Water retention or cellulite: differences, tests and how to recognize them

Water retention or cellulite: differences, tests and how to recognize them

Water retention or cellulite? This is one of the most recurring questions, especially in the summer, when the costume test is upon us.

In fact, they are not the same thing, they have different characteristics and origins, which is also why the treatments are different. They are therefore two different problems, but closely related, since they involve the circulatory system.

But how do they differ? Are there tests to recognize them?

Then discover the differences between cellulite and water retention, the tests and treatments to adopt.

Water retention or cellulite? That’s why they are not the same

When faced with skin blemishes it is important to understand what exactly they are, in order to find the best strategy to combat them. Knowing the difference between water retention and cellulite is therefore important.

As the name itself says, in water retention one “retains” or retains something, in this case liquids. It manifests itself with the sensation of swelling and accumulation of liquid especially on the stomach, buttocks, knees and ankles.

But what this disorder has in common with cellulite is the circulatory system.

In cellulite, on the other hand, there is an inflammation of the subcutaneous adipose tissue and it is not a passing phenomenon. In practice, the subcutaneous fat that presents a structural alteration retains water, altering the microcirculation.

So, when we talk about cellulite or water retention, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are two conditions that depend on each other.

Lifestyle and diet certainly affect both, but in the case of cellulite the treatments are specific and take longer to restore efficient circulation.

What is cellulite

Cellulite is a condition that mainly affects the skin and subcutaneous fat tissue. It is characterized by fat deposits that create the typical “orange peel” or “mattress” appearance.

It is more common in women and is often located in areas such as the thighs, buttocks, abdomen and arms. It is caused by a combination of factors such as fat accumulation, connective tissue weakness, blood microcirculation and inflammation.

In other words, it is an inflammatory state of the subcutaneous fat or adipose tissue which involves an increase in the number and volume of adipose cells and a different organization of the supporting connective tissue.

The causes of cellulite depend on various factors, starting from the malfunctioning of the venous and lymphatic microcirculation, but also hormonal causes.

If you want to know more, find out what it is and how to fight cellulite.

What is water retention

Fluid retention, also known as edema, is a condition in which the body retains excess fluid. This can cause swelling and a feeling of heaviness in the legs, ankles, feet, hands or other parts of the body.

It can depend on several factors, including hormonal imbalances, circulatory problems, poor diet, lack of physical activity, excess salt in the diet and extreme heat. But certain medical conditions such as heart failure, kidney failure, or liver problems can also contribute to water retention.

If you want to know more, find out what water retention is.

How to recognize if it is cellulite or water retention?

The distinction between cellulite and water retention can be made by carefully observing the symptoms and characteristics of the two conditions.

However, it is important to point out that cellulite and water retention can coexist and be present in a person at the same time. Also, only a doctor can make an accurate diagnosis after a clinical evaluation.

Here are some points that can help distinguish between cellulite and water retention.


  • Appearance of the skin: Cellulite causes the formation of small nodules or dimples on the skin, commonly described as “orange peel”. These irregularities are more evident when the skin is pinched or compressed. However there is an evolution based on the development of cellulite. The first stage (oedematous) is characterized by edema caused by venous stasis and fluid stagnation. There are no obvious signs, but there is a feeling of heaviness and swelling in the legs. In the second (fibrous) small nodules are produced that are perceptible to the touch, which give the skin an “orange peel” appearance. The microcirculation is altered and tissue degeneration begins in which the stagnation of liquids causes a swelling of the adipose tissue cells. The connective tissue thickens, loses elasticity and becomes stiffer. The last stage (sclerotic) sees the increase in the volume of the fibers of the connective tissue which alters the venous microcirculation. In this phase the adipose cells are grouped into macro-nodules and the skin takes on an uneven and swollen (“mattress-like”) appearance.
  • Location: tends to be localized in specific areas of the body, such as thighs, buttocks, abdomen and arms. It is less common for it to occur elsewhere on the body.
  • Pain or tenderness: In some cases, cellulitis can cause pain or tenderness in the affected area, especially when touched or massaged.

Water retention

Water retention mainly affects the areas of the body most prone to the accumulation of fat, such as the thighs, abdomen and buttocks. The most obvious sign is edema, i.e. swelling, caused by the stagnation of liquids in the dermis.

Furthermore, it is commonly associated with a sense of heaviness in the lower limbs and fatigue. Thus, it manifests itself in:

  • Generalized swelling. Water retention causes generalized swelling of the body, which can affect different parts such as legs, ankles, feet, hands or face. The swelling may be visible and may be accompanied by a feeling of heaviness or tightness.
  • Finger pressure: By gently pressing on the skin in the swollen area with your fingers, you may notice a temporary imprint that remains for a few seconds before fading.
  • Variation in symptoms: It can get worse during the day, especially if you stand or sit for a long time, and it can improve when you rest or lift your legs.
  • It is associated with other conditions: such as hormonal imbalances, circulatory problems, excess salt in the diet or pathologies such as heart failure, kidney failure or liver problems.

Differences between cellulite and water retention

Cellulite and water retention are NOT the same thing, although it is often easy to confuse them. While cellulite is associated with subcutaneous fat alteration and connective tissue weakness, water retention is mainly caused by problems with fluid regulation in the body. However, both conditions can contribute to less than optimal skin appearance.

It is important to highlight, however, that cellulite and water retention can be treated and managed in different ways.

For cellulite, topical therapies, massage, dietary changes and specific exercises can be used.

For water retention, on the other hand, dietary changes, increased physical activity, lifting of the affected limbs and, in some cases, the intake of diuretics prescribed by a doctor or a draining diet may be recommended.

What tests can I do to understand if I suffer from water retention or cellulite?

The diagnosis of cellulite and water retention can be made by a doctor through a clinical evaluation. Only in this way will it be possible to identify the most appropriate and most effective treatment for one’s state of health.

However there are also online or free tests to be performed in the pharmacy through a specific device to understand exactly what it is.

Here are some things to consider during diagnosis:

For cellulite:

  • Visual examination: this is used to carefully examine the skin in the affected areas to identify the presence of nodules or dimples characteristic of cellulite.
  • Clinical history: Gathering information about your medical history and habits, such as your diet, level of physical activity and any predisposing risk factors, is very important to trace possible causes.
  • Ruling out other conditions: It is very helpful to rule out other possible causes of skin changes or swelling, such as infections or vascular disorders, through further tests or diagnostic tests.

For water retention:

  • Physical exam: This is needed to look for obvious signs of swelling, particularly in the legs, ankles, feet, or other involved parts of the body.
  • Medical History: This is used to gather information about the medical history, including any associated symptoms, such as pain, heaviness or changes in swelling during the day.
  • Tests: In some cases, certain tests may be done, such as blood tests to evaluate electrolyte levels or kidney function, or ultrasounds to evaluate blood flow and any fluid buildup.

What to do to cure water retention or cellulite

The management and treatment of water retention and cellulitis can vary from person to person and according to the severity of the condition. Today then there are so many aesthetic remedies to improve the appearance of the skin and counteract these two conditions: from simple massages, to radiofrequency, liposuction, mud or mesotherapy.

There are also many supplements on the market that help circulation and have a draining effect. However, it is always advisable to seek expert advice before embarking on any path.

So here are some general recommendations that are undoubtedly useful as a first approach.

Water retention

  • Reduce your intake of…