Loose Skin After Weight Loss – What Can Be Done?

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As someone who lost 100 pounds in the span of a year during my early teens, I can commiserate with the struggles and frustration of loose skin.

For those of you reading this article after a rapid and/or substantial weight loss let me first start off by congratulating you. It’s become a more challenging feat to maintain a healthy weight with the convenience and low-cost of processed foods available to us, paired with long hours at work, and sitting for a majority of the day.

Related: Body Fat Calculator and Complete Body Fat Caliper Guide

Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished.

You’ve changed your lifestyle and dramatically improved your quality of life yet you’re now plagued with excess skin detracting from what you’ve worked so hard to uncover. Loose skin has both a physical and psychological impact on your overall well-being. While surgery is only one way to completely remove loose skin from the body, this article discusses practices you can employ to manage loose skin without going under the knife.

Factors Affecting Loose Skin

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The amount and location of loose skin remaining on your body varies based on a number of factors – the amount and speed of the weight loss, your age, areas where you tend to gain fat, and your level of fat-free muscle mass. Unsurprisingly, the amount of loose skin on your body tends to be greater the faster and/or more significant the weight loss.

You skin is also less likely to keep up with significant weight loss as you age and your skin elasticity decreases. Even healthy individuals experience saggy skin in varying degrees as they age.

Loose skin after weight loss will appear in the areas where you previously stored the majority of your fat. For most people this means the belly, thighs, buttocks, and upper arms as well as the chest, neck, and face in some cases. [1] The amount of fat-free muscle mass you’re carrying also influences the amount of loose skin present on your body after a major weight loss.

Those with minimal muscle mass may notice substantially more loose skin compared to those with moderate amounts of muscle.

Managing Loose Skin After Weight Loss With Surgery

Unfortunately, loose skin cannot be dieted off so the only way to remove it in its entirety is get removal surgery from a trained medical professional, preferably a plastic surgeon specializing in weight loss surgery. The plastic surgery community classifies skin removal as part of a body-contouring procedure. The four most common body-contouring procedures are the breast lift, lower body lift (includes belly, buttocks, groin, and outer thighs), upper arm lift, and thigh lift. [2]

A breast lift or mastopexy removes excess skin, tightens the surrounding tissue, and raises the breast. [3] A breast lift may also incorporate implanted materials to improve the shape of the breast. A tummy tuck or abdominoplasty not only removes excess skin but typically involves the restoration of weak or separated muscles in the abdominal region. [4]

An upper arm lift or brachioplasty removes the downward-drooping excess skin, improves muscle tone, and removes any excess fat in the upper arm region. [5] A thigh lift procedure removes excess skin from both the inner and outer thighs as well as tightens the skin of the surrounding area. [6] The common theme across all of these body-contouring procedures is skin removal and smoothening as well as enhancement in appearance of the underlying muscle tone.

Under most insurance plans these procedures are not covered since they are considered cosmetic so be prepared to pay a pretty penny out-of-pocket. As of April 2014 the national average costs for a breast lift is $8,000, tummy tuck is $7,800, arm lift is $8,375, and thigh lift is $8,775. [7]

Many surgeons also offer body lifts, which removes skin from multiple parts of the body and is typically cheaper than getting a body contouring procedure on each part of the body separately. These costs typically include surgeon fees, material costs, operating room costs, anesthesia costs, medications, post-surgical compression devices, and follow up appointments. [7]

This surgery is not cheap so be sure to perform research on the risks and benefits, find a surgeon that you trust and has a laundry list of successfully completed body-contour procedures for the desired area(s), and embrace the recovery process as it can be harsh on the body.

If you choose to forgo skin removal surgery due to financial, moral, or other personal reasons, you can employ a handful of tips and tricks lessen the psychological and physical impact of loose skin. The first approach requires you to make no additional physical changes to your body and involves wearing loose-fitting clothing.

Form-fitting clothing, while flattering and highlighting to the new physique you’ve worked so hard to build, also calls attention to loose skin. While you may be swimming in those double extra-large t-shirts now, don’t jump right in to purchasing a wardrobe full of medium size shirts as they may call attention to the loose skin hanging around the belly and arms.

Look for either large shirts that flatter the physique without drawing attention to the extra skin or medium size shirts that are roomier in the midsection. Similarly, if both thighs can now fit in to the thighs of one of your old pant legs avoid purchasing slim-fit jeans as they may only further highlight the excess skin around the hip and thigh area.

Regular or relaxed fit pants that compliment and hug your slimmer waist without cutting off circulation to your lower extremities will draw attention to the leaner you without highlighting the loose skin. Support your local tailor if you can’t seem to find clothing with that ideal fit after searching far-and-wide.

Tailors are experts in custom clothing alterations designed to highlight your individual physique. Form-flattering clothing provides a significant psychological boost and shows off all of your hard work.

Flat Stomach

Improving Body Composition With Muscle

The second technique for managing loose skin without undergoing surgery involves filling out your frame with fat-free muscle mass. You’ve worked tirelessly to strip fat through strict dieting and exercise but now you’re left with unsightly loose skin. Those who lost a majority of their fat using high volumes of cardiovascular activity and little to no resistance training are likely to have low amounts of muscle mass.

Building muscle is an excellent method for filling out some of the empty space remaining after the significant fat loss. Firstly, Muscle mass is denser than fat mass so if you lost 50 pounds of fat mass then don’t expect to build 50 pounds of muscle and completely fill-out the loose skin on your body.

Secondly, setting realistic expectations is important and building 50 pounds of muscle mass in a short period of time (<3 years) is unrealistic for 99.9% natural male and female trainees except in extenuating circumstances. However, you will be pleasantly surprised with how the newly acquired lean mass improves the elasticity, tightness, and shapeliness of your skin, particularly in areas where the loose skin is relatively minor.

While building size, strength, and tone won’t completely eliminate your battle with loose skin, it may fill out some of this skin which as a result significantly improves the appearance of your physique without surgery. Furthermore, increasing your muscle mass can add years to your life, slow down the progression of degenerative diseases, and increase your resilience to injury.

Creams, Gels, and Body Wraps

The third technique commonly discussed for managing excess skin without going-under-the-knife is skin-tightening creams, gels, and body wraps. Creams and gels promising to increase skin tightness and firmness typically include elastin, collagen, sunscreen, vitamin A, exfoliants, and antioxidants. [8]

These skin care products typically come in small tubes or tubs and are most effective at draining your bank account. The body wraps being advertised online, on television, and through social media are no different. While the idea of wrapping your body with expensive pieces of fabric lathered in “fat-burning” and “belly-slimming” ingredients sounds convenient and an easy way to firm up excess skin, it’s a prime example of false product advertisement.

While these products may leave your skin feeling tight, much like aloe vera does when applied on a sunburn, they’re not going to burn any additional fat or zap that excess skin. Don’t get me wrong, proper skin is extremely important. I’m a big proponent of applying moisturizer every time I step out of the shower and sunscreen to exposed body parts every time I step outside.

However, these measures are preventative and meant to slow the development of saggy skin due to aging and protect against skin cancer due to excess sun exposure. Unfortunately, none of the skin care products on the market are going to tighten up that excess skin to even a noticeable degree.

Save yourself the time, money, and frustration by not buying these gimmicky creams, gels, and body wraps in the first place. Your body and wallet will thank you.

Have you lost a substantial amount of weight recently? Are you dealing with excess skin but don’t feel surgery is right for you? If so, leave your comments below with tips and tricks for dealing with loose skin not discussed in the article above.

References

1) Rogers, Ann. “Life After Weight-loss Surgery.” MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health, 31 Mar. 2015. Web. July 2016.
2) Bonomi, Trudi. “Average Cost of Popular Plastic Surgery Procedures.” Westlake Dermatology. N.p., 2 May 2014. Web. July 2016.
3) Breast Lift Surgery: Mastopexy. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. N.p., 2016. Web. July 2016.
4) Tummy Tuck: Abdominoplasty. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. N.p., 2016. Web. July 2016.
5) Arm Lift Surgery: Brachioplasty. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. N.p., 2016. Web. July 2016.
6) Thigh Lift Surgery. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. N.p., 2016. Web. July 2016.
7) Bonomi, Trudi. “Average Cost of Popular Plastic Surgery Procedures.” Westlake Dermatology. N.p., 2 May 2014. Web. July 2016.
8) Begoun, Paula. “The Truth About Skin Tightening & Firming Creams.” Paula’s Choice Skincare. N.p., 9 Feb. 2016. Web. July 2016.

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Name: Nick Ludlow

Bio: When it comes to fitness I enjoy reading about historic weight lifters, non-conventional weightlifting approaches, nutritional protocols, and the science behind supplements.