What is Cellulite?

I am often asked how to define cellulite and explain why some of us get it and others don't. You will find the answers to these questions in these pages.

Cellulite is a common condition, affecting over 85% of women, in which the skin appears to have a dimpled, ‘orange peel’ appearance.

It is usually most noticeable on the buttocks and thighs, and usually occurs after puberty.

Cellulite is not a medical condition, although it is known in the medical field as 'hyper' or 'gynoid lipodystrophy', 'adiposis edematosa', 'dermopanniculosis deformans' and/or 'status protrusus cutis'.

Although cellulite can affect both sexes, it is much more common in women.

This is due to several factors as explained below, but importantly, it is mostly because of the structure of our skin. The outermost layer of the skin is called the epidermis. Directly underneath the epidermis is the dermis, which contains hair follicles, sweat glands, blood vessels and connective tissue which is also known as 'superficial fascia'. Fascia is a band or sheet of connective tissue, made up primarily of collagen. It attaches, stabilises and separates muscles and organs throughout the body. It also creates a barrier to store fat and fluid and acts as a passageway for lymph, nerve and blood vessels.  

Underneath the dermis is the first of two (subcutaneous) fat layers. The protrusion of this first layer of fat into the dermis is what causes cellulite. 

The reasons why women are mostly affected by cellulite are:

  1. Women have a thinner dermis in the areas that are most prone to cellulite (thighs, buttocks and tummy).
  2. The connective tissue in females is assembled in free-standing chambers (filled with fat cells), which are separated by vertical walls of fibrous bands called septa. In men however, subcutaneous fat is stored in smaller chambers with diagonal (criss-crossing) septa. This criss-crossing of men’s septa means they are stronger and less susceptible to collapsing under pressure and less likely to store larger quantities of fat.
  3. Changes in hormones (particularly oestrogen) can trigger subcutaneous layers to retain fat, thus causing the fat (or adipose tissue) to expand.