Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CN – Cellulite removal treatments are growing in popularity as more and more people struggle to maintain a healthy weight and look for ways on how to get rid of cellulite.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), in 2019 over 2.6 million cosmetic surgery procedures were carried out in the U.S. alone — including over 265,000 liposuction procedures, many of which were performed to remove cellulite.
Although they might sound like the perfect quick fixes, liposuction and laser cellulite treatments are not simple means of going from a size 16 to size 6 overnight. The ASPS itself even states, “Liposuction is not an effective treatment for cellulite — the dimpled skin that typically appears on the thighs, hips, and buttocks — or loose saggy skin.”
How can you get rid of cellulite? Nothing can substitute for eating an anti-inflammatory diet and getting enough exercise. Just as with other signs of aging, if you want to reduce cellulite, first and foremost focus on maintaining a healthy weight throughout your adult life.
Then, certain topical treatments may help dimply skin become less noticeable and improve skin’s overall appearance.
What Is Cellulite?
Cellulite is the appearance of lumpy or dimpled “cottage cheese skin,” which predominantly develops on the legs (especially the thighs), butt, stomach and the back of the arms. Some also refer to it as “orange peel skin” because it looks like the tiny bumps that form on the outside of citrus fruits.
Basically, cellulite forms when globules of fat develop under the skin and push up against the connective tissue, forming an uneven, “mottled” look to the skin.
There are three types cellulite with different severities, ranging from mild to severe.
Some of the factors that contribute to this condition are a lack of exercise (a sedentary lifestyle), hormone changes and — you guessed it — a poor-quality diet.
It’s possible to develop cellulite at any age, but it tends to get worse as someone gets older due to increased fatty deposits (and often a higher body weight).
This condition is more common in women than men, with about 90% of women having some measure of cellulite, particularly as they age and the skin loses its elasticity. However, even teenagers dealing with weight and hormonal changes can deal with this skin concern.
Cellulite is not serious or harmful, and therefore many choose to just simply leave it alone. Meanwhile, others become very bothered by unsightly cellulite, especially following life circumstances such as weight gain/loss or pregnancy — or in the summer when it’s common to reveal more skin.
What is the main cause of cellulite? Several primary factors contribute to the developmentof cellulite, including:
- Weak collagen structure of the skin, which leads to skin thinning and loss of elasticity
- Genetic factors
- Poor diet
- Fluid retention
- Lack of circulation (blood flow)
- Being overweight
- Hormonal changes, including in estrogen and cortisol
- Lack of physical activity
Some other factors that can cause skin changes, such as cellulite, sagginess, wrinkles and formation of dark spots, include:
- hormonal imbalances
- high amounts of stress
- existing medical conditions, like autoimmune disease or diabetes
- too much sun exposure
- other causes of toxicity
While the connection between dealing with stress and developing cellulite may seem far-fetched, science has shown that all of the factors above increase inflammation and contribute to signs of aging.
For example, according to a research study published in the Journal of European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, cellulite can be caused by increased levels of catecholamines due to high stress and raised cortisol levels.
Things like stress and a poor diet also cause your body to slow down production of collagen, which is crucial to keep skin looking young.
In fact, it’s now believed that collagen (a type of structural protein that forms skin’s layers) plays a big role in regulating cellulite. Dysfunction of collagen-rich fibers called fibrous septae seem to form cellulite dimples, so these are now the target of most professional cellulite treatments.
How to Get Rid of Cellulite
Can you get rid of cellulite once you have it? Unfortunately, it seems that the answer is not completely.
As one 2019 review explains, “Despite multiple therapeutic approaches that attempt to treat cellulite, no procedures have been proven successful long term.”
Considering all the lifestyle factors that affect the appearance and health of your skin, it’s understandable why intensive cellulite treatments — including noninvasive devices, such as massage or radio/acoustic frequency, laser and light-based treatments, liposuction, topical creams, injections, and carboxy therapy — are popular options.
Unfortunately, these are not long-term solutions for keeping skin looking healthy.
In order for some of these cellulite treatments to work — such as submission, vibrational therapy, wave therapy or lasers — ongoing treatments might be needed for many months on end or else results can diminish within six months to one year.
How should you tackle cellulite then? As one study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science puts it, “Reducing adipogenesis (fat storage) and increasing thermogenesis (burning fat through body heat) appear to be primary routes, while also improving the microcirculation and collagen synthesis.”
Here are the top six all-natural ways to help reduce the appearance of cellulite:
1. Eat a Healthy Diet
Can cellulite on your legs go away? Losing weight and then maintaining a healthy body fat percentage may help reduce the appearance of cellulite on your legs or elsewhere.
Some of the top foods for decreasing or preventing cellulite are:
- Flaxseeds — Flax is great for skin health and general health as it modulates estrogen levels and may also increase collagen production. You can sprinkle flaxseed on your breakfast, in your smoothies or simply eat the seeds by themselves.
- Hydrating foods — Because dehydration can lead to bloating and dry skin, try to eat more naturally hydrating foods. These include fresh veggies and fruit, especially melon, berries, cucumber, celery, citrus fruits and fresh herbs. Making Cellulite Slim Down Juice at home is a great way to consume a bunch of these at once.
- High-fiber foods — These include vegetables, nuts, seeds and berries. Fiber helps cleanse the colon, curb hunger, support your metabolism and balance hormones. High-fiber foods containing lots of antioxidants, such as leafy greens or berries, are also beneficial because of their ability to decrease free radical damage (which ages skin).
- Clean protein sources — High-quality protein foods, like grass-fed beef, free-range poultry, pastured eggs, wild-caught fish and organic protein powder, can support a healthy metabolism and aid in cellulite reduction. Ideally, aim to consume at least three to four ounces with every meal.
- Potassium-rich foods — Flushing excess fluids and waste out of cells can help reduce cellulite. Green leafy vegetables, avocados, bananas, coconut water and cultured dairy are all high in potassium.
- Healthy fats — Coconut and wild-caught fish contain fatty acids that promote healthy tissue. Consume one tablespoon daily of extra virgin coconut oil and one serving of wild-caught fish (or 1,000 milligrams of fish oil) daily for the best results.
- Kelp — Kelp contains a compound called “fucoxanthin,” which is found in chlorophyll-bearing green plants and supports metabolic and skin health. Try sprinkling a small amount onto your savory meals.
- Water — Wondering if drinking lots of water is really that important for reducing cellulite? Yes! Water keeps skin hydrated and helps flush out toxic compounds. Aim to drink eight to 10 glasses of fresh water daily. Well-hydrated skin looks more even, with less of a lumpy, dry or aged look.
Try to avoid or reduce these foods, which may cause or worsen cellulite:
- Sugar and salt — If you think your diet has no effect on cellulite, think again! Here’s why: Sugar causes fluid retention, inflammation and storage of body fat — all of which can increase the appearance of cellulite. Read labels, and aim to reduce or remove added sugar. Limit your sodium intake as well, because salt is one of the main causes of water retention. Stick to a healing diet for best results, which is low in both sugar and salt.
- Refined flour and refined grain products — These break down quickly into sugar and are high in calories.
- Food allergens — Foods like gluten, A1 casein found in most dairy, shellfish and peanuts can cause allergies or inflammation in some. These have negative effects on skin health, like potentially decreasing circulation and interfering with normal nutrient absorption.
- Trans and hydrogenated fats — These are generally unhealthy and found in processed foods.
2. Consume More Collagen
Connective tissue – including the layers of the skin – is composed of collagen. When the skin is strong, cellulite appearance is diminished.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and needed for skin’s elasticity, youthful texture and strength. One of the best ways to get more collagen is from consuming bone broth, which also has amino acids like glutamine.
Bone broth contains the amino acids called proline and glycine that make up collagen, along with important trace minerals and even antioxidant compounds. The collagen in bone broth can strengthen skin tissue and help reverse the underlying the causes of cellulite.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that patients taking 2.5 grams of bioactive collagen peptides (BCP) experienced “significant decrease in the degree of cellulite and a reduced skin waviness on thighs … regular ingestion of BCP over a period of 6 months led to a clear improvement of the skin appearance in women suffering from moderate cellulite.”
As expected, the results were most impressive in women who were overweight.
3. Take Anti-Cellulite Supplements
Certain supplements and nutrients can help keep your skin in tip-top shape:
- Bromelain and proteolytic enzymes — These systemic enzymes have been used with great success to fight inflammation and dissolve gatherings of cellular tissue. According to findings published in Biotech Research Journal, “studies demonstrate that bromelain exhibits various fibrinolytic, antiedematous, antithrombotic, and anti-inflammatory activities.” Uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, gallstones and cellulite may all be broken down more easily and eliminated with help from enzymes. Enzymes such as bromelain, serrapeptase and nattokwinase all have the ability to dissolve fibrinogen (the tissue that holds these unwanted formations together).
- Kola — This extract has been the subject of many cellulite studies and has shown some positive results. This is a caffeine-free herb that has relaxing properties and can be taken before bedtime. It works by helping improve the elasticity of the skin, while also making it thicker.
- Green coffee extract (which contains caffeine), African mango and fucoxanthin are additional supplements that offer similar benefits as those above. Caffeine has been shown to stimulate circulation and potentially help with fat-burning, so sources of caffeine are found in many cellulite supplements.
4. Exercise Regularly
Can exercises get rid of cellulite? Although long-distance cardio can be of value in boosting your metabolism and helping prevent obesity, doing interval training (also known as burst training) will likely be much more effective. That’s because intervals are more effective at adding muscle to your frame and helping tone you all over.
In 2011, a report published in the Journal of Obesity stated, “Emerging research examining high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE) indicates that it may be more effective at reducing subcutaneous and abdominal body fat than other types.”
Here are some quick facts and tips to keep in mind so you get the most benefits from your workouts:
- Look for a program that ideally combines burst cardio and resistance training. Aim for workouts that last between about 20 to 40 minutes a day.
- Interval or burst training is known to increase metabolism and burn calories long after (24–48 hours) your workout is over (known as the afterburn effect).
- Interval training incorporates short, intense exercises, such as sprinting, and then returns you to a cool-down period briefly. (This concept is also called high-intensity interval training, or HIIT.) If you’re targeting cellulite on your thighs and butt, try to incorporate moves like squats, lunges, donkey kicks and step backs.
- Two more effective strategies are weight training and isometric training – such as Barre, BarreAmped and Pilates. BarreAmped is an effective workout based on Pilates, dance, yoga and deep stretching. Together, these are helpful for toning the body. Here’s another perk: These come without the possible risks and only short-term benefits of liposuction.
5. Use Skin-Healing Essential Oils
Commercial or prescription cellulite creams can be ineffective or expensive (or both!) — plus the majority are full of chemicals that can aggravate your skin.
How do you get rid of cellulite on your legs fast? While it’s not a guarantee, try making your own natural homemade Grapefruit Cellulite Cream. The recipe uses fat-reducing grapefruit essential oil along with coconut oil to help hydrate the skin.
How does grapefruit oil help? Studies show that grapefruit essential oil contains large amounts of anti-inflammatory enzymes, such as bromelain, which help break down cellulite and prevent the formation of new fat cells (inhibits adipogenesis) below the skin in mammals.
6. Try Dry Brushing and Massage Therapy
By boosting blood flow and lymphatic drainage, dry brushing the skin and massage therapy treatments can potentially help manage cellulite. You may not notice a huge difference, but it can’t hurt and can have other benefits too (such as for stress, exfoliation, etc.).
Other Cellulite Treatments
In 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a prescription cellulite treatment called collagenase clostridium histolyticum-aaes (or CCH, also known as QWO). CCH is injected into the skin to help hydrolyze type I and III collagen, which improve skins elasticity and appearance. It’s used most often for reducing cellulite on the butt and thighs.
One double-blind, placebo-controlled trial published in Dermatologic Surgery found that QWO/CCH was effective for treating cellulite in adult women and was well-tolerated.
Other potential options for treating cellulite to consider include:
- Acoustic wave therapy (AWT), which uses pressure waves that impact cellulite within the skin. AWT affects protruding fat below the skin’s surface by impacting the layer of the skin called the fibrous septae. It helps break up collagen within the septae and reduces pulling on the skin, which makes the skin look smoother. It can also help new collagen form, which improves skin’s overall texture.
- Use of topical retinol creams on the skin, which promote skin cell turnover.
Dangers of Liposuction
Many women turn to liposuction (often termed “lipo”) in order to improve areas of dimpled skin (cellulite) around trouble spots like the thighs, hips, buttocks and abdomen. According to the ASPS, “Liposuction is used to rapidly slim and reshape specific areas of the body by removing excess fat deposits and improving body contours or proportion.”
Liposuction (vacuum-assisted or laser liposuction) is a surgical procedure, so it carries the same risks as many other medical or cosmetic treatments. Patients should be aware of the seriousness of undergoing liposuction, including potential consequences should the procedure go wrong.
Potential Side Effects of Liposuction:
While most patients only suffer bruising and swelling after liposuction, which thankfully usually heal over time, there is always the risk of more serious side effects occurring — including those that are mentally and physically painful.
Anyone undergoing anaesthesia during surgery is at risk of heart arrhythmia, adverse reaction to the drugs or even brain damage in extreme cases.
Is It True that Liposuction Fat Comes Back?
Recent research suggests that patients who have undergone liposuction treatment may find that their cellulite or body fat reappears within one year. Even more shocking? This fat reappears in a different place from which it was removed!
Researchers at the University of Colorado studied 32 patients: 14 had liposuction, and 18 did not (acting as the control group). None of the patients changed their lifestyles, and those who had liposuction found that while body fat decreased at first, it returned at a later time— especially around the abdomen and upper body.
It was not subcutaneous fat that returned either (the kind located just under the skin), but rather deeper, dangerous visceral fat, which is associated with many chronic diseases, including heart disease and early death.
How could this be? If you have fat removed from the hip area but continue to eat in a way that puts on extra pounds, the body continues to make and store new fat cells.
As the researchers put it, “We think the brain somehow knows how much fat is on board and responds [to liposuction] in a manner to regulate that weight. That’s why preventing obesity is so important.”
The bottom line on using liposuction as a cellulite treatment is even if you have this procedure, you also have to make permanent changes to your diet and/or physical activity level. Otherwise, more fat cells and cellulite are created and stored elsewhere on the body.
Risks and Side Effects
In some cases, cellulite isn’t overall harmful and is more of a concern for vanity reasons. However, sometimes cellulite may be due to underlying issues, like narrowing blood vessels and forcing water from the skin.
If your cellulite does not respond to the treatments above and suddenly becomes even more noticeable, have a dermatologist review your symptoms and risk factors. She or he can help rule out problems like lack of blood flow, which can be dangerous for people with heart or circulatory problems.
- Cellulite (aka orange peel skin or cottage cheese skin) is the appearance of lumpiness on the skin, usually due to sagging and an accumulation of fat under the skin’s surface.
- Factors that contribute to the development of cellulite include being overweight, eating a poor diet, fluid retention or dehydration, lack of circulation (blood flow), and weak collagen structure of the skin.
- Liposuction and lasers are two popular treatment options, but they don’t necessarily work long term.
- How do you reduce the appearance of cellulite? Maintaining a healthy body composition is important. Eating an unprocessed diet and trying HIIT workouts (interval training) are other good approaches.
- Additional treatment options for how to get rid of cellulite to try include applying grapefruit essential oil to skin, staying hydrated, consuming more collagen and taking natural supplements that support a healthy metabolism.