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Can you get rid of cellulite? Derms weigh in and share at-home tips and tricks

It's so common: These helpful strategies and products can actually make a difference.
Group of chubby women in lingerie
Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

If you look in the mirror and see some dimples of cellulite around your thighs, arms or backside, congrats, you're part of the in crowd. According to Boston-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Papri Sarkar, about 80 to 90% of women have cellulite, meaning way more of us have it than don't.

So if you do notice it, just know that it's nothing to feel bad about and is completely normal. That being said, if it's an area of insecurity for you, it's understandable if you're hoping to find a way to get rid of it.

Unfortunately, that can be a hard thing to do. So we asked Dr. Sarkar and Dr. Jennifer Levine, a double-board certified plastic surgeon in New York City, to break down everything you need to know and share the ways you can reduce its appearance at home — including, the surprising way that using a self-tanner can help.

Cellulite causes | Getting rid of cellulite | Reducing cellulite at home | Retinol for cellulite | Caffeine for cellulite | Self-tanning for cellulite | Dry brushing for cellulite

What causes cellulite?

In your body, fat is held into place by fibrous bands. "Over time, what happens is that as these bands break down, you get injured or if a little piece of it snaps, then you get an out-pouching of a small piece of fat there," Sarkar says. This causes the dimpled appearance of cellulite, which she says is more common in certain areas of the body, like the thighs, butt or arms. It's much less likely to appear in men than women, because unlike women, who have vertically-stacked bands, theirs are more secure, in a "crosshatch pattern," she explains.

Experts aren't sure of the exact reasons why cellulite appears, though Levine says that there are likely hormonal factors at play.

Cellulite can show up in anyone, regardless of size or body mass, but there are things that can affect its appearance. As you age, those fibrous bands don't work as well as they once did. Plus, Sarkar says other support structures, like collagen and muscles, start to break down, which can lead to uneven fat distribution.

How can you get rid of cellulite?

Unfortunately, you can't really get rid of cellulite altogether, but there are things that you can do to reduce its appearance. "If you're eating a healthy diet, you have less fat and you have good muscle mass and skin quality, it will help the appearance of cellulite," Levine says.

If you want to get serious about reducing its appearance, as per usual, the best results will be found at your doctor's office. There aren't many devices that are FDA-approved to treat cellulite, because they have to show results for a long period of time, and many don't, Levine says. Though one device that has managed to get the seal of approval is Avéli, a handheld device that allows professionals to go in and cut the bands that cause the cellulite, she explains.

There are also lasers that your dermatologist can use to treat the area, Sarkar says. They can also use a combination of treatment methods, including a mix of lasers to smooth out the area and injectable fillers, to improve the appearance.

How to reduce cellulite at home

If you're hoping to skip the trip to the dermatologist's office, there are some ways that you can reduce its appearance at home. One important thing to keep in mind: Many at-home remedies are temporary, meaning there's no telling how strong the effects will be and they'll likely only last a matter of hours. But still, if you're spending a day at the beach or are wearing a more revealing dress, doing these things could help boost your confidence for the occasion.

Can retinol help with cellulite?

The at-home treatments with the most scientific evidence behind them are retinoids, says Sarkar. That can be an over-the-counter retinol cream or a prescribed retin-A treatment. These can help smooth the skin and increase collagen. "But they take a really, really, really long time and they only help a little," she says. Meaning, you'll want to stick with it for at least a few months and you shouldn't expect to see a drastic change. That's why she recommends combining it with some of the other at-home remedies, like caffeine treatments or massage (more on those later).

Retinol body creams for cellulite

Advanced Clinicals Retinol Body Lotion

What we like
  • Non-greasy
  • Large bottle
Something to note
  • Some people struggle with pump

You'll get plenty of bang for your buck with this affordable lotion, which was designed to be used on both your body and your face. Along with helping with wrinkles and signs of aging, reviewers say that they've also noticed that it has an effect on cellulite. "This cream is AMAZING! I've used it for cellulite on my hip area and couldn't be more pleased," one shopper wrote.

Medix 5.5 Retinol Body Lotion

What we like
  • Hydrating ingredients
  • Vitamin E
Something to note
  • Takes a while to see results

This formula combines retinol with ferulic acid, shea butter, vitamin E and green tea to help firm skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, the brand says. "I mostly use this on my butt and thighs and have seen a visible difference in my skin texture," one shopper wrote. "My skin looks firmer and smoother and my minimal cellulite has all but disappeared."

Paula's Choice Retinol Skin-Smoothing Body Treatment

What we like
  • Diminishes uneven skin tone
  • Suitable for all skin types
Something to note
  • Small bottle

Along with retinol, this cream from Paula's Choice is said to feature ingredients like evening primrose and shea butter to nourish skin while improving texture and diminishing the appearance of uneven skin tone. According to the brand, it's suitable for all skin types and goes on "silky smooth" without leaving a greasy residue.

Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Body Lotion

What we like
  • Recycled plastic packaging
  • Safe for sensitive skin
Something to note
  • Drying for some

According to the brand, this formula features encapsulated retinol with cocoa butter and vitamin E, which delivers the skin-renewing benefits without the dryness that the ingredient is known for. Safe for sensitive skin, it's said to be vegan, cruelty-free and its packaging is even made with 75% PCR (post-consumer recycled) plastic.

Can caffeine help with cellulite?

We all know that caffeine in the morning can be helpful for getting us through the day, but as an ingredient, it can also have benefits for your skin — especially when it comes to cellulite. Products that have caffeine in them will temporarily tighten the skin, thus improving the appearance of cellulite, Levine says.

Sarkar also says that caffeine can increase blood flow and dehydrate the cells, which can temporarily improve the unevenness the of skin. Though the key word here, much like your morning cup of coffee and as with most of these treatments, is that it's temporary.

"It takes about 60 minutes to kick in, so if you're going for a hot date or if you're going for a beach day or something, put it on before you jump in the car, and then it lasts for a couple of hours," Sarkar says.

Caffeine products for cellulite

Biossance Squalane + Caffeine Toning Body Cream

What we like
  • Fragrance-free
  • "Weightless formula"
Something to note
  • Product runs out quickly

"I never write reviews unless a product is actually life changing and this product is one of them!" one shopper wrote. "I’ve noticed changes within 5 days of using - HIGHLY recommend for tightening, toning & smoothing!!"

Sol De Janeiro Brazilian Bum Bum Cream

What we like
  • Fast-absorbing
  • Pistachio and caramel scent
Something to note
  • Scent too strong for some

Sol De Janeiro's Brazilian Bum Bum Cream has gone viral for its ability to smooth and tighten skin. It features guarana, which the brand says has more than five times the amount of caffeine as coffee. And its skin-smoothing effects aren't the only thing that people have gushed about — shoppers are also obsessed with the yummy scent, which is said to have notes of pistachio, salted caramel and vanilla.

Charlotte Tilbury Magic Body Cream

What we like
  • "Instantly lifts and reshapes"
  • Hyaluronic acid
Something to note
  • Small bottle

Inspired by Charlotte Tilbury's award-winning and bestselling Magic Cream moisturizer, this hydrating cream is designed to be applied all over your body to boost hydration and smooth your skin. According to the brand, the caffeine-containing cream can help your skin feel and look firmer in eight weeks.

First Botany Arabica Coffee Scrub with Organic Coffee & Shea Butter

What we like
  • Hydrating oils
  • Aromatic
Something to note
  • Some say its messy

Scrubs are another way to get the ingredient into your skin. While you can make it at home, if you want to avoid the mess, you can also reach for this top-rated Amazon option.

"I recommend doing something like a coffee scrub ... the caffeine will get in, it'll exfoliate the skin, so if you have any patchy areas of dead skin, it'll remove them," Sarkar says. "And then I actually recommend doing a self tanner."

Can self-tanning help reduce the appearance of cellulite?

"Part of the reason that you noticed the cellulite is because the light is reflecting differently off of different areas," Sarkar says. "The areas that are dimpled are darker, the areas that are not dimpled are shinier and whiter. So essentially, if you use a self-tanner, then you just see it less, it's less noticeable."

We love this hack, because not only will you be helping reduce the appearance of cellulite, but you'll also have a summer-ready glow.

Self-tanners to try

Beauty By Earth Tanning Lotion

What we like
  • Gradual tanning
  • "Easy application"
Something to note
  • Takes a while to dry

If you're a little freaked out by the idea of self-tanning, it's understandable. After all, we've all heard horror stories about people ending up looking orange and staining their sheets. This lotion, which won a Shop TODAY Beauty Award, is designed to be buildable and develop gradually, so you get a smooth-looking sun-kissed color without streaks or stains.

Bondi Sands Self Tanning Foam

What we like
  • Hydrates and nourishes skin
  • Fast drying
Something to note
  • Should be applied with a mitt

This self-tanning foam comes in three different shades to suit most skin tones, from light to ultra dark — and it happens to be a No.1 bestseller on Amazon. Reviewers say they love how nicely it blends and even fades evenly too.

St.Tropez Classic Self Tanner Bronzer Mousse Foam

What we like
  • "Natural-looking tan"
  • Lightweight
Something to note
  • May transfer

Another Shop TODAY Beauty Award winner, this tanning mousse has more than 12,000 perfect five-star ratings from shoppers who say that it's easy to apply and won't make you look orange. The tan is designed to last for up to 10 days and it has a tint, which the brand says can help guide application.

Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Water

What we like
  • "Zero transfer"
  • Color-correcting
Something to note
  • Spray can be hard to apply

This social media-loved self-tanning solution features color-correcting actives, which the brand says help to visibly brighten and even your skin tone. Even better, it's made to absorb in seconds and won't transfer, so you don't have to worry about ending up with orange sheets.

Does dry brushing help cellulite?

Much like caffeine, which works by increasing the blood flow to the area, dry brushing can have the same effect, Sarkar says. But you can likely expect that the results won't last as long as one of the caffeine creams.

Other similar methods, including massage devices and microcurrent devices will likely have a similar effect, but in order to see a difference, you will have to be disciplined and use them regularly. "They really only make a difference if you do them every single day," Sarkar says.

EcoTools Dry Body Brush

What we like
  • Affordable
  • Easy to hold
Something to note
  • Stiff bristles

You can use this round brush in the shower for cleansing or as a dry body brush. According to the brand, it's made with a bamboo handle and synthetic bristles. "The brush's touch was firm yet gentle, stimulating my circulation and coaxing life back into my weary cells," says one reviewer.

Popchose Dry Brush

What we like
  • Good size
  • Easy to use
Something to note
  • Bristles fall out with time

Exfoliate the skin and increase blood flow with the help of this affordable dry brush — it's a shopper-favorite with over 13,000 five-star ratings.

When dry brushing to target cellulite, a dermatologist previously told us that you should brush "upwards towards the heart, focusing on cellulite-prone areas to stimulate the lymphatic system."

How we chose these products

The Shop TODAY editors and writers search the internet to find the best products out there. We interviewed expert sources, scoured product reviews and used our own personal experiences to select the best products for helping to reduce the appearance of cellulite at home.

As an editorial team, we independently create content and determine coverage based on research, reporting and what we think readers would like to read about. The goal of our content is to provide a service and inform readers who are on the hunt for the latest products to help make their life better. Items are sold by retailer, not TODAY. Pricing and availability are accurate as of publish time. Learn more about Shop TODAY.

Meet our experts

  • Dr. Papri Sarkar, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Boston. She was previously president of the New England Dermatologic Society, where she still serves on the board and is a fellow of the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery and the American Academy of Dermatology.
  • Dr. Jennifer Levine, MD, is a double-board certified facial plastic surgeon in New York City. She is an expert in the latest invasive and non-invasive anti-aging treatments and is an attending plastic surgeon at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, Lennox Hill Hospital and Bellevue Hospital.