Quantitative model of cellulite: three-dimensional skin surface topography, biophysical characterization, and relationship to human perception

J Cosmet Sci. Mar-Apr 2005;56(2):105-20.


Gynoid lipodystrophy (cellulite) is the irregular, dimpled skin surface of the thighs, abdomen, and buttocks in 85% of post-adolescent women. The distinctive surface morphology is believed to result when subcutaneous adipose tissue protrudes into the lower reticular dermis, thereby creating irregularities at the surface. The biomechanical properties of epidermal and dermal tissue may also influence severity. Cellulite-affected thigh sites were measured in 51 females with varying degrees of cellulite, in 11 non-cellulite controls, and in 10 male controls. A non-contact high-resolution three-dimensional laser surface scanner was used to quantify the skin surface morphology and determine specific roughness values. The scans were evaluated by experts and naive judges (n=62). Body composition was evaluated via dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry; dermal thickness and the dermal-subcutaneous junction were evaluated via high-resolution 3D ultrasound and surface photography under compression. Biomechanical properties were also measured. The roughness parameters Svm (mean depth of the lowest valleys) and Sdr (ratio between the roughness surface area and the area of the xy plane) were highly correlated to the expert image grades and, therefore, designated as the quantitative measures of cellulite severity. The strength of the correlations among naive grades, expert grades, and roughness values confirmed that the data quantitatively evaluate the human perception of cellulite. Cellulite severity was correlated to BMI, thigh circumference, percent thigh fat, architecture of the dermal-subcutaneous border (ultrasound surface area, red-band SD from compressed images), compliance, and stiffness (negative correlation). Cellulite severity was predicted by the percent fat and the area of the dermal-subcutaneous border. The biomechanical properties did not significantly contribute to the prediction. Comparison of the parameters for females and males further suggest that percent thigh fat and surface area roughness deviation are the distinguishing features of cellulite.

Publication types

  • Clinical Conference
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Body Composition
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lipodystrophy / diagnostic imaging
  • Lipodystrophy / pathology*
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Ultrasonography