This post has been updated. It was originally published on December 30, 2019.
No one wants to hear that there’s no solution to the problem that vexes them. And while we might hate to admit it, we don’t want to find out that the solutions that do exist are time-consuming and difficult. Take our bodies, for example: Most of us want whatever our personal vision of a perfect physique is, and we want it yesterday. We want our cellulite to improve instantly. But easy fixes to our beauty wishes are like magic tricks—you’re willingly suspending your skepticism in order to believe in something better than reality. If you looked harder, you’d see the deception every time.
This is why it’s so easy to sell people—and unfortunately women in particular—expensive salves and bizarre contraptions designed to cure not just aesthetic problems, but insecurities too. We don’t buy cellulite cream because vaguely lumpy-looking skin is really that big of a problem. We buy it because we hope that if our cellulite disappears, self-confidence will replace it. Once your butt looks smooth, you’ll be able to wear that bikini you bought two years ago that always makes you feel too bloated. You’ll finally feel comfortable wearing shorts against all odds after years of misplaced insecurity about your thighs. You know how it works.
Cellulite is an especially easy “problem” to target because somewhere around 80 to 90 percent of women have it to some degree—and they’re virtually all made to feel insecure because of it. So when one of your Facebook friends shares a post about a glorified massager, claiming it cured their cellulite…you’re going to at least click the link, right? That’s how one woman sold her FasciaBlaster to the masses, even though there’s no evidence it works. And it’s not just useless, either. It’s reportedly left women with severe bruises. Here’s a tip: bruising is not a sign of healing. It’s not a sign that you’re whipping your body into the shape you want it to be. It’s not a sign of weakness leaving the body. Bruising is a sign that you’ve damaged your blood vessels.
Hundreds if not thousands of women fell for that bogus device, and it’s just one of many. Every women’s magazine out there has hawked similar “solutions” and none of them ever seem to work.
And trust us: it’s very likely that none of them ever will.
What is cellulite, and why can’t it be banished?
That’s just reality. Cellulite is a byproduct of the way many women’s bodies store fat. The little chambers in our skin that house fat cells look different between the sexes. Biological men tend to have a kind of criss-cross pattern to their connective tissue, whereas most female-bodied people have vertical columns. Those columns make it easy for fat clumps to poke up through the skin, creating that lovely lumpy texture associated with cellulite. Having lots of fat or loose, thin skin makes things worse, though even slim people can have cellulite (and often do). Everyone has some body fat—we need it to survive—so it’s impossible to eliminate the stuff.
That’s why so many so-called cellulite solutions claim to rearrange the fat or restructure the skin rather than eliminating body fat entirely. Dermatologists have lasers and needles that supposedly zap away the clumps. Skincare companies sell balms that purport to tighten your skin. Some magazines even suggest exfoliating washes, as if fat cells are dirt that you can simply scrub away.
[Related: The sexy secrets of body fat storage.]
None of these really work. Some of them will have minimal, short-term effects. Those treatments also happen to be the most expensive. Topical creams can’t even penetrate down to a deep enough layer to work, and that’s assuming that they could do anything in the first place. None of these “cures” actually cure anything. That’s just how your skin is structured.
Losing body fat will improve cellulite, but it won’t eliminate it
Excess fat definitely makes cellulite worse. Having more (or larger) fat cells exaggerates the lumps, so losing fat will help. But since, again, the issue is your skin structure, you won’t totally get rid of the cellulite look. You can jog on that elliptical for two hours a day and never rearrange a single fiber of your connective tissue’s structure.
Strengthening your muscles is the only (potential) cellulite treatment
Unlike all the other solutions, building muscle does actually have the potential to change how your body stores fat—or at least how it appears. You won’t fundamentally change those vertical columns in your connective tissue, but you can tighten an entire muscle group. Folks with that trusty Y chromosome don’t tend to get cellulite because their tissue is more interconnected, and doesn’t allow for large patches of fat to squeeze through. In theory, a strong muscle should mimic that fat-smoothing effect.
The caveat here is that there is alarmingly little research on whether strength training helps cellulite. Millions of dollars have been funneled into lasers and injections that don’t work, yet somehow no one has studied basic exercise principles. That being said, multiple dermatologists and cellulite experts recommend that patients lift weights if they’re determined to see real changes in their bumpy areas. So unlike the products advertised in your Facebook feed, strength training is actually worth a shot.
Weight training is important for women, too
Weight lifting has become more popular for women in the last few years, but there’s still a pervasive idea that somehow lifting instantly turns you into a stereotypically masculine bodybuilder. Let’s dispel this absurdity right now. Yes, lifting weights will give you bigger muscles. No, you will not look like a bodybuilder. It’s not like picking up a barbell will make your muscles swell up to ridiculous proportions—we all wish that it were that easy.
Heck, you don’t even need to bench press to get rid of your cellulite. It tends to develop on the upper thighs and butt, which you can strengthen by doing squats. Not those dinky air squats where you bounce up and down, mind you. We’re talking about real squats, where your butt gets below your knees and you have to squeeze your glutes to get back up. Not only will that likely improve your cellulite (though it’s not guaranteed to eliminate it), but you’ll also get a killer booty.
As a bonus, you’ll probably start to enjoy your body for something it can do, rather than what it looks like. Getting rid of your cellulite won’t magically make you self confident. But accomplishing something tough with your body? That might do the trick.