Overview of Cellulite

Cellulite is a common term used to describe body fat that causes the skin to have an uneven, dimpled appearance. Cellulite often appears on the thighs, hip, and buttocks. It results in a texture that may be described as "cottage cheese-like," "orange peel-like," or "lumpy."

The medical term for cellulite is edematous-fibrosclerotic panniculopathy. Medically, cellulite is considered to be a normal condition. In fact, most women have some degree of cellulite (as many as 90 percent). Although weight gain often makes the condition more noticeable, cellulite also occurs in people who are thin and normal weight, as well as people who are overweight or obese.

Cellulite occurs more often in women due to differences in the way fat, muscle, and connective tissues are distributed in men's and women's bodies. The characteristic uneven texture occurs when subcutaneous fat deposits alter the connective tissue that attaches the skin to the underlying muscles and other structures (e.g., bones). As fat cells accumulate, fat deposits and fluids push against the skin, while the connective tissue pulls down, causing dimpling.

In mild cases, cellulite is only visible when the skin is pinched. Severe cases can cause the skin to have a permanent lumpy appearance. In addition to the thighs, hips, and buttocks, cellulite also can occur on the breasts, abdomen, and upper arms.

Factors that can increase the appearance of cellulite include the following:

  • Age (aging causes the skin to become thinner and lose some of its elasticity)
  • Heredity (genetics)
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Stress
  • Use of hormonal contraceptives (e.g., birth control pills)
  • Weight gain (may make cellulite more noticeable)

For many women, cosmetic treatments can result in a healthier, more youthful appearance of the skin. Laser treatment, such as SmoothShapes 100, can help reduce cellulite and rejuvenate the skin.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 13 Nov 2008

Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015