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At some point in their lives, most women - and some men - are bothered to a degree by cellulite, the lumpy substance that makes skin on the thighs and buttocks look like cottage cheese. Although its name may make it sound like a medical condition, cellulite is nothing more than normal fat beneath the skin. The fat appears bumpy because it pushes against the connective tissue beneath the skin, causing the skin above it to pucker.

Although the cellulite is not harmful, many women are willing to go to great lengths to get rid of cellulite, creating a big market for cellulite creams and other treatments promising smooth thighs and buttocks.

Cellulite causes

Even though cellulite is fat, having it doesn't mean you are overweight. Even thin people can have cellulite. If you are overweight, however, losing weight may reduce cellulite.

Being a woman makes you more likely to develop cellulite. Genes also play an important role. If other women in your family have cellulite, there's a good chance you will too. Other factors that influence the amount of cellulite you have and how visible it is include:

Cellulite treatments

Although there are many products and treatments that promise to get rid of cellulite on thighs and buttocks, there is little evidence that any of them work well - or for long. Here's what you should know about some of the different options:

Cellulite creams. Touted to dissolve fat and smooth the skin, many cellulite creams contain aminophylline, a prescription medication approved for treating asthma. There is no scientific evidence these creams are effective against cellulite, and for some people they can be harmful. Their apparent effect on cellulite may be due to narrowing blood vessels and forcing water from the skin, which could be dangerous for people with circulatory problems. Furthermore, aminophylline can cause an allergic reaction in some people.

Liposuction. A surgical procedure to remove fat deposits from the body, liposuction is designed to remove deep fat, not cellulite, which is just beneath the skin. There is debate over its effectiveness, and some cosmetic and plastic surgeons warn that liposuction may actually make the appearance of cellulite worse by creating more depressions in the skin.

Mesotherapy. A therapy originally developed by a French doctor to relieve pain of inflammatory skin conditions, mesotherapy involves injecting substances such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes into the tissue just beneath the skin. Although mesotherapy may break down fat and bring a slight improvement in the appearance of cellulite, it also carries a risk of adverse effects including swelling, infection and irregular contours.

Massage and spa treatments. Massage and other spa treatments may have a temporary affect on the dimpling appearance of skin, but they do not remove cellulite. Any effect is short-lived and probably due to the removal of excess fluid.

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