What causes cellulite?
Cellulite results from enlarged deposits of triglycerides within subcutaneous fatty tissues, a layer of fat deposited below the superficial layers of the skin. Limited space within the subcutaneous region causes the more superficial dermis and epidermis to bulge upwards, causing an uneven skin surface above. Further expansion of adipose tissue via increased fat deposits increases the area of cellulite.
Causes of cellulite
- Genetics If most of your relatives such as your mother or aunts have cellulite, you are more likely to have cellulite, even if you are thin and not overweight. Certain alleles affect the metabolism and deposition of fat in the body, causing an increased tendency to accumulate cellulite.
- Females are more prone to getting cellulite than males. The structure of skin in females is fundamentally different than that of males. This increases the tendency for cellulite to accumulate and achieve its distinctive dimpled appearance due to 2 main reasons:
- Females have a thinner epidermis. The thinner epidermis, the most superficial layer of the skin, predisposes the underlying fat accumulations to show up as irregular dimpling. Think of it as a piece of cling wrap over a bumpy surface, showing all the underlying irregularities, compared to a piece of cardboard which hides the irregularities more easily.
- Different structure of adipose tissue within the submucosa within the depths of the skin, subcutaneous fat tissue is separated into different sections by collagen fibers. In females, the adipose tissue is compartmentalized into vertical columns. When fat accumulation occurs, the adipose tissue can only increase in dimension vertically, causing a vertical bulge showing up as irregularities in the overlying skin. In contrast, male adipose tissue is compartmentalized into criss-cross sections. When fat accumulates, the adipose tissue can expand sideways and even into the epidermis before bulging vertically. Thus, it is less likely for fat accumulations to show up superficially as cellulite in men.
- Poor nutrition Generally, diets containing processed food, refined sugars, artificial ingredients, dairy, high fat and sugar products tend to cause increased fat deposits, thus leading to cellulite. These foods tend to increase the synthesis of lipids which are stored in the adipose tissue. Also, they cause an accumulation of oxygen free radicals, causing oxidative stress and a reduction in fat metabolism and waste elimination, thus aggravating fat accumulation.
- Fad diets Despite the loss of massive amounts of weight, there is not much underlying change to the structure of subcutaneous fat, thus the appearance of cellulite does not diminish. In contrast, slow and progressive weight loss allows the skin to adapt better to the underlying structure, reducing the appearance of cellulite.
- Aging Even though many women get cellulite by their 20s, cellulite deposits grow exponentially as one gets older. There are 2 main reasons for this:
- Decreased metabolism The mid-life bulge is an inevitable process of ageing as the mitochondria in the cells become less active. This decreases fat metabolism and thus, increases fat deposition. However, this decrease in lipolysis has not been scientifically proven to cause cellulite.
- Decrease in elasticity of the connective tissue Collagen and elastic fibers give the skin elasticity to hide minor irregularities of the underlying adipose tissue. The skin is its most elastic at around 35-40 years of age. As one ages, collagen synthesis decreases, thus the elasticity of the skin decreases. The skin has a greater tendency to show irregularities of the underlying adipose tissue as dimples on the skin.
- Sedentary lifestyle Cellulite tends to form in areas with the least circulation and metabolism, such as the thigh, buttocks and hips. Also, cellulite occurs in greater amounts in women with less physical activity, such as a desk-bound job.
- Hormonal fluctuations Estrogen is found to stimulate and potentiate the formation of cellulite.
- Dehydration Dehydration reduces the body’s ability to get rid of waste products and excess fat beneath the skin, thus increasing the accumulation of subcutaneous fat.
- Obesity The accumulation of subcutaneous fat is more pronounced in obese individuals, showing up as more pronounced cellulite. That being said, non-obese individuals are commonly afflicted with cellulite as well.
- Thickness and color of skin The appearance of cellulite is more obvious on lighter skin compared to darker skin. Besides that, there are variations in the thickness of the dermis and epidermis of the skin from individual to individual. Thus, a person with a thinner dermis and epidermis is more likely to have more pronounced cellulite compared to a person with thicker skin but the same amount of subcutaneous fat deposits.
- Other lifestyle factors Other lifestyle factors like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are associated with increased cellulite. This could be attributed to the decrease in blood flow subcutaneously and increase in oxidative stress, affecting the metabolism of fat.