What Is Cellulite?

Cellulite makes everybody uneasy – from the woman who worries about her orange peel thighs to the British or American ‘obesity expert’ intent on proving that fat is fat, cellulite is nothing more than a figment of foolish women’s imagination, and what any woman with lumpy thighs should do is get down to a good old calorie-controlled diet to shed it. Even staunch feminists who write hard-hitting polemics about the coercion of women by the beauty industry get het up about cellulite. It is, they insist, something invented by fashion magazines to make women feel bad about themselves.

Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of women with the problem bemoan their fate at having contracted a “nonexistent” condition and hope that if only they spend a little more money or endure a little more discomfort from one of the high-tech treatments – being pricked with multi-injector syringes or subjected to brutal pummeling for instance – it will make her legs smooth, sleek and svelte.

banishing disbelief

I’ve seen medical papers from all over Europe and America on cellulite, its cause and its development as well as proposed solutions to this lumpy bumpy flesh which can mar the thighs of even the leanest women. As of this moment literally hundreds of medical references to cellulite exist, some of them going back a hundred and fifty years.

Next time someone tries to tell you you are imagining pea d’orange thighs smile knowingly and ignore them.

None of the theories, analyses and descriptions of elaborate chemical treatments for cellulite have the full answer. In part this is because cellulite is a difficult condition to study in vivo – within the body of a woman who has it – since this means performing a biopsy of the tissue which is a painful medical process. In part it is because cellulite is a many-facetted syndrome with no single cause and no single effective treatment.

what is cellulite?

A misnomer catchall word used to describe the orange peel syndrome, cellulite is a cosmetic defect which results in jodhpur thighs and what is known as the ‘mattress phenomenon’ – that is pitting, bulging, and deformation of the skin on the thighs, hips, and abdomen (sometimes even arms and shoulders too) when subjected to a ‘pinch test’.

In the medical literature, cellulite has been called a variety of things from mesenchymal disease to cellulitic dermo-hypodermosis, edemato-fibrosclerotic panniculopathy and, most recently, panniculosis and liposclerosis. A condition which by any name smells as odious, cellulite is a syndrome with well defined clinical, histological and histochemical characteristics. What this means in ordinary language is that cellulite not only looks a certain way when you examine it objectively with your eyes and fingers. Where it is present in a body, you will also find that certain measurable biochemical and physical changes have taken place in skin, connective tissues and at the deeper layers of the body. By the way, one thing the disbelievers say is true: Cellulite does often occur in an overweight body. If you are overweight, shedding excess ordinary fat will be essential to shedding your cellulite. But cellulite occurs on the thighs and bottoms of very slim women as well. For it is quite different in many ways than ordinary fat.

a checkered history

Cellulite has a shady past full of contradiction and confusion. Far from being some newfangled notion created by glossy women’s magazines, cellulite was first described in depth by European physicians at the beginning of the 19th Century. It is now believed to affect 80 out of every 100 women in Europe and America. In 1816, Balfour first commented on the cutaneous nodule formations which were later named cellulite. In 1929, P. Lageze, a French physician, discovered that cellulite comes in stages: First tissues in thighs, buttocks, knees, abdomen and upper arms become traps for free serum outside the capillaries. Then fibrous formations develop, which in time turn into the retracted sclerotic connective fibers which create a dimpled orange peel effect. After Lageze, many researchers proposed numerous theories about the causes of cellulite but none of them could fully agree. Then in 1966, two Spanish dermatologists named Bassas-Grau confirmed that, while no inflammation of the tissues is present in cellulite, watery fluid does indeed accumulate in the tissue. They also reported that the molecules of subcutaneous connective tissue in cellulite seem to be larger than molecules in the normal connective tissue, for they undergo what is called a hyperpolymerization.

In the 1970s, a few researchers such as Braun-Falco and Ribuffo came out in favor of the view that cellulite is simple fat. In later years they were to modify their beliefs considerably. Most European researchers grew increasingly convinced that cellulite is a well-defined clinical condition and a physiological entity. ‘A defect of the mesenchyme’ said Pisani. ‘No, a disturbance in the vasomotor reflex and an irritation of the sympathetic nerve fibers leading to a disturbance of normal fat deposits and water logged tissues’ argued Merlin. Binazzi insisted that ‘cellulite’ should rightly be renamed dermatpanniculopathy oedmato-fibro-sclerosis. In 1972, Muller and Nurnberger showed that where cellulite occurs, there is also a decrease in the quantity of elastin fibers in the dermis and a rearrangement of the collagen bundles. Then in 1977, Braun-Falco and Scherwitz demonstrated that a dilation of the lymph vessels takes place in cellulite, as well as an enlargement of the adipocytes or fat cells. But it was not until the well-respected Italian anatomo-pathologist and molecular biologist, Professor Sergio Curri, took up the study of cellulite tissue that the whole of the European medical world began to stand up and take notice. Now considered the leading scientific authority on cellulite in the world, Curri carried out in-depth studies comparing cellulite to normal fat, and established quite conclusively that cellulite is indeed a specific syndrome.

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