What is Cellulite?

What is Cellulite?

It may surprise you to learn that cellulite is often misunderstood, despite the fact that it effects up 95% of all women – and even some men!  Many people think that cellulite is an actual “thing”, when in reality it is just the visible symptom of a number of changes occurring in the lower layers of the skin.

Contrary to popular belief, cellulite is not caused by fat, and no amount of exercise will completely eliminate it.  There are three visible stages of cellulite, but changes in the skin begin to occur long before any visible changes are noticeable.  As we find with many things in life, the best way to explain cellulite is to start at the beginning.

Cellulite Formation

The changes in the dermal layer of skin that eventually cause the appearance of cellulite begin long before we see any visible changes on the skin’s surface.  The dermis accounts for 90% of the skin’s thickness, and is composed of a mesh of two linking proteins (collagen and elastin) that create supportive connective tissue.  This connective tissue provides essential support, not only for the epidermis and subcutaneous layers of the skin, but also for the many additional components of the dermis itself.  Among these components are the blood and lymph vessels, responsible for both nourishing the skin and carrying wastes away from the cells.

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The changes begin with the breakdown of collagen and elastin fibers in the dermis.  This creates a decrease in the amount of support available for the other layers of the skin, as well as for the many structures within the dermal layer itself.  The blood and lymph vessels begin to break down as a result, which in turn causes excess fluids and wastes to build up.  This increases the pressure in the tissue, and restricts circulation and lymphatic drainage even more.  Additionally, the support that usually keeps the subcutaneous layer of fat in place is weakened, and fat cells begin to clump together.  Cellulite in this phase in virtually undetectable, but there are a few subtle indicators:

  • cuts and bruises take longer to heal
  • the skin bruises more easily
  • discoloration
  • broken veins

How Many Types of Cellulite Are There?

Though you may have heard that there are two “forms” of cellulite, this is actually misinformation.  Cellulite formation occurs in three stages, and these “forms” are simply physical symptoms of the same condition at different stages of development:

status protursis curtis: This “form” of cellulite, also known as “Stage 1 Cellulite”, is visible only when skin is squeezed between the fingers.

dermo-panniclosis deformans: This “form” describes both “Stage 2” and “Stage 3” of the cellulite process, when cellulite is clearly visible to the naked eye.

These do not represent two different “types” of cellulite, but rather different stages of cellulite that each portray certain characteristics.

Stage 1 Cellulite

In this phase, also known as “soft” cellulite (or status protursis curtis), we begin to see visible changes to the skin.  These changes aren’t visible to the naked eye yet, but are detected only when pinching the skin.

At this point, the breakdown occurring in the dermis has reached a turning point.  Collagen and elastin continue to break down, as do the blood and lymph vessels, and the vital nutrients that the skin needs to retain its structure are lost.  Consequently, the epidermis gets dehydrated and begins to lose its elasticity.  Fluid continues to build as well, weakening the dermis even further.  The weakened dermal layer can no longer hold the fat cells of the subcutaneous layer in place, and some fat cells now begin to move upward while continuing to clump together.

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Stage 2 Cellulite

This stage marks the beginning of “hard” cellulite (or dermo-panniclosis deformans) – often dubbed as “cottage cheese” or “orange peel” skin – when cellulite becomes visible to the naked eye.  Cellulite at this phase is now visible when standing, but not when lying down.

As the aforementioned skin components continue to break down even further, we see a new development in this stage.  The dermal layer is so damaged at this point that the fat cells, which started to clump together and move upward in the previous stages, are now banded together by septae (fibrous connective tissues), which begin to harden.  These bundles of fat cells continue to move upward, and the excess fluid that has accumulated pushes the walls of the fat chambers upwards as well, causing visible bumps to appear on the surface of the skin in a standing position.

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Stage 3 Cellulite

The final stage of cellulite, also known as “hard” cellulite (or dermo-panniclosis deformans), is the full-blown “orange peel” or “cottage cheese” stage.  By this stage, cellulite is now visible at all times – standing, sitting, and lying down.

As this point, the dermis and epidermis are so weakened they can no longer hold their proper shapes, and the septa-banded fat cells continue to rise and create deformities on the skin’s surface.  Additionally, the septa have now hardened around the fat cells, and are almost impossible to eliminate without the help of combined laser and radiofrequency treatments, like Velashape.  When attempting to reduce the appearance of cellulite, adding lymphatic massage treatments like Endermologie will help to accelerate the healing process by increasing circulation.  These treatments are effective for all stages of cellulite.

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