Losing a significant amount of weight has a myriad of health benefits for your heart, hormones, and body in general. However, it has one side effect: loose skin. Many individuals who have successfully lost a large amount of weight, usually 100 pounds or more, find themselves with loose skin that is uncomfortable and frustrating. Fortunately, there are ways to manage and treat loose skin with lifestyle changes, noninvasive treatments, and surgery.
What Causes Loose Skin?
Loose skin after weight loss is a result of several contributing factors. Our skin is partially made up of proteins called collagen and elastin fibers. These proteins give skin its firmness and allow it to snap back in place after being stretched. When the skin is stretched for an extended period of time, the collagen and elastin fibers become damaged. After weight loss, your skin may lack the necessary proteins to return to its original shape. The skin loses its firmness and tends to just hang on the body.
In addition to losing elastin and collagen, the makeup of the collagen left in the skin changes as well. After losing weight, our skin contains less collagen and its composition is different than the collagen in young, healthy skin. The makeup of your skin is also determined by other factors like age, history of smoking, general health, and family history.
Side Effects from Loose Skin
Many people who have achieved massive weight loss are not bothered by their excess skin and never require treatment. However, it is also possible for this extra skin to become irritated and even infected.
When excess skin folds over onto itself, it rubs together and chafing can occur. This can lead to a painful, itchy rash. Loose skin can also lead to infections. When loose skin folds over itself, it can be difficult to thoroughly clean each fold. Bacteria can accumulate and overgrow, causing an infection. If your skin chafes and tears slightly, the infection can enter the body.
Having excess loose skin on your body can cause pain and discomfort, especially when you try to exercise. This is especially problematic for individuals who have just lost weight since exercise is a key component of helping them maintain their weight loss. A 2013 study found that women who had loose skin after bariatric surgery cited their skin as a barrier to physical activity. This was due to the fact that the excess skin made exercise uncomfortable, on top of the emotional discomfort of unwelcome stares and attention during activity. The embarrassment of going for a run or to the gym because of their loose skin prevented many from working out.
Even if your loose skin has not caused any health problems, you may be bothered by the way it looks. Studies have found that having excess skin can negatively impact your quality of life, self-esteem, and body image.
There are some simple, healthy habits you can try at home to address loose skin. While at-home treatments can help you make small improvements to the look and feel of your skin, they won’t completely address the cause of your sagging skin or fix the problem completely. Losing a significant amount of weight usually results in more skin than lifestyle changes can handle. For this reason, many people turn to medical treatments for help.
Physical activity and strength training routines can help you maintain your weight loss and build healthy muscles. This will help with sagging skin because the new muscles can help to fill it out. After weight loss, you don’t have as much body fat to fill out your skin. By building lean muscles through strength training, you’ll be able to add muscles while keeping the extra weight off.
Another way to improve loose skin is with your diet. Eating a diet rich in lean proteins can help you avoid losing muscles and build new muscles. Eating protein after strength training is especially helpful for building muscles. Next, wash all of that healthy protein down with plenty of water. Well-hydrated skin is more elastic and flexible than dehydrated skin. Unless otherwise directed by your doctor, aim for about 64 to 100 fluid ounces of water per day.
Wearing compression clothing can help prevent some of the side effects of loose skin. Compression stockings and other garments that firmly hold loose skin together minimize friction from skin-to-skin contact. This can help reduce pain, irritation, itching, and the risk of infection. Compression clothing will not improve loose skin itself, however, only the side effects.
A quick internet search or browsing at the pharmacy shelves will reveal several firming creams and over-the-counter products that promise to firm and tighten loose skin. Unfortunately, these claims have not been proven by research, and natural or herbal remedies do not need to prove their safety or efficacy in order to be sold. Always check with your doctor before trying a new skin product.
As bariatric and weight loss surgeries have become more common, so too have procedures to address the excess skin that can result from them. Once you have reached your weight loss goal and maintained your healthy weight, talk with your doctor about the right medical treatment for addressing loose skin.
Body Contouring Surgery
Body contouring surgery is performed by a plastic surgeon, and involves removing excess skin and fat from the body. The surgeon will also work to improve the shape of the remaining tissue, giving your body a smoother appearance. There are several types of body contouring surgeries depending on where you have excess skin and how much you would like removed, including:
- Tummy tuck (abdominoplasty)
- Panniculectomy (skin removal surgery)
- Arm lift (brachioplasty)
- Breast lift
- Lower body lift
- Thigh lift
Undergoing body contouring surgery requires general anesthesia and usually spending one night in the hospital. When you are discharged home, you may require a surgical drain for excess fluid for a few weeks, as well as compression clothing. Recovery may take several months, but most people start feeling better after about four weeks.
Body contouring surgery may be right for you if you have been able to maintain a stable weight and are not dealing with any major medical problems. Nonsmokers have better outcomes, as well as individuals who have made healthy habits like diet and exercise a part of their lives.
Other Medical Procedures
If you’d like to avoid surgery to address your loose skin, there are other options. VelaShape and ThermiTight are noninvasive and minimally invasive body contouring procedures that can help to tone the skin. These procedures may be a good fit if you have a minimal amount of excess skin to remove:
- Velashape uses radiofrequency, infrared light, and suction to massage the fat cells under the skin. This process is meant to stimulate the growth of new collagen and elastin, giving your skin more flexibility and definition.
- ThermiTight uses radiofrequency that is delivered to your cells via a catheter. The procedure heats the tissue under your skin to a safe temperature and causes it to contract and shrink. Results usually take about three to four months to show.
It is important to wait to address excess skin until you have reached a stable weight and have maintained it for some time. Otherwise, if you continue to lose weight after body contouring, you will most likely have to repeat the procedure because of additional loose skin. Experts recommend waiting until 18 months after bariatric surgery and six months of maintaining a stable weight before looking into body contouring procedures.
A Word From Verywell
Having to address excess loose skin after meeting a weight loss goal can feel frustrating and discouraging. It’s helpful to remember that there are several treatment options, with body contouring surgery being the most effective. To determine which treatment is right for you, talk with your doctor and make a plan. You have already done the hard work of losing the weight; now enjoy your new health and body.