Anti-aging & Cosmeceutical Corner

Cellulite and Skin Aging

August 4, 2008

Some market watchers estimate that American women spend nearly $6 billion a year trying to banish cellulite.1 That number may be high, but it demonstrates that the market is enormous and will continue to grow dramatically in the coming years. Today only a small percentage of women have tapped into the market’s products and treatment options, but as products get better and treatments become more effective, more and more women enter the marketplace. In fact, almost 40% of women believe getting rid of cellulite will boost their self-confidence.2
Scientists at Archet Hospital,3 in Nice, France conducted a study to identify the characteristics of cellulite in women of different ages and to learn if cellulite could interfere with aging. They reported that population with cellulite presents earlier stage ageing characteristics than the control population. Well this association is intriguing because how could localized cellulite induce overall skin aging? I think more research will provide additional information.

What is Cellulite?

Preventing cellulite is impossible, yet there are numerous cosmeceutical and medical approaches for its treatment.
Cellulite is the cutaneous dimpling of the thighs, buttocks and hips that is seen predominantly in women. The structural differences in fat architecture between sexes account for its appearance. According to Dr. Mathew Avram, director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Dermatology, Laser and Cosmetic Center in Boston, cellulite affects 85% of women and is a result of natural fat distribution most likely caused by hormones. According to Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., a dermatologist in Washington DC, those dimples affect the psyche of women and nearly two out of three women say having cellulite is worse than having wrinkles. Though cellulite is normal, many people are desperate to get rid of it, spawning an industry that ranges from creams to suction machines. The market is inundated with products (Table 1) and treatment methods to improve the skin dimpling that somehow just appeared overnight.

Luckily, cellulite treatments (Table 2) are getting better all the time. According to Ms. Carole Walderman, president, Von Lee International School of Aesthetics in Baltimore, cellulite is a combination of fat globules, waste matter and water imprisoned in connective tissue. Women are genetically predisposed to develop cellulite since it is the body’s way of storing fat. In men, fat is stored differently.

Causes of Cellulite

Cellulite forms when the skin’s connective tissues are overcome by progressive fat accumulation in specific areas of the body. According to Howard Murad, the actual cause of cellulite occurs internally with the weakening of the skin cells and connective tissue. Cellulite and stretch marks are caused by skin that has deteriorated and dehydrated to the point where buoyant fat cells trapped just below the skin are able to push into the dermis, the middle layer and the skin and show through the surface. Fat cells increase in size and their membranes become distorted and lose their shape. This results in a dimpling appearance and is further impaired by the build up of toxins within the connective tissues. There are several factors that contribute to the causes of cellulite. Some of these factors are age, genetics, body fat percentage, hydration levels, coffee consumption and smoking habits. In the skin, there are tough strands of fibrous tissues that connect the skin to the rest of the body called the “septa.” This septa anchors at certain points, similar to a net. This net of fibrous septa-tissue exists above the layer of fat in the body. However, fat sometimes makes its way through the holes in this net of fibrous tissue, thus plumping the fat outward. This plumping of fat causes the “cottage cheese” resemblance of cellulite. Many times, even if a woman has a very low body fat percentage, if the skin around that area is pinched, some cellulite can still remain visible. However, most women probably care about cellulite when it is visible without pinching.4 The make up of the strands of fibrous tissue in men and women are different. Also, the fibrous tissue may be tighter in women, which would cause a much more pronounced plumping effect in women in comparison to men.


Some Misperceptions

The top three myths surrounding cellulite, include:

    1. Cellulite is a fat problem. Contrary to popular opinion, cellulite is not the result of too much fat in your body.
    2. Cellulite can be reduced through exercise and weight loss. When you lose weight, the percentage of body fat decreases, but there is no measurable loss of cellulite.
    3. Skinny women do not have cellulite. Even the thinnest women have some layer of fat between their muscles and skin, and everybody has the bands that the fat can push through.
    According to Richard Felten, senior reviewer and photobiologist with the General Surgical Devices Branch of the FDA, there are no FDA-approved cellulite treatment devices. However FDA has granted companies 510(K) permission to market devices as a treatment to temporarily improve the appearance of cellulite.

Topical Ingredients

A typical cream has many ingredients in its mixture, so it is difficult to determine which ingredient actually produces the benefit. Look for creams that contain caffeine, which is believed to drain water from the fat cells and retinol which tones and firms the skin. Yale dermatologist Lisa Donofrio recommends Jergens Skin Firming moisturizer ($5.99) or RoC’s Retinol Actif pur ($18.99). These products exert their efficacy by penetrating the epidermis and the dermis and dissolve the excess fatty tissue. The most commonly used active ingredients include various plant extracts, camphor, eucalyptus, nicotinate, caffeine, palmitoyl pentapeptide-3, AHA, retinoids, green tea and algae. The list also includes methyl xanthines. Many brands are also adding the same collagen-boosting ingredients such as peptides normally found in face creams. The methyl xanthine class of compounds includes theophylline, which is derived from tea leaves and is also produced synthetically. The second compound is caffeine, which is also present in coffee, tea, cola and guarana. The third compound is aminophylline, which is also used as a medicine to treat asthma. These substances have specific effect on fat cells. They break down and dissolve the fat in the cells. It is important to point out that, from time to time, conflicting reports on the use of these substances are published in the literature. Other ingredients include hedera helix, an oily-based extract of ivy which has a decongesting effect on the tissue. Extract of wild chestnut plant strengthens the walls of the veins and also helps prevent the formation of thick cellulite fibers. Caffeine contained in a cream encourages the release of fat into the blood stream. Silicium helps circulation and also stimulates the beta receptors on the surface of the fat cells to aid fat removal.

Dietary Supplements

By adding key skin hydrating and cell fortifying nutrients in the diet, skin gets rehydrated and rejuvenated. A variety of ingredients such as ginkgo biloba, sweet clover, grape seed bioflavanoids, bladder wrack extract, oil of evening primrose, fish oil, soy, lecithin, horse tail extract, artichoke and seaweeds are found to be helpful. Concepts such as: “metabolism,” “circulation” and “cell damage” cannot be easily measured. Because the products are sold as dietary supplements, they are not subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


    1. Skin and Aging, October 2005
    2. Survey of 167 Women by Opinion Research Corporation
    3.     Cellulite and Skin Aging, Ortone J P et al Eur. Acad. Derm. July 22 (7) 2008
    4. Discover the Truth about Cellulite. Johnny Lavot
    5. Dream Creams, Self, July 2008 (Table 1)
    6. 6 Cellulite Fighters, Fitness, June 2008 (Table 2)

Navin Geria is vice president of research and development for SpaDermaceuticals, Martinsville, NJ. He has more than 30 years of experience in the personal care industry and was previously with Pfizer, Warner-Lambert, Schick, Bristol-Myers and, most recently, LeDerma Consumer Products Laboratories. He has earned over 15 U.S. patents, has been published in cosmetic trade magazines and has been both a speaker and moderator at cosmetic industry events. E-mail: tokuho02@