6 Surprising Things You Need to Know About Cellulite

There’s nothing more exciting than walking through your favorite store and finding a super cute piece of clothing that’ll show off your legs for when the weather gets warmer. However, you quickly find the dressing room and put on the shorts, dress or skirt, only to realize it’s not what you’d imagined. Instead of focusing on how well it fits, you only see dimpled thighs and force yourself to forget about the adorable bathing suit on the rack just outside.

Cellulite has long been and still is one of a woman’s worst enemies when it comes to body image, despite progress on social media and in clothing campaigns. Many women still have misconceptions about the prevalence and treatment of cellulite. The next time you think about putting something back on the clothing rack, remember these five facts about a skin issue that shouldn’t be an issue at all.

1. You’re not the only one who has it

Whether you’ve realized it or not, cellulite rarely makes an appearance in the public spotlight. Magazines have long used editing software to smooth out blemishes, wrinkles, stretch marks and cellulite on their models and celebrities. Even though Ashley Graham embraced her “cellulite city” thighs and Lena Dunham thanked Glamour for not touching up her cellulite, many women still associate cellulite with weight gain. It’s important to know that healthy women of all shapes and sizes can be affected by its presence.

Dr. Kenneth Mark, a skin cancer and cosmetic dermatology expert in New York, simply states that “anyone can have it.” Roughly 80 to 90 percent of women deal with cellulite in some shape or form. Whether it’s on your thighs, buttocks, stomach or arms, the very nature of women’s skin makes it very likely to show up, especially as your skin loses its elasticity in the years coming. About 10 percent of men also have cellulite, so it’s also not a female-only problem.

2. You can’t get rid of it completely

When you go to the doctor with a range of flu-like symptoms and find out you just have a bad cold, it’s both irritating and disheartening to hear you can’t have antibiotics. You can try every cold symptom medicine that claims to alleviate a runny nose, cough, headache and fever all at once, but chances are, you’re not going to feel much better. The same goes for cellulite: there’s no panacea that will magically make every dimple and divot disappear.

Katie Weykamp, a senior at Ohio University studying food and nutrition sciences and Instagram fitness guru, says, “To women who do struggle with it, I think they need education about what cellulite actually is on an anatomical level. Once I learned this two years ago, something clicked in my head which made the thought of cellulite less bothersome... it’s as anatomically normal for a woman to have cellulite as it is to have breasts.”

To get more technical, the fat layer we can blame for cellulite has bands of connective tissue that run perpendicular from top to bottom in women and are crisscrossed in men. Between these fibers are the fat cells. According to Katie, the key fact to remember is the perpendicular connective tissue doesn’t give the fat cells enough room for movement when pressure is applied (unlike in crisscrossed tissue), causing visible dimples on the skin's surface.

Now that you know the science behind cellulite, you can worry less about why you have it and focus more embracing it or finding a way to better handle it.

3. A clean diet and regular exercise are key

You probably wouldn’t be able to count the number of times you’ve heard that a healthy diet and consistent exercise is important. Besides reducing the chance of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease, living a healthy lifestyle just makes you feel and look better. If you’re like many college women and struggle with finding the time to head to the gym or resisting the urge to snack at night, you may have just accepted your cellulite (hopefully out of body positivity and not body shame). And while Dr. Mark says that proper diet and exercise “can’t get rid of cellulite completely,” going the extra mile to try Blogilates in your room or trade in cookies for fruit at midnight can pay off.

“The only way to target cellulite in a problem area is to reduce the size of the fat cells. If you’re new to working out, aim for 30-minute workouts two to three times a week and progress in frequency/duration as you see fit,” Katie says. “Try incorporating various styles of workouts to see what you love and will stick to in the long run—there are so many workout classes like HIIT, spinning, Zumba and kickboxing. If you’re new to weightlifting, I recommend checking out bodybuilding.com exercise database and read up on proper form and to get ideas!”

She adds, “In terms of diet, try cutting out processed foods and added sugars. Drink more water throughout the day and make sure each meal is well balanced! When putting together a main meal, aim to include at least three to four of the five main food groups and that the foods are wholesome and minimally processed.”

You don’t need to be a professional bodybuilder or stick to an impossible diet to lessen the severity of your cellulite. Do what you feel is appropriate and push yourself a little more each day to make healthy choices.

Related: 5 Common Skin Problems & How to Treat Them 

4. Topical creams can provide temporary relief at best

When it comes to most skin problems, topical creams and ointments are usually the first lines of defense. Many are cheap and can be found over-the-counter at any drugstore. For more expensive prescription creams, you can visit your dermatologist for recommendations. While obtaining these creams isn’t difficult, making them work long-term can prove to be a tough feat. Dr. Mark recommends “prescription strength retinoids or over-the-counter alpha hydroxy acids like AmLactin,” but you must remember that these lotions can only camouflage dimples and bumps temporarily.

Nicole*, a junior at Stanford University, cringes at the amount of money she spent on cellulite creams back in high school. “I hated the way my thighs looked like cottage cheese, all dimply and covered in moon-like crevices. I used every last dollar on fancy scrubs and lotions that people claimed to be miracle products,” she says. “It wasn’t until I was broke and discouraged that the only way to change the appearance of my cellulite was to embrace it and work on gaining muscle.”

Sometimes the most convenient solution to a problem isn’t a solution at all, but another challenge in your path to finding the best solution. Keep in mind that topical creams won’t change the physical cellulite: they'll only change its appearance for a little while.

5. The majority of effective treatments are expensive

Even though cellulite can’t be cured, there are a plethora of surgical and noninvasive procedures that visibly reduce the look of it. From skin fillers to lasers, the treatments shown to most effectively get rid of cellulite come with a hefty price tag because they’re done by knowledgeable skincare professionals and experts. Dr. Mark describes one of the more invasive treatments as “[introducing] a needle to break up the fibrous anchoring bands and allowing the patient to form their own collagen,” which is “similar to ‘subcision’ for atrophic scars.” Another FDA-approved treatment called Cellulaze has been shown to reduce cellulite by 70 to 80 percent within a year, but the investment ranges from $5,000 to $7,000.

Angela*, a senior at Penn State University, has been saving up the last three years for this laser treatment. “Most people don’t know I’ve been saving up for Cellulaze because I feel like I’d be judged for spending so much on a cellulite treatment,” she says. “My aunt got it done right before I graduated high school, and she looks absolutely fantastic four years later. I’ve tried everything and currently do work out five days a week, but nothing has worked.”

If you feel that a more permanent surgery done by a professional you trust is the best route, there’s no harm in researching the options. Just know that you might end up draining your bank account without monetary preparation.

6. Your partner doesn’t care about your cellulite

It’s not unusual for our self-confidence to take a dip when we see photos of women with perfect bodies and flawless skin, even though we know Photoshop is most likely the culprit. Sometimes we look at our own bodies and wonder how in the world someone could find us physically beautiful. We don’t often realize that the people who love us most don’t see what we perceive to be flaws. Derek*, a junior at the University of Michigan, constantly assures his girlfriend that her cellulite isn’t unattractive.

“The first time my girlfriend and I got intimate, she was really self-conscious about the cellulite on her thighs. I didn’t even know the name for it,” he says. “I told her no matter what her body looked like, I’d find her attractive simply because of her personality. I think women in general are too hard on themselves for the way they look, and if a guy makes a big deal out of something like cellulite, he’s a complete a**hole.”

Every time you look in the mirror and see yourself as unattractive, know that’s not how other people see you.

Cellulite is a struggle most women have faced or currently deal with, and as Katie puts it, they “develop an identity around it for themselves that’s not actually true.” It’s high time we educate ourselves about the reality of cellulite and embrace the journey that comes with taking care of not just our skin, but our whole bodies, one day at a time.

*Name has been changed