How to Tell if You Have Cellulite or Skin Laxity

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When ripples and dimples appear on our thighs or butt, it’s easy to quickly assume it’s cellulite. However, experts warn that what may look like cellulite could actually just be skin laxity. Both are common conditions that can appear similar on the surface, but the way you treat them varies a bit. To help us understand the difference between cellulite and skin laxity, experts broke down the cause of each condition and how to tell them apart.

What is the difference between cellulite and skin laxity?

Deciphering whether you have skin laxity or cellulite “can be tricky at first sight on the buttocks and thighs,” admits Campbell, CA dermatologist Amelia K. Hausauer, MD. However, the two conditions come from different causes.

“Skin laxity is something most women experience, especially as the skin thins with age, if the skin has sun damage, or after significant weight loss,” says Chicago, Illinois plastic surgeon and Avéli provider Laurie Casas, MD. Dr. Hausauer explains that skin laxity results from a “breakdown in collagen and elastin which causes the skin to fold or crepe often appearing like indentations or lines.” The loss of elasticity is what causes the thin ripples or linear banding, and it’s commonly found on the side of the butt, on the thighs and above the knees, says Dr. Casas.

On the other hand, cellulite has “true tiny tethering bands that create the pincushion effect of dimples,” says Dr. Hausauer. According to Dr. Casas, “One of the primary causes of cellulite is the tethering of the connective tissue under the skin, called fibrous septa.”

Pull your skin

“To differentiate between skin laxity and true dimples caused by septae, one can pull up the skin,” above the indentation, says Houston, TX plastic surgeon Olga Bachilo, MD. “If dimpling completely disappears, it’s most likely due to skin laxity. If some dimpling remains,” it’s likely cellulite.

Consider your history

“It’s not all that easy to distinguish the difference between cellulite and skin laxity,” says Delray Beach, FL dermatologist Dr. Janet Allenby. “The history of the patient, like advanced age, previous surgery (such as liposuction), sun exposure history will definitely help as these are usually more commonly seen in skin laxity patients.”

Examine skin’s appearance

According to Dr. Allenby, “Skin laxity is more dry appearing while the skin seems fuller although dimpled with true cellulite.” However, she notes that “there is probably a combination of both in a fair number of patients.”

Look at the edges

Dr. Casas says looking at the edges of the dimples can help decipher which condition is causing them. “Cellulite depressions caused by shortened or stiffened septa, whether they are circular, linear, or irregular, can be identified by their defined edges,” she explains.

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