What Causes Cellulite?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Cellulite is a condition that is characterized by a dimpling, puckering, or “orange peel” appearance of the skin that is most commonly seen on the thighs and buttocks.

Cellulite is seen in 85% to 98% of all women after puberty and is rare among men. The condition is caused by uneven movement of the fibrous cords that connect the skin to the muscles underneath. As fat accumulates, some of the cords press against the skin while others pull down, causing an irregular, dimpling effect.

Weight gain can increase the visibility of cellulite but the condition can also be seen in lean individuals.

Risk factors for cellulite development

  • Female gender - Cellulite is significantly more common in women than in men. In men, the condition is only seen among those who have deficiencies of male hormones. Compared with men, the fat in females is more densely distributed in the thighs, buttocks and hip areas where cellulite is most likely to occur. Estrogen is also thought to play a role in the formation of cellulite, although evidence to support this is lacking.
  • Aging - Cellulite is more likely to occur with aging, as the skin gradually loses its elasticity.
  • Hormonal factors - Hormones are thought to play an important role in the formation of cellulite. Aside form estrogen, other hormones including insulin, adrenaline, noradrenaline, thyroid hormone and prolactin are all thought to contribute to the development of cellulite.
  • Genetics - Research suggests a genetic element to cellulite and has pointed at mutations in the angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) gene as causative of the condition, for example.
  • Stress - A stressful lifestyle is thought to raise the levels of the catecholamines adrenalin and noradrenaline which are thought to be involved in the development of cellulite.
  • Inflammation - An inflammatory basis for the pathogenesis of cellulite has been suggested. One study reported that macrophages and lymphocytes were dispersed throughout the fibrous septae of cellulite biopsies.

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Feb 6, 2014

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