few simple resistance training exercises and an adjustment in your diet can quickly build muscle and tighten your skin without a need to kill yourself in the gym and lose a lot of weight. It’s a lot easier than you’d think, and we’ll go over this in detail later in the book. While fat loss is helpful in reducing cellulite, we’re going to take the path of least resistance and target only the most problematic areas.
Hormonal Changes: The food we eat in today’s modern times is loaded with chemicals, hormones, refined sugars, and bad fats. Cellulite was much less of a problem even 30 years ago when foods were more natural and less processed. Poor dietary choices along with the high-stress environment we live in can cause hormonal problems for many women. Fortunately, you can combat these hormonal changes by making some simple changes in your diet and lifestyle. Our main focus will be to combat the overproduction of estrogen and cortisol. We will go into more detail on this in a later chapter.
Improper Diet: A bad diet not only increases your overall body fat, but it also can lead to hormonal changes, as we just discussed. Consuming the wrong fats and refined carbohydrates can lead to estrogen imbalance and cause and excess fat storage in the thighs, hips, and butt. But not to worry. You don’t need to cut out all the foods you love or starve yourself on some crazy fad diet. Rather than reducing our calorie intake and trying to lose weight, you should focus on replacing problem foods (primarily bad fats) with healthier alternatives. A few small changes can greatly improve your body composition without the need for weight loss and with no exercise required. These simple replacements can also help regulate problem hormones and improve your overall health.
Skin Toning for Cellulite
Cellulite fat is no different than any other fat in your body. Yes, you can reduce the appearance of cellulite by reducing the amount of fat on your backside, but unfortunately targeted fat loss is not possible through exercise despite what you may have heard. Fortunately, you do have easy access to the skin covering those problem areas, and by repairing damaged collagen and thickening the dermis you can reduce the appearance of cellulite relatively quickly.
That said… if you’re one of the many women who has tried all the cellulite creams, wraps, massagers, and “cleanses” you can get your hands on and saw more of a reduction in your bank account than your cellulite, you’re not alone. The vast majority of cellulite treatment products on the market are big on marketing hype but come up short on results. Many of them are nothing but short-term coverups that work by increasing blood flow to the area causing swelling, which can temporarily reduce cellulite appearance. This is nice if you’re going to spend a few hours at the beach and need a quick fix, but it’s not going to get you long-term results.
Women have thinner skin on their thighs and butt than men do, which makes it easier for cellulite fat to bulge through, causing the unsightly orange peel appearance. As we get older, cellulite tends to get more and more visible as our skin’s collagen breaks down and the skin gets looser and thinner. In this article, I will cover 8 highly effective products that can help you quickly rebuild damaged collagen, thicken the dermis, and tighten up the skin in those problem areas. Leverage these in addition to a proper diet and resistance training program and you’ll start seeing results in no time.
Anti Cellulite Cups
Cupping is all the rage among the alternative medicine community. But did you know it is also effective in treating cellulite?
Cupping works by increasing blood flow and stimulating the lymphatic system. It also (supposedly) helps remove wastes and can help alleviate some skin conditions. Its main function in treating cellulite is breaking up lumps of fat and fascia. What is fascia? Put in the simple terms, fascia is your body’s connective tissue that surrounds muscles and organs. You can think of it like the white, fibrous layer of an orange peel that connects it to the fruit inside (the fruit being muscle and the peel being your skin).
Cupping for cellulite is quite simple. Apply massage oil or lotion to damp skin (works best right out of the shower as this will lock in more moisture). Oil applied to dry skin coats but doesn’t lock in as much moisture. Squeeze the cup between your fingers and press the open end to your skin to create a vacuum. You’ll notice your skin sucks up into the cup if you’re doing it properly. Now just massage in a circular motion of the affected area for 5 to 10 minutes, then release the vacuum by sliding your finger under the lip of the cup. Do this daily for 2-3 weeks and you will almost certainly see results. Also, this process can be slightly painful and some women even bruise from it. Always start slow.
Collagen Supplements for Cellulite
Collagen is the glue that holds the body together and is the most abundant structural protein in the body. In mammals, collagen makes up around 30% of the whole-body protein content, mostly in the form of tendons, ligaments, and skin. Since 75% of the dermis consists of collagen and it accounts for 90% of your skin volume, it is critical that you have all the nutrients required to maintain healthy collagen levels. This is especially true as we get older. As we age the body loses collagen at a rate of approximately 1.5% per year after the age of 30. This is why cellulite tends to be more pronounced in older women (although it is common in women under 30 as well).
Adding a collagen supplement to your diet can prevent and reverse this loss of collagen and help strengthen the connective tissues of the dermis, which leads to thicker, tighter, and healthier skin.
Sports Research Pure Hydrolyzed Collagen Peptides are my favorite choice for this. It’s a high-quality high purity collagen supplement with no additives (40 calories, no fat or sugar) and mixes easily in just about any beverage. I take it twice per day, once in the morning with breakfast and a second dose after my workout (or before dinner on off days). As an added bonus, this not only helps reduce the appearance of cellulite but it can help fight wrinkles and keeps you looking younger!
Derma rolling (or needling) is a method of pricking the skin with tiny needles to:
- tighten the skin and reduce wrinkles,
- thicken the dermis to reduce cellulite visibility
- reduce scarring and/or stretch marks
- restore normal skin pigmentation
Derma rolling is skin needling done with a tool called a derma roller. A derma roller is a hand-held roller with a surface made of tiny needles. The needles come in different lengths and sizes.
To understand why needling is effective, we should first understand what happens when the skin is pricked by a needle deep enough to cause pinprick bleeding. To the human eye, after the skin is pricked by a needle, the pinprick will bleed slightly, scab and then heal. That’s it right? Wrong.
Beneath the skin’s surface, a lot more is going on. The healing response, which begins immediately after the injury, kick-starts a healing process that lasts for several months, up to a year. During this healing process, the real skin improvements take place.
Fibroblasts will migrate to the pinprick site and deposit new skin cell fiber. The new fibers cross-link and organize themselves. Over time, new collagen will fill in and start to reduce lines and bumps in the skin, reorganize and strengthen weakened skin, and realign and stimulate new collagen production producing tighter, healthier skin.
As the new collagen starts to shorten over a few months, this leads to a slow tightening of the skin. After a year, this process will eventually lead to the formation of a thick layer of collagen, healthy elastin and improved blood flow at the site. When you combine a large number of these small pricks over an area of skin, each needle prick’s healing process will blend seamlessly together to lay down an almost continuous sheet of collagen below the epidermis.
The needle length and needle diameter are very important in this process. Needling causes numerous dermal injuries, and we want to make sure we maximize the benefits of this with causing scarring. That’s why I recommend a maximum needle diameter of 0.25mm. Smaller diameter needles can be used but do not maximize the dermal injury and therefore might produce slower results. Larger needles can cause too much damage and take longer to heal or cause scarring.
Needle length is also critical. The target we are shooting for when we needle the dermis is a layer in the upper dermis called the intermediate reticular dermis. This dermal layer contains the highest number of stem cells which are able to produce new collagen. The epidermis (top layer of skin) varies in depth from .05mm on the eyelids to 1.5mm on the soles of the feet. The epidermis thickness on the thighs and butt can vary but is typically thought to be around .5mm, depending on how broken down your skin is (more visible cellulite usually means thinner). Therefore a length of 0.25 – .5mm should do the trick. In general, don’t go more than 1mm in length, as these longer needles tend to catch and can damage the skin.
The process is fairly straightforward. To start, make sure your hands are clean and sterilize the entire treatment area with isopropyl alcohol. Also, be sure to rinse your derma roller in alcohol before and after treatment.
Run the derma roller across the affected area 6-8 times in one direction, back and forth. Then, rotate the device roughly 90 degrees and do it another 6-8 times. Do this on both sides, trying to evenly cover the entire as best you can.
You will feel some mild pain but in most cases, it’s very manageable. If you find it too painful, get some anesthetic cream and apply it to the skin before treatment. Lidocaine is the most commonly used product for this: get it here.
After your treatment, you will likely notice some redness and your skin will be tender, so its best to do your derma rolling at night before bed. If you’re going to be out and about afterward, be sure to cover up the area to avoid further damage from the sun.
Once your treatment is complete, be sure to moisturize the area to get the healing process started. Rosehip oil is a good option for this since it contains vitamins, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids that can stimulate recovery and improve skin tone.
Finally, be sure not to derma roll too often or you can end up damaging your skin even further. You need to give your skin adequate time to fully heal before you begin your next treatment. Once every 2 weeks is a pretty safe interval, but everyone’s skin is different so test this out for yourself.
Essential Oils for Cellulite
Rosehip oil is an essential oil used in many anti-wrinkle creams and other anti-aging products. It is most often used on the face but is also useful for tightening the loose skin around your thighs and butt. It has a high concentration of Vitamin C in the form of essential fatty acids. Topical vitamin C helps boost collagen production, which as we discussed in the previous section, is critical to fighting cellulite. It also can help to smooth and even your skin tone.
Rosehip oil can be applied anytime, but I find it especially effective immediately after derma rolling or after a glycolic chemical peel. It is a very strong moisturizer, and since chemical peels tend to dry out the skin, rosehip oil is a great way to combat that while also boosting collagen and smoothing and hydrating the skin.
Glycolic acid is an Alpha Hydroxy Acid that can be used to treat a variety of skin conditions. It has many benefits, with the most important one being that it stimulates collagen formation beneath the skin. This makes it a popular treatment for improving wrinkles on the face, but it is also effective at thickening and strengthening the skin on your thighs and butt.
Out of all the AHAs Glycolic acid stimulates collagen growth most effectively because of its small molecule that allows it to slip beneath the epidermis to reach the collagen fibers below. Clinical tests have shown a 15-25% thickening over 12 weeks.
When doing glycolic acid treatments, like derma rolling, you need to be very careful not to overdo it. Leaving it on the skin too long or applying too often can result in damaged and dried out skin. Generally, you shouldn’t leave it on for more than 5 minutes at a time and should do treatments no more than once per week. You will likely start to feel some tingling or burning after a few minutes of having the acid on your skin. This is normal. If at any point it becomes too painful, rinse it off immediately in the shower.
The acid is available in multiple different concentrations ranging from 10-90%, with the higher percentages containing more acid. Obviously, you need to be careful about high concentrations. If it’s your first time, go with a 50% concentration and see how your skin reacts. If you’re going to upgrade to a higher concentration you should leave more recovery time between treatments.
Last but certainly not least, be sure to thoroughly moisturize the area after treatment. AHAs will majorly dry your skin out which can cause damage if the moisture isn’t restored. Essential oils work well, or you can choose cocoa butter, coconut oil, or just plain lotion with aloe.
Flax Seed/Omega 3 Fatty Acids
These healthy fats deliver a wide range of health benefits like reducing cholesterol, but they are also great for your skin. Research shows that fish oil supplementation can produce noticeable toning of the skin within 2 months of use. This is useful for cellulite treatment since it can help tighten the skin on the buttocks and thighs making it more difficult for cellulite fat to bulge through.
The two most common sources of omega 3s are flaxseed oil and fish oil, both of which can be taken in capsule form. Another newer source that is gaining popularity is Krill oil, although there are some concerns about this harming sea life since it is not commercially mass produced yet and many smaller fish rely on it as a food source. Regardless, you should be supplementing your diet with an Omega 3 supplement in addition to adding more fish and/or nuts to your diet.
MCT Oil/Coconut Oil for Cellulite
MCT oil is a relatively new discovery in the diet and fitness world. MCT stands for medium chain triglyceride and is a specific type of fatty acid, most commonly found in coconut oil. It is comprised primarily of caprylic and capric fatty acids, and it is an odorless liquid at room temperature. So why would this specific type of fat beneficial for us?
Conventional dietary fats found in foods (LCTs) range between 16-22 carbon atoms in length. This is the same type of fat stored on your body. MCTs are only 6-12 carbon atoms long. This difference in molecular structure is the reason why MCT oil behaves differently in the body than do conventional fats.
When MCTs are absorbed into the bloodstream, they bypass the digestion process that longer chain fats have to go through. This means they provide quick energy for the body and are less likely to be stored as body fat. More importantly, when a meal contains MCTs, there is a significant increase in the number of calories burned. In other words, it has a thermogenic effect on the body.
All this is not to say you should start chugging MCT oil and expect to lose weight. Any type of excess calories can lead to weight gain if you consume too much. But this specific type of fat is far less prone to be stored as body fat than any other type of fat you may consume which comes in very handy for those on a low carb diet. Add MCT oil to your morning coffee or to a pre-workout shake and it will provide a sustainable source of energy, keep you feeling full, and keep your metabolism running at full speed throughout the day.
Retinol is a fat-soluble form of Vitamin A that is also used in many anti-aging products. It stimulates cell renewal and has shown to increase collagen production as well. It is typically used on the face to treat wrinkles but is also useful for cellulite because it can be locally applied to the thin skin on the thighs and butt.
Retinol is not as hard on the skin and can be used frequently in between derma rolling and/or acid peels. Like other anti-again products, it comes in various strengths. When shopping, be sure to take note of the ingredients.
Massage Stick/Fascia Blaster for Cellulite
The massage stick performs a very similar function to the cellulite cup method. The primary purpose of this tool is to massage sore muscles and stimulate blood flow, but it also works well breaking up fat and fascia clusters. Many women use these in combination with cellulite cups and see great results. Cupping is already pretty tough on your skin and connective tissue so never use the cups and massager on the same day or you risk bruising and/or more serious injury.
Cellulite is most pronounced in women with sagging muscles and skin. In addition to a resistance training program, adding protein to your diet helps to build and repair muscle and connective tissue. Skin, like muscle, also needs protein to stay firm and toned. Adding a protein supplement to your diet makes it much easier to meet your protein needs, especially if you’re not a big meat eater.
For those who are lactose intolerant your stomach may get upset by some whey protein powders. If that’s the case, there are several other options available like whey protein isolate, hemp protein, egg protein, and more. If you’re worried about digestion or other negative side effects of taking protein supplements, then stick with a plain whey protein isolate that does contain any lactose or artificial flavors or sweeteners.
*Soy protein has shown in studies to contain phytoestrogens which mimic estrogen in the body. This can worsen your cellulite, among other negative side effects. Avoid it.
Here is a favorite protein shake recipe of mine that contains no lactose, added sugar, or aspartame and is low in carbohydrates:
- 2 Scoops Whey Protein Isolate
- 2 Tablespoons Pure Cacao Powder
- 3 Packets of Splenda
- 1 Scoop Amazing Grass Green SuperFood
- 12oz Almond Milk or Coconut Milk
Combine ingredients in a shaker bottle and shake for 20 seconds. Or, for a creamier texture, combine ingredients in a Magic Bullet blender with a cup of ice cubes.
Resistance Training for Cellulite
Resistance training will be an important element in reducing the unsightly appearance of cellulite since it both increases muscle mass in your problem areas and increases your overall metabolism to help burn more fat while at rest. But the way you train is even more important. A program that targets the lower body muscle groups, specifically the gluteals and hamstrings, is ideal for women with cellulite. Compound movements will provide the most benefit with the least amount of time spent in the gym because they target multiple muscles in the target areas. More muscle in the hips, thighs, and butt means tighter, firmer skin in addition to a host of other health benefits.
Many women think about weight training and cringe at the thought of getting even bigger or bulkier. This is a very common misconception. It is very difficult for women to build bulky muscle mass due to their lower testosterone levels, especially if they follow the right routine. A proper resistance training routine will actually make your body look smaller and tighter over time and will help you burn fat faster than if you followed an aerobic exercise program like running or biking.
The routines I recommend for women with these goals in mind involve sets of 15-25 repetitions with short breaks in between, which helps keeps the heart rate up in the fat burning zone while training the proper muscle groups. This type of training keeps workouts short, burns fat, and will give you a longer, leaner and shapely, not bulky figure. Check out the full guide here: https://www.gottahavefit.com/anti-cellulite-workout-for-women/
Common Cellulite Treatment Myths
Here are some commonly marketed products that claim to eliminate cellulite. In each case I will show you what the marketer claims, and then my response to those claims as a trainer and nutritionist.
Ginkgo Biloba Extract
Claim: It assists in blood circulation and stimulates the metabolism of fats.
Although ginkgo can increase circulation, it does not stimulate fat metabolism. Even if it did, there is no reason why it would exert a localized effect.
Sweet Clover Extract
Claim: It can increase blood circulation and assist in removing fluid build-up.
This supplement may have mild diuretic action, but “fluid build-up” is not a significant factor in the appearance or composition cellulite.
Grape Seed Bioflavonoids
Claim: Powerful antioxidants that protect cells and blood vessels from damage.
Whether antioxidant supplements help protect tissues is not scientifically settled. Regardless, any such mechanism has nothing to do with the quantity or appearance of fatty tissues.
Fucus Vesiculosus Extract
Claim: It stimulates metabolism and can help reduce localized fats.
This herb contains significant amounts of iodine and could adversely effect the thyroid gland. The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (USRDA) for iodine is 150 micrograms. The average American woman ingests 170 micrograms per day from food (not including iodized salt).
Claim: It helps to break down fats.
The body makes all the lecithin it needs. Lecithin supplements do not cause the body to shed additional fat.
Many salons and spas exist where clients supposedly can trim inches off the waist, hips, thighs, and other areas of the body. These facilities use wraps or garments, with or without special lotions or creams applied to the skin. The garments may be applied to parts of the body or to the entire body. Clients are typically assured that fat will “melt away” and they can lose “up to 2 inches from those problem areas in just one hour.
If you use common sense, you should know that you can’t just melt away fat and lose 2 inches in an hour. If you could, nobody would ever exercise. This is just another gimmick that alters blood flow temporarily, which may make you look leaner in certain areas for a short period. This is not a lasting or practical answer to your problem.
Cellulite Causing Hormones
Hormones are a key contributor to the appearance of cellulite. There are two in particular that are major offenders; estrogen and cortisol. If not controlled, these hormones can increase fat storage in the problem areas and also break down collagen fibers in the skin. This is an important piece of the puzzle that is often ignored by other cellulite treatments, which is unfortunate because it’s quite simple to fix.
Estrogen is the primary female hormone. It’s what gives females their female characteristics. Unfortunately, in today’s modern world there are many things that can cause an overproduction of estrogen which leads to an increase in cellulite. Estrogen imbalance causes the body to store more fat in the thighs and butt, and can also contribute to breaking up collagen fibers in the skin which can cause stretch marks, loose skin, and more visible cellulite.
Estrogen overproduction can come from several causes. The primary ones are consumption of the wrong types of fat, lack of physical activity (especially resistance training), certain birth control methods, and pregnancy. The first two causes are easy to fix and can do wonders for controlling estrogen. First of all, a diet high in fat, particularly bad fats, is directly related to an overproduction of estrogen. And to compound the problem, a higher body fat percentage often leads to even higher estrogen levels.
The easiest way to combat this is to make some simple modifications to your diet and to add resistance training to your weekly routine. Research shows that physical activity curtails overproduction of estrogen in addition to increasing lean muscle mass and reducing body fat. In a later article, we will discuss the difference between bad fats and good fats and cover some laser targeted resistance training exercises that can help keep your estrogen levels in check while toning your thighs and butt.
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It’s sort of like a low-grade adrenaline that gets released under times of stress. Unfortunately, it also increases fat storage, breaks down muscle, and breaks apart collagen in the skin. This is a deadly combination for cellulite sufferers. Not only does it increase fat storage (which increases estrogen), it also weakens your skin, making cellulite even more noticeable. It’s absolutely crucial that you regulate this harmful hormone.
To combat cortisol, there are a few simple things you can do:
Eat small meals at regular intervals throughout the day. Skipping a meal may sound like a good way to lose weight, but it actually increases cortisol and slows down your metabolism.
Reduce stress. This can be difficult for some, but it’s important. Try deep breathing exercises, meditation, and supplements like L-theanine and Valerian root.
Get plenty of sleep. Not getting a full nights sleep is one of the biggest contributors to cortisol production.
Avoid stimulants. Studies show caffeine and other stimulants can increase both cortisol and stress levels. If you need an energy boost try taking B vitamins or drinking green tea in place of coffee.
Follow these simple steps to control estrogen and cortisol and you will not only see a reduction in cellulite over time, but you will be much healthier. Elevated levels of these hormones over the long term can cause serious health problems that are much worse than having cellulite.
Once again, remember to use these in combination with a proper cellulite fighting diet and exercise program for maximum results. These tools will help you get quick results but if you want to truly get rid of your cellulite and stay rid of it for good, you’ll need to make some lifestyle changes and keep your body in a cellulite fighting state.