About 90% of women have cellulite: bumpy fat deposits that are visible under skin[*].
Not only is a bit of cellulite completely normal — especially in women — it does seem to cause some psychological distress; an effect compounded by a beauty-obsessed culture.
Cellulite is a more complex condition than you might think. It’s driven by hormones, metabolism, inflammation, age, genes, diet, and lifestyle.
And despite what beauty companies and clickbait articles might tell you, there isn’t an “easy fix.”
That said, there are things you can do about cellulite that actually work.
Today, you’ll learn the science behind cellulite, and how to naturally reduce cellulite and build stronger skin tissue with weight loss, muscle tone, burning excess fat, and a diet plan high in the best foods to target collagen production and make cellulite disappear.
Cellulite describes the dimpling of skin that appears, most frequently, on the buttocks and thighs[*]. It can also appear less frequently on the underarm and abdominal areas.
Cellulite is the result of a disruption in your skin’s collagen matrix. It happens in women more often than in men, and can be due to hormonal, circulatory, and sometimes genetic reasons[*].
These dimples can appear anywhere that fat collects on your body. Cellulite usually shows up in women between the ages of 25 to 35. The condition is not discriminating and affects both young and old, fat and thin[*].
Cellulite isn’t dangerous. In fact, it’s quite normal; cellulite affects more than 90% of women.
Nonetheless, a lot of people don’t like the way cellulite looks, and it’s even treated as an illness[*].
There are four grades of cellulite:
- Grade Zero: No visible cellulite
- Grade One: Cellulite becomes visible when you pinch skin
- Grade Two: Visible cellulite on legs when standing
- Grade Three: Visible cellulite when lying down
There are three main things that contribute to cellulite:
- Fat metabolism: Women with cellulite have decreased lipolysis (break down of fat) and increased lipogenesis (build-up of fat)[*]
- Skin collagen integrity: The layer of collagen protein that keeps your skin elastic can get distressed or damaged. When your skin’s collagen integrity decreases, irregular fat dimples poke through more easily[*]
- Circulation: Women with cellulite often have decreased blood flow, which may contribute to fat formation and collagen disruption
These three imbalances are the direct causes of cellulite, but the best way to address them is to figure out why the imbalances happened.
Here are a few behind-the-scenes causes of cellulite. They also explain why women are nine times more likely to get cellulite than men are.
#1 Estrogen Imbalances
Hormonal fluctuations drive cellulite formation[*]. The main hormones at play are estrogens, the female sex hormones. Estrogen, by the way, is not just one hormone, but a group of hormones including:
Going forward, this group of hormones will simply be referred to as estrogen.
In women, estrogen levels rise during puberty and fall precipitously after menopause. Young women often have high estrogen (hyperestrogenism), and postmenopausal women often have low estrogen (hypoestrogenism).
Both high and low estrogen can drive cellulite formation.
Low Estrogen and Cellulite
As women approach menopause (typically between the ages of 40 and 60), estrogen levels decline. This hormonal decline decreases blood circulation[*].
With reduced circulation, less blood gets to the skin. This means less blood is available to help form collagen fibers — the backbones of connective tissue. Decreased estrogen leads to less skin blood flow, fewer collagen fibers, and an increased risk of cellulite.
High Estrogen Can Cause Fat Storage
Unlike the fat-burning male sex hormone testosterone, estrogen is a fat-storage hormone. This hormonal difference explains, in part, why women have more body fat than men. It might also explain differences in cellulite appearance.
Estrogen causes fat retention by stimulating lipogenesis, the enlargement of fat cells. In the presence of estrogen, fat cells add extra lipids and grow bigger[*].
It’s common for estrogen levels to get too high in women. This is called estrogen dominance, and these women are at higher risk for developing cellulite[*].
The risk for estrogen dominance is partly driven by estrogen-mimicking compounds in modern life. Soy and bisphenol A (BPA) are the two most ubiquitous offenders.
High estrogen can affect men as well. In fact, men receiving estrogen therapy to treat prostate cancer are more likely to develop cellulite[*].
#2 Different Skin Structures
Researchers have found that men and women have different skin structures at the microscopic level[*].
Men’s skin has a cross-linking lattice of connective tissue. Fat is unlikely to poke through these tight junctions and create the appearance of cellulite.
Women, on the other hand, have fewer cross-links in their skin matrices. Picture a colander with larger holes. This means dimples are more likely to poke through the gaps and cause ripples in the skin.
There’s a hereditary component to cellulite. Some genes hurt — polymorphisms (variations) in a gene called ACE can impair blood flow to connective tissue, increasing cellulite risk.
Other genes help. Variations in a gene called HIF1A seem to reduce cellulite risk by protecting against skin inflammation and the oxygen starvation of tissue[*].
You don’t pick your genes, of course, but you can take steps to control the next cause of cellulite.
Inflammation refers to the immune response that helps you fight off a cold or heal a cut.
But chronic, low-level inflammation — driven by eating sugar and vegetable oils, poor sleep, and a host of other factors — means your inflammation response stays activated, increasing the risk for most major chronic diseases[*][*].
Cellulite isn’t a chronic disease, but nonetheless: certain immune cells, like macrophages and lymphocytes, have been found in the cellulite tissue of affected patients[*].
Decreasing inflammation may decrease your risk of forming cellulite.
Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, has a vast influence on the human body. Many of your cells have cortisol receptors, meaning their function is influenced by stress levels[*].
You want the right amount of cortisol. It wakes you up in the morning and keeps you alert for crises. Cortisol is useful when the car in front of you stops short, for example.
But chronically high cortisol, driven by chronic stress, poor diet choices, and lack of sleep can have negative effects — and not just on your state of mind.
High cortisol, in fact, signals your liver to release glucose into your bloodstream, increasing blood sugar levels as part of the “fight or flight” response[*].
#6 Tight Clothing
Tight clothing may impair blood flow to your skin, which could interfere with your collagen production and promote cellulite.
“Many women wear regular underwear with elastic across the buttocks,” said cellulite expert Dr. Lionel Bissoon during an interview with Scientific American[*]. “When you see panty lines, it’s cutting off circulation—just think what it’s doing to your body.”
The rise of cellulite, it seems, parallels the rise of tight clothing.
“Cellulite didn’t become a problem until the 1970s and 1980s when diet and activity and underwear started changing,” Bissoon is quoted as saying.
Bissoon goes on to say that, back in the 20s — before the rise of tight underwear — women had far less cellulite.
#7 Sedentary Lifestyle
Early humans were always moving. When they made camp, nobody had the luxury of lounging around. It was either squat, stand, or sit on a pointy rock.
This may have been uncomfortable, but it kept blood flowing to their muscles and connective tissue. Sitting for long periods, however, compresses blood vessels, atrophies muscles, and increases fat storage.
If you’re at an office job all day, staying in your chair could contribute to cellulite.
Here are the most common conventional treatments for cellulite:
- Liposuction: This “sucking out” of fat leaves behind unsightly dimples[*]
- Subcision: An invasive, subcutaneous fat-shearing technique with little objective data supporting its efficacy[*]
- Laser: The use of radio frequencies to break down skin collagen, which then heals back stronger. Long-term effects are unknown[*].
- Endermologie: Employs a suction massage machine, which practitioners claim restores circulation and improves cellulite appearance. Controlled trials have not supported these claims[*].
- Phosphatidylcholine injections: These injections are designed to destroy subcutaneous fat cells, but there’s little evidence they work — and the side effects (swelling, infection, and discomfort) are undesirable[*]
- Creams: Caffeine creams may stimulate lipolysis, but there’s no evidence they reduce cellulite. Other creams, such as retinoids, are said to promote better skin density, but most trials have found no effect on cellulite[*].
A recent meta-analysis of conventional cellulite treatments found that, by and large, they’re either ineffective or actively promote cellulite[*].
The best way to get rid of cellulite is to change your lifestyle. It’s harder work than getting injections or liposuction, but it’s also more effective.
Here are 5 ways to get rid of cellulite naturally:
Cellulite involves problems with fat storage, collagen structure, and circulation.
Exercise improves all three. For instance, not only does working out promote lipolysis directly, but it also improves insulin sensitivity. Less excess insulin means less lipogenesis and less cellulite.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the best workout for increasing insulin sensitivity[*]. It’s also a great way to burn a lot of fat in a short amount of time.
Other forms of exercise, like strength training, may also help with cellulite reduction. By building and strengthening muscle, you’re also building and strengthening connective tissue. More lean mass, less cellulite.
Focus on the troublesome areas — like the buttocks and thighs — by doing squats, leg raises, or lunges.
#2 Get A Massage
Most everyone loves a massage. The sensation of touch releases oxytocin, a feel-good chemical that helps you de-stress[*].
Massage also helps increase circulation and can alter your skin-based connective tissue.
Some research has found that massage can reduce the appearance of cellulite dimples. This effect, however, seems to be temporary[*].
#3 Wear Comfortable Clothing
Dr. Bissoon, if you recall, partly blames tight clothing for the recent uptick in the incidence of cellulite.
Compressive, elastic clothing disrupts natural circulation, causing skin collagen to break down[*]. This could increase the risk of cellulite forming.
Bissoon’s solution is simple enough: wear looser fitting clothing. At the very least, avoid the worst offenders in your closet — the garments that really squeeze certain areas.
“I tell people,” Bissoon is quoted as saying, “the most important preventive thing you can do, if you can’t afford treatment, is change your [style of] underwear”[*].
#4 Supplement Collagen
Collagen is the main protein in your skin, joints, and ligaments. Your cells make collagen with glycine, proline, lysine, vitamin C, and a host of other collagen precursors.
Once formed, collagen is shuttled off to repair skin, heal wounds, and build cartilage[*].
Collagen production, however, declines with age — partially explaining why you’re more likely to get cellulite the older you get. Fortunately, research shows collagen supplements can help.
In a 2014 randomized controlled trial (RCT), 114 women were given either 2.5 grams collagen peptides or 2.5 grams placebo once daily for eight weeks. At the end of the study, the collagen group had fewer wrinkles and increased collagen synthesis[*].
In another recent RCT, scientists gave 105 women with moderate cellulite either collagen or placebo for sixth months[*]. When the data was collected, cellulite was markedly reduced in the treatment group.
“Based on the current data,” write the researchers, “it can be concluded that a long-term therapy with orally administered [bovine collagen peptides] leads to an improvement of cellulite and has a positive impact on skin health.”
Look for a high-quality hydrolyzed collagen supplement from grass-fed cows, free of sugars and artificial flavors.
#5 Try Conjugated Linoleic Acid
Conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, is an antioxidant found in grass-fed beef and grass-fed dairy products. In several trials, CLA supplementation has been shown to reduce body fat[*].
Along these lines, some data indicates that CLA supplements can improve cellulite appearance[*].
For your reference, here’s a list of ten keto foods that support healthy, elastic skin and may decrease cellulite:
- Grass-fed foods like grass-fed ghee, butter, and beef are rich in CLA for fat and cellulite reduction
- Collagen protein supports collagen synthesis and improves skin health[*]
- MCT Oil may reduce body fat and stimulate ketone production in the liver[*]
- Oily fish like salmon, sardines, and anchovies are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA) to reduce inflammation and prevent inflammation-induced obesity[*]
- Green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, and chard are rich in folate for the generation of new cells, including skin cells[*]
- Avocados contain monounsaturated fat and full-spectrum vitamin E for healthy skin and free radical sequestration[*]
- Olive oil has monounsaturated fat and vitamin E
- Green tea has compounds called catechins that increase fat metabolism[*]
- Lemons are low in carbs and rich in vitamin C for collagen formation[*]
- Nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, and macadamias are both nutrient dense, full of healthy fats, and a great snack on a low-carb diet. Try nut butter for a tasty change of pace.
For a full list of keto-approved foods for your cellulite diet, check out this comprehensive post.
Most women have some degree of cellulite. It’s totally normal, and not a sign of ill-health.
Treating cellulite comes down to reducing fat storage, strengthening connective tissue, and improving circulation.
Little things can go a long way. Exercise, collagen supplementation, non-restrictive clothes, and CLA all may help reduce the formation and appearance of dimples.
Diet can help too. The ketogenic diet reduces fat via several mechanisms, making it an obvious candidate for future trials on cellulite reduction.
Use these tips to decrease cellulite and promote healthy, elastic skin.