It is one of the most common, and yet widely complained about, aesthetic conditions for women. Cellulite is a skin condition that affects up to 98% of women. It involves multiple systems in the body—making it hard to treat1—but on a basic level: It is caused by2 fibrous bands that connect muscles to skin. When fat deposits push against the skin, it causes a rippling or bulging effect since those fibrous bands are pulling the skin down in the dimpled areas. It primarily appears in the thighs, buttocks, or stomach. Even though the condition has to do with fat cells, it is not only present in those who are overweight, but you are also genetically predisposed to it.
6 ways you can reduce it naturally:
To start, it's important that we highlight "reduce": Nothing below will magically rid yourself of cellulite entirely. Because it's genetically linked and because of the tricky structure explained above, completely eliminating or preventing it is nearly impossible1.
Also of note is that these treatments must be done consistently to see the effects3—and said effects will diminish if you stop the treatments. (Think of it as akin to skin care: You can't wash your face once and expect your face to be clean forever.) Even if you get medical, in-office treatments, there is a good chance that cellulite will start to reappear over time4: One of the most sophisticated medical treatments available, Cellfina (a treatment in which the fibrous bands are manually cut underneath the skin), has mild effects and lasts about three years.
Caffeine creams or scrubs
There are a plethora of topical creams out claiming to soothe and smooth bumpy body skin—and while it's always important to keep your skin hydrated regardless, there are few backed-by-science ingredients that will reduce cellulite's appearance. Caffeine, however, is thought to dehydrate cells, making the appearance less bumpy. In this small study5, researchers found that applying water-soluble caffeine twice daily has the ability to penetrate the dermis, reducing the appearance of cellulite within six weeks. Caffeine is thought to help by improving blood flow to the area and tightening skin, although the exact mechanism is not understood. Of note, 57% of study participants experienced skin irritation from the caffeine cream.
Another topical ingredient that's been studied on the area is retinoids, an active derived from vitamin A best known in skin care for targeting aging and acne. However, in this study6, volunteers who used the 0.3% topical cream showed improvement—increased blood flow and improved skin density were also both reported. And while many retinoids are synthetic, natural versions and alternatives are becoming more mainstream.
Lymphatic massage techniques seem to be incredibly effective at reducing the appearance, as shown in two7 studies involving manual and mechanical lymph8 massage. Since lymphatic stimulation increases circulation throughout the body, that likely has an effect on the skin condition. The problem? In both of these small studies, subjects had to stick to a pretty strict and intensive regimen: Each study required patients to undergo at least three treatments a week, with one study's treatment lasting for four hours per daily session.
Bioactive collagen peptide
In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study9, women who had moderate cellulite took a daily dose of 2.5 grams of bioactive collagen peptides, which led to an enhanced skin appearance, with fewer signs of waves and dimples.* It's thought that improved elasticity helps the reduction of cellulite because the fibrous bands are able to stretch more. Moreover, the supplements supported skin health overall: Dermal density—or how thick or thin the skin is—improved.* (As a general rule, thicker skin is healthier skin.) Within the study, it took about six months to see full results.
Toning muscles and weight loss
This is a tricky one: We know that any size of person can have cellulite, and that even though this has to do with fat cells, it's not directly related to a person's weight. However, research does suggest10 that improved muscle definition and weight loss in the area can help reduce the appearance of cellulite11. (It does so by increasing muscle tone, which can diminish the bumpy appearance of fat cells, as well as just generally making the area appear firmer and smoother.) But that same research also shows that in some cases, weight loss increased the appearance of cellulite, as the skin was looser, especially in women with a lower initial body mass index.
Purely anecdotal, but many women claim that having tanned skin helps blur the appearance of cellulite. And while we don't recommend you go sunbathe, natural self-tanners have gained popularity—and are quite effective, without being streaky or orange as you can read here.
Heal Your Skin.
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Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.