What is Subcutaneous Fat?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Subcutaneous fat is the fatty or adipose tissue lying directly under the skin layers. Subcutaneous translates to "under the skin." It contains not only fatty tissues but also blood vessels, which supply the skin with oxygen, and nerves. Subcutaneous fat is a shock absorber, helping to cushion our skin against trauma, and also stores energy, which the body uses during periods of high activity.

An illustration of human skin, including the subcutaneous fat in beige.
An illustration of human skin, including the subcutaneous fat in beige.

Subcutaneous fat differs from fat that lies deeper in the body and cushions our organs. This is called visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand is the fat we most see lying under the skin. Too much fat can cause the skin to become tight or stretched, and result in dreaded cellulite or a dimpled look of the skin. When subcutaneous fat is relatively small in amount, it tends to lie loosely under the skin layers and is thus less visible.

Subcutaneous fat is more easily reduced with exercise than just dieting.
Subcutaneous fat is more easily reduced with exercise than just dieting.

Not all subcutaneous fat is bad, or contributes to what some people consider unsightly. In fact, many people have fat injections to plump out their face and reduce the look of wrinkles. So as much as some of us may battle subcutaneous fat that contributes to notable cellulite, many others seek subcutaneous fat injections to maintain younger looking faces, or hands.

Visible, subcutaneous fat is different from hidden visceral fat.
Visible, subcutaneous fat is different from hidden visceral fat.

To reduce subcutaneous fat, many people resort to dieting. However, since this fat stores energy, it is often more easily reduced with exercise. Studies focusing on fat measurements show that women who exercise three to four times a week tended to have greater subcutaneous fat weight loss. About 60% of the pounds lost from exercise were subcutaneous fat. Dieters who did not exercise regularly still lost weight, but only about 30% of their weight loss was subcutaneous fat tissue.

Too much fat can cause the skin to become tight or stretched.
Too much fat can cause the skin to become tight or stretched.

Still, even people who are in shape and thin may have a little cellulite. This unfortunately can’t be reduced by most liposuction techniques. However, mini-liposuction is proving helpful in reducing this top layer of fatty tissue.

While we are used to considering fat bad, especially in a diet-obsessed culture, it should be noted that subcutaneous fat does have its purposes. It is fantastic for storing energy, for cushioning nerves and blood vessels, and for protecting the skin and the skeleton. It does serve several important purposes, though one can have too much of a good thing.

Wrestlers must keep their bodies lean and maintain minimal levels of body fat.
Wrestlers must keep their bodies lean and maintain minimal levels of body fat.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I am male, and was approaching 45, had an expanding waistline in proportion to the rest of my body so decided I needed to take action.

I didn't have much time for lunch at work so that was easy - low calorie sandwich (Quorn ham, mayo lite and lettuce, usually) and a few tomatoes. Soup for an evening meal four nights per week combined with a daily regime of sit-ups and press-ups (15 minutes, max) for four months resulted in a 28 pound loss and my body, although still not perfect, looks leaner and fitter for it. I almost have a visible six-pack.

I should add I didn't lead a life of self-denial. I still ate pizza and garlic bread every Saturday night, had a full Sunday veggie roast dinner (vegetarian for 20 years here), and had a pasta based dinner every Wednesday night. Oh, and enjoyed several vodka and slimline tonics most nights.

I'm 45 now, and feel the best I have done for 15 years, and all for the sake of 15 minutes of exercise every night and a little self-control.


What is the normal range of subcutaneous fat a person should have? I am 53 and weigh 73 kgs. My subcutaneous fat is 22.6. Please advise.


Getting rid of subcutaneous fat on my upper thighs seems impossible. There are all kinds of miracle creams and pills out there that claim to work, but they don't. I can't afford liposuction, so I guess I'm stuck with this dimply cellulite.


I wish there were a way to lose abdominal fat without having to lose subcutaneous fat all over. It would be nice if you could selectively lose fat, because my abdomen is the only problem area I have.

I am at a healthy weight, but my belly pooches out slightly, and I don't like that. I don't want to lose my curves, but when I diet, they seem to be the first thing to go. I suppose that since more fat is stored in these areas, it falls off of them first.


I've been trying to lose subcutaneous fat through dieting alone, and it hasn't been going well. I'm glad I read this article, because now I know that I need to exercise.

It's hard to find time for exercise when I work forty hours a week. When I get home, there are dirty dishes and laundry to do, and I just don't have any energy left when I'm done.

I think I'm going to start walking at the park during my lunch break. That is the only way I'm going to be able to burn off this fat. I live a busy life, but I guess I'm not doing enough physical labor to get rid of a significant amount of fat.


@plaid – I would be afraid that the fat injected into a new site would somehow get loose and travel to where it wasn't supposed to go. Can you imagine fat that was intended for the area under the eyes suddenly sinking and ending up under your cheekbone or something?


@wecallherana - Typically, the only thing that’s prepared when doing a subcutaneous fat injection or fat transfer is the preparation of the donor and recipient sites; both sites are located on the same person in most instances.

Because the fat is coming from the same person, it’s not necessary to prepare or cleanse is as everything will be the same. In the same fashion, these injections are made to the subcutaneous fat layer by pinching up the skin. This layer can readily accept and more easily distribute the injections.


Subcutaneous fat injections shouldn’t be confused with Botox or other injections simply because it is more like a natural solution to wrinkles. Using a natural substance that is normally found within your body rather than a chemical or drug is much better because of the lack of possible reactions.

While it takes some guts to get injections in your face like around your eyes and mouth, I don’t think I would ever do it.

Does anyone know if these injections are just fat collected from other parts or your body or does it have to be cleaned and sanitized and stuff first?

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