Knowing what causes cellulite can be a powerful tool to help you understand how best to prevent it and decrease its appearance on your skin.

There are a myriad of different products – lotions, potions, gadgets, treatments, therapies – (you name it, it probably exists) out there that claim to be able to help win the battle against cellulite, but the sad truth is that a lot of these are just gimmicks hiding behind the guise of flashy marketing, and most do not actually work to reduce cellulite at all.

Cellulite product gimmick
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Understanding the root causes behind cellulite, and how it actually forms in the body, will help you to filter out some of the hype and drill down into which products will actually work to help you get rid of cellulite.

The Main Factors That Cause Cellulite

Cellulite is almost instantly recognizable, but you may have noticed that some people have it and others don’t. There is also variation in how noticeable cellulite can appear, and also where it is located on the body. Why do we see these things happening?

Why do some people and areas of the body have cellulite but not others? Because of variation between individuals.

Firstly, it is important to recognize that there is a great deal of variation in the human species when it comes to the physical body. Short, tall, fat, thin – these are all variations, but individual variations also filter down even further to specific traits that can affect the severity of cellulite, such as:

  • how much fat the body stores beneath the skin,
  • the thickness of the skin structure,
  • how supportive or elastic the skin structure is,
  • how well the body eliminates excess tissue fluids,
  • and so on.

There are a few main factors that we know can predispose an individual to cellulite, which means that they are more likely to be affected by cellulite.

The Main Causes of Cellulite


Genetics code your entire being. The genes you inherit from your parents determine everything from how you look to certain facets of your personality.

Physical traits are hereditary, and that includes cellulite. While it is not believed that cellulite itself is inherited, the structure of your skin and subcutaneous fat layers have genetic factors that are passed down from your parents. Thus, if your mother has cellulite because of a thin, inelastic dermis, you may be more susceptible to cellulite also if you have inherited the same thin skin structure. Note that you inherit your genes from both parents, so while males don’t usually have cellulite, you may or may not inherit cellulite causing factors like thin skin from your paternal side.


Hormones are natural chemicals synthesized by our bodies that are used to signal changes in the body, and cellulite is also triggered by certain hormones. Specific hormones that have been linked to cellulite formation include the female hormones estrogen and prolactin, adrenaline and noradrenaline. The theory that estrogen triggers cellulite formation is further strengthened when we look at when cellulite tends to form in females – typically around puberty when these hormone levels increase.

This is also why some women present with cellulite during and after pregnancy, a time when the body’s hormonal profile changes drastically.

Men typically are rarely affected by cellulite (due to the lack of estrogen), and even then it is usually only those who have hormone disorders which result in low levels of male hormones that may begin to manifest the symptoms of cellulite.


The body may be hardcoded by our genetic material, but it is our environment that ultimately affects how our genes are expressed. Lifestyle factors can have a big effect on the appearance and severity of cellulite. Stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, poor hydration, poor nutrition, smoking, restrictive clothing and a sedentary lifestyle are just some habits which can have a drastically negative effect on how bad your cellulite can appear.

What Causes the Appearance of Cellulite?

Subcutaneous fat bulging through from underneath the skin structure is what causes cellulite to be so irregular and bumpy in its appearance. The properties of the skin is closely related to the appearance of cellulite so it is important to understand the anatomy of the skin and how it relates to the severity of the appearance of any cellulite.

what causes cellulite
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Cellulite itself is somewhat controversial in the scientific community. Some experts are of the opinion that it does not exist as a specialist condition and that ‘cellulite’ is simply a normal presentation of fat in the human body. Others believe that cellulite is in fact a specific disorder.

An Understanding of the Skin Structure

The skin is formed from several layers, and connective tissue called collagen within the skin layers adds strength and elasticity to the skin. Cellulite forms when subcutaneous fat which sits just beneath the top layer of the skin expands and bulges out, forming the unsightly unevenness we know as cellulite.

Males don’t tend to get cellulite as commonly as women because their skin is much thicker and the pattern of connective tissue anchor points forms a different mesh – one that tends to hold in any subcutaneous fat beneath the surface of the skin and keep everything looking smooth from the surface.

Cause of cellulite
image credit: Keeganhurd via Wikimedia Commons cc

Certain factors can worsen cellulite and make it appear more noticeable. The appearance of cellulite has been graded into different categories depending on how noticable it is, and you can check against this scale how bad your cellulite really is.

Avoid Making Your Cellulite Look Worse

Factors which can increase the severity of cellulite, making your cellulite areas appear more dimply include:

  • Water retention
  • Poor circulation
  • Increase in weight
  • Alcohol
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lack of sleep

Now that you know about what actually causes cellulite, you are much better armed to evaluate the effectiveness of possible treatments to get rid of it. To treat cellulite, it is important to understand the mechanism behind any treatment and compare this against the way cellulite forms to ensure it makes sense. Learn some tips for how to get rid of your cellulite here.

What Causes Cellulite?
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