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What Is the Difference Between Cellulite and Cellulitis?

Reviewed on 2/22/2021

What are cellulite and cellulitis?

Cellulite is a skin condition in which there is a lumpy appearance of the skin due to the accumulation of fat. Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin. The difference between cellulite and cellulitis is that cellulite is harmless, but cellulitis may be cause for concern.
Cellulite is a skin condition in which there is a lumpy appearance of the skin due to the accumulation of fat. Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin. The difference between cellulite and cellulitis is that cellulite is harmless, but cellulitis may be cause for concern.

Cellulite and cellulitis are two different conditions. They may sound similar, but understanding the differences between one condition that’s quite common and typically harmless and one that might be cause for concern.

It's important to understand the differences between the symptoms and warning signs of these two conditions. This understanding will help you follow the steps that you can take to prevent further damage and improve your health.

What is cellulite?

Cellulite is quite common, and many people have it. It is a lumpy appearance of your skin, usually on your thighs, stomach, or butt. Your butt may appear to have dimples. 

The lumpy appearance of cellulite is caused by fat cells that have grown between the connective tissue under your skin. This causes cellulite’s lumpy appearance.

What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin. 

Cellulitis occurs when bacteria penetrate your skin after a cut, burn, sore, or even a bite. After the bacteria get beneath your skin they multiply. As they increase, the body’s cells begin to  fight the infection, which can cause inflammation of your infected skin. 

Cellulitis can happen anywhere on the legs and feet. However, it may also attack your arms, trunk, and even your face.

Symptoms of cellulite and cellulitis 

Symptoms of cellulite

You can identify cellulite by looking at the skin of your thighs or buttocks. It looks dimpled or bumpy. You may notice it has a cottage cheese or orange peel texture. 

If you have a lot of cellulite, the skin of your affected body part can look bumpy with peaks and valleys.

Symptoms of cellulitis

If you have cellulitis, you may have some or all of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Reddening skin on the affected area
  • Swelling skin on the affected area
  • Affected skin feels warmer than the surrounding area
  • Fever
  • Chills 
  • Blistering
  • Headaches
  • Body weakness
  • Pain
  • Red streaks from the original site of the cellulitis

Causes of cellulite and cellulitis

There are several causes and risk factors for cellulitis or cellulitis. Some risk factors are outside of your control. Others can be treated directly. 

Cellulite causes

Cellulite occurs when the tissues that connect your skin to your muscles tighten irregularly. 

This pulls the skin and breaks it down, pushing the layer of fat beneath your skin up. This gives your skin the telltale cottage cheese appearance of cellulite. 

Aging may worsen the appearance of your cellulite. Gaining or losing weight may also make your cellulite more pronounced.

Cellulite occurs in different stages:

  • Stage 1: At this stage, the cellulite appears as just wrinkles.
  • Stage 2: When you get to this stage, pinching the skin will produce dimples and not wrinkles.
  • Stage 3: Here you can notice the dimples on your buttocks, belly, or thighs when standing.
  • Stage 4: This is the last stage of cellulite. Here you can notice the dimples when you’re stretching out, and you may even experience pain.

Cellulitis causes 

Cellulitis is usually caused by a bacterial infection within the deeper layers of your skin.

You may get cellulitis if:


 

Diagnosis for cellulite and cellulitis

Cellulite diagnosis

Your doctor may be able to diagnose cellulite just by looking at the area you suspect has cellulite. They may conduct an examination and inspection to carefully determine whether you have cellulite.

Cellulitis diagnosis

Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose cellulitis.

After taking your medical history, your doctor may go on to perform a physical examination to make a diagnosis. 

Blood tests and other lab tests may not be needed to confirm whether you have cellulitis.


 

Treatments for cellulite and cellulitis

Cellulite 

It’s difficult to completely get rid of your cellulite without surgery, though some products may help you reduce its appearance, at least temporarily. Several methods to reduce or remove your cellulite include:

  • Lasers: Lasers target and dissolve fat cells.
  • Liposuction: A narrow tube is inserted under your skin to suction out the fat cells.
  • Fat freezing: Your fat cells causing the cellulite are dissolved by freezing. This requires being treated multiple times to dissolve a lot of fat.
  • Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) creams: You must use these consistently over an extended period to produce the effect you want.
  • Massage: A deep tissue massage can even out the fat distribution to reduce cellulite. You may require multiple treatments to get a noticeable change.
  • Radiofrequency: An electrical current stimulates the production of collagen and decreases the production of fat cells.
  • Weight loss: Increasing your muscle activity and improving nutrition may help in reducing cellulite in places like your thighs and buttocks.

Cellulitis

After your doctor has determined that you have cellulitis, they may prescribe antibiotics to treat the condition. 

If your situation is mild, your doctor may prescribe mild antibiotics to take by mouth. Keeping the affected arm or leg elevated may help to speed up your recovery and decrease swelling.

In cases where your cellulitis is more serious, your doctor may recommend you be treated with intravenous (IV) antibiotics in a hospital.

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References
SOURCES:

AMERICAN BOARD OF COSMETIC SURGERY: “CELLULITE TREATMENTS."

BEACON HEALTH SYSTEM: "Cellulite."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Cellulitis."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Cellulitis."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Cellulitis."

Lynton: "Cellulite: Definition, Causes And Treatments."

National Health Service: "Cellulitis."

TeensHealth: "Cellulite."

WEXNER MEDICAL CENTER: "Is it possible to get rid of cellulite?"

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