Do You Actually Have Cellulite or Just Water Retention?

It’s estimated that as much as 90% of women have experienced having cellulite at least once in their lives. Cellulite may not bother some women, but for others, it can be a source of insecurity and self-consciousness. Today, there are many available steps to treat and reduce the appearance of cellulite. But one thing you need to know is that the lumpy areas you see in places like your thighs and butt may not necessarily be cellulite, but might actually be water retention. 

So do you have cellulite or just water retention? One easy way to know if you have water retention (edema) or cellulite is to lift, flick, or stretch the area of your skin where you have these dimples: if they disappear, it’s just edema. But if they’re still visible, you have cellulite. Edema and cellulite may often be mistaken for each other, since their causes and effects tend to overlap. But when it comes to effectively addressing either, here’s what you should know.

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Cellulite vs. Water Weight

Cellulite refers to the dimples and lumps found in areas like your butt, thighs, and other lower areas. This is caused by the connective tissue that links your skin to your muscles. Your connective tissue may pull your skin inward (causing dimples) while also pushing the surrounding fat tissue towards the skin (causing lumps). It’s still unknown why cellulite develops, but it’s associated with hormones, genetics, and lifestyle factors. Cellulite isn’t caused by excess fat, nor does weight loss instantly treat cellulite. You can get cellulite regardless of your body weight.

You may see lumps and dimples on your skin and immediately assume you have cellulite. However, if you know the effects of water retention on your body, you might realize that these lumps and dimples aren’t necessarily cellulite. But what exactly are these things?

It Might Be Edema, Not Cellulite

The appearance of cellulite on your butt and thighs may not be from your connective tissue and fat. Instead, this may be a sign of water or fluid retention. Water weight, also known as edema, is when your body holds more water than necessary. Around 50% to 75% of an average human’s body consists of water. Any more than this, and you’ll have excess water retention, which can have negative side effects like dimples that can be bothersome to some people.

Around 90% of water retention is just beneath the surface of the skin, just above the fat cells that cause cellulite. Factors like diet, stress, lifestyle, and hormonal changes (i.e. pregnancies and menstrual periods) can trigger water retention. This can also be a sign of a problem with your kidneys and your body’s ability to filter out and excrete excess water, thus causing symptoms like bloating.

How to Check If It’s Cellulite or Water Retention

There are several ways to check if what you have may be cellulite or fluid retention. First, try pressing the skin around the dimples or lumps. Cellulite should feel harder and dense, while fluids can make the area feel soft and mushy. If that’s not clear, try any of these three methods:

  • Lift the loose skin above the dimple. If the dimple is still visible, it’s cellulite; if it disappears, it’s fluid.
  • Flick an area that has dimples and/or lumps. If you see rippling, this is fluid.
  • Lay down flat on your back and lift your legs straight up so that it’s perpendicular to the rest of your body. If the dimples disappear, then you’re dealing with water retention.

Water Weight Makes It Harder to Treat Cellulite

This isn’t to say that you can’t have both water retention and cellulite at the same time. Water retention doesn’t cause cellulite, but when combined, it can impact its effects. There can be water retention and then cellulite underneath, which can make the effects of cellulite more pronounced.

Cellulite isn’t medically serious, but before you can treat your cellulite, you’ll first need to treat water retention. For some, this can be done through things like lifestyle factors or adapting a more active lifestyle. However, those with chronic water weight due to medical conditions or genetics may find it harder to avoid water retention, which can hinder cellulite treatment.

Toxins Can Attach to Your Fat Cells to Form Cellulite

Normally, water should only take up to 60% of your body weight. Excess water will start to build up underneath the skin and on top of cellulite. This can affect your circulatory and lymphatic system, which makes it harder to burn fat.

Weight loss doesn’t necessarily reduce the appearance of cellulite, but the build-up of fat and excess fluids can lead to worse results. When your circulatory and lymphatic system have a harder time functioning, toxins can build-up and avoid getting filtered out by your lymphatic system. These toxins can attach themselves onto the large fat cells that can result in severe cellulite that looks more visible. This is why it’s important to reduce the amount of excess water to prevent cellulite from appearing on your skin.

Poor Blood Circulation May Be Causing Cellulite

Poor blood circulation can cause both water retention and more pronounced cellulite on your skin. This can be done in two ways: first, as mentioned earlier, your circulatory and lymphatic system can have a hard time filtering out toxins with excess water. Because of this, toxins can cling onto fat cells.

Second, poor circulation means that essential nutrients that your blood vessels pass around will be blocked. With poor blood flow in areas like your butt and thighs (especially for those with sedentary lifestyles), this can weaken your connective tissues, which can make dimples even more noticeable.

Factors That Contribute to Fluid Retention

Beautiful body of young woman isolated on pink studio background

Water retention can be triggered by a number of factors, including chronic conditions that result in higher water retention. If you think you have water retention issues, you may have at least one of these key causes:

  • Excess salt and sodium in your diet. Your body functions by involuntarily balancing the amount of water in your body with the amount of sodium in your diet. When you consume high amounts of salt (which has sodium) and other food items with sodium, your body retains more water to balance out its effects.
  • Potassium and magnesium deficiencies. Potassium decreases sodium levels and increases your urine production, which reduces your body’s need for excess water as well as the amount of fluids in your body. Magnesium, on the other hand, can help regulate the amount of sodium in your body, which can help balance out your body’s water retention.  
  • High-carb diet. Too much carbohydrates can cause your body to store excess water. Carbohydrates come with glycogen molecules, which have 3 grams of water attached to it.
  • Hormonal changes. Women who are pregnant or are near the end of their menstrual cycle may feel bloated due to water retention caused by hormonal changes. When your body goes through hormonal changes, it can have an effect on your circulation and lymphatic system, which can make it difficult to get rid of excess water. These changes may also make you crave food rich in salt and carbohydrates.
  • Stress. Constantly being stressed can trigger your body to release cortisol, a hormone that signals to your kidneys to retain more water in your body.
  • Sedentary lifestyle. Little to no active movement can be unhealthy for a number of reasons. When sitting down for long periods of time, your body fluids tend to pool downwards due to gravity – especially on your butt and thighs. This can make it difficult for excess fluids to make its way out of your lower extremities.
  • Heart or kidney disease. These are the main organs responsible for your circulatory and lymphatic systems. Water retention may be a sign that your normal body functions aren’t working properly.
  • Medications. Medications like anti-inflammatories and oral contraceptives contain ingredients that can increase your water weight.

Ways to Reduce Fluid Retention

Female Athlete Drinking Water During Outdoor Workout

Just like cellulite, water weight isn’t necessarily a serious medical concern. However, it may be a sign of an underlying condition. If you’re experiencing fluid retention with other symptoms like coughing or difficulty breathing, you may need urgent medical attention. For water weight caused by hormonal changes like pregnancy and menstruation, this should normally subside after your hormones return to normal.

For other causes, water retention can be reduced or treated by changing certain lifestyle habits. These include:

  • Avoid long periods of being sedentary. If your work requires you to sit at a desk for long periods of time, take 15-minute breaks to stand up and walk around.
  • Develop an active and healthy lifestyle. Schedule at least one hour of exercise three to five days per week. The average person can lose up to two liters of water per hour through sweating, while the rest of your body’s fluids go into your muscles.
  • Practice stress management. Find de-stressing practices that work for you.
  • Change your diet. Make sure you’re getting enough electrolytes like potassium and magnesium. Avoid excess carbohydrates and foods rich in salt and sodium. This means adding leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and fruits like bananas into your diet, while avoiding processed and salty food.
  • Drink enough water. Ironically, making sure you get enough water every day can reduce the chances of bloating from water weight. Not getting enough water can make your body dehydrated, which is why it retains as much water as possible. Drinking the recommended amount of two liters (or half a gallon) per day can improve your liver and kidney functions.

Try Effective and Non-Invasive Cellulite Treatments at the Cellulite Treatment Center of New Jersey

Water retention doesn’t cause cellulite, but it can impact the way cellulite appears and how effectively you can treat it. Before you decide to treat cellulite, make sure your water weight is as low as it can be to maximize your efforts in treating the appearance of cellulite.

At the Cellulite Treatment Center of New Jersey, our state-of-the-art QWO injections can safely and effectively reduce the appearance of cellulite. Our highly-trained providers and staff are happy to help you achieve clear, smooth, and cellulite-free skin. Choose the right treatment for your cellulite from our wide range of treatment options and discuss your treatment plans with our specialists to get the best results possible. Book an appointment with us today.

Melt Away Your Cellulite Today at the Cellulite Treatment Center of NJ


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