Preventing And Improving Loose Skin After Weight Loss

If your weight loss journey is progressing in leaps and bounds, you’re probably feeling physically and mentally better than ever. However, you might also be feeling discouraged by the presence of saggy skin on your arms, stomach, and body.

While loose skin is entirely normal and a sign of successful weight loss, there are specific strategies you can use to keep this from happening to you. 

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What causes loose skin after weight loss?

Your skin consists of elastin and collagen, two essential proteins that give your skin its firm appearance, strength, and elasticity. The fibers in collagen and elastin help skin stretch without tearing during weight gain and periods of rapid growth¹.

Weight gain and old age can weaken these protein fibers, causing them to become damaged. When significant weight loss occurs, it's then hard for the collagen and elastin fibers to return to their original, pre-weight-gain state². This is mainly observed when rapid weight loss occurs, as the fibers shrink and contract too quickly.

This is what leads to loose or excess skin during significant weight loss. Over time, the fibers weaken, and the skin is unable to contract as it did before. Younger skin is also able to bounce back better, so your age can play a big part in the development of loose skin too³.

Furthermore, the more weight you gain, the more stretched the skin protein fibers will become. These fibers will stretch and adapt while overweight, so when you lose weight quickly, it will be much harder for the stretched skin fibers to retract to their original length.

How much weight loss causes loose skin?

This usually varies from individual to individual. However, in most cases, small amounts of weight loss, such as 20 or fewer pounds, typically don't lead to the development of loose skin.

However, larger amounts of weight loss, such as 50 pounds and over, especially over a short period, can considerably increase your risk of loose skin. Your genetics and age will also play an important role in determining how much weight loss causes loose skin.

For example, some studies have suggested that those of Caucasian descent show earlier signs of skin aging and are more prone to skin sagging than other ethnicities, due to specific skin physiological mechanisms⁴.

Can loose skin be prevented?

For most people, loose skin doesn't cause any harm to their health and is a natural part of a significant weight loss journey that should be celebrated. However, for some people, loose skin could be a source of discomfort or body image issues that might affect their self-esteem. It is also possible for loose skin to become irritated or even infected.

The key to minimizing loose skin is maintaining healthy muscle tissue, improving the percentage of lean muscle mass, and consequently having a taut skin appearance. If muscle mass is also lost alongside fat cells, this can create the appearance of looser skin.

Here are several ways you can reduce your risk of developing loose skin:

Slow your weight loss

Give your body some time to adjust to the reduction in fat mass. Slow weight loss is also more sustainable over the long term. Aim to lose no more than one to five pounds per week, especially in the beginning.

Avoid factors that contribute to skin damage

Prolonged and repeated exposure to environmental factors like UV rays from the sun can alter the structure and function of the skin. Aged skin can appear dry and wrinkled and is more likely to sag⁵.

Drink enough water

Apart from keeping your body hydrated and healthy, getting enough water is vital for keeping your skin elastic and hydrated. A study found that increased water consumption positively impacted normal skin physiology, especially in those who didn't drink much water before⁶.

Incorporate in some exercise

Exercising is a great way to keep fit, but it can also improve skin elasticity. Add some resistance and weight exercises on top of cardio to maintain and build lean muscle while reducing the appearance of saggy skin⁷.

Get the right nutrients through a balanced diet or supplements

Collagen and elastin can be damaged by free radicals, compounds that wreak havoc on your skin. Incorporate an antioxidant-rich diet with lots of Vitamins C, E, and A to combat this⁸. Omega-3 in fish oil also has various proven benefits, including improving skin elasticity⁹.

Ensure to include foods in your diet that are a high source of collagen or boost the natural collagen production, such as bone broth, non-skinned fish, chicken, eggs, leafy greens, and vegetables and fruits high in vitamin C. You can also consider trying collagen supplements.

Factors that contribute to loose skin

How much loose skin you have after significant weight loss will depend on your specific circumstances. The elasticity of your skin can be impacted by several factors and can even fluctuate during your life. While some people have a lot of loose skin that may require surgical intervention, others may experience no loose skin, even after extensive fat loss.

Some factors that contribute to loose skin¹⁰ include:

How to improve loose skin after weight loss

Losing a lot of weight can result in more loose skin than simple lifestyle changes can handle. However, by using some methods at home and with a health professional, you'll be able to make some improvements to your skin quality and overall look.

While they won't completely erase your loose skin, they can be great options to incorporate into your daily routine.

1. Exercise

Maintain your weight loss, tone up, and build healthy muscle mass with regular exercise and strength training activities. Building new muscles can help fill out some minimal sagging skin caused by fat loss. Replacing fat mass with lean muscles can improve your health and make you look and feel better.

2. Compression clothing and other therapeutic techniques

If your loose skin is not significant, but still causing friction or irritability, wearing compression clothing can help. Compression tops, stockings, and shorts can hold loose skin firmly and minimize rubbing, itching, and irritation from skin-to-skin contact.

While compression clothing doesn't reduce loose skin, it can help ease side effects. Other non-surgical therapeutic options include topical creams that help lift, tone, and tighten skin¹¹, and microneedling, which involves the slight puncturing of the skin, aiding collagen deposition and overall skin tightening¹².

3. Body contouring surgery

If your loose skin is excessive or affecting your quality of life, body contouring surgery can be performed by a surgeon. This surgery involves the removal of excess skin from the body; the surgeon will also help shape the remaining tissue to give it a smooth appearance. Body contouring surgeries vary in price and procedure type, so check with your doctor if you're looking to book a consultation. Surgery types include a tummy tuck, lower body lift, arm lift, buttocks lift, or a breast lift¹³.

Body contouring surgery will not stop the skin from sagging again if you gain or lose weight again. Moreover, it is usually performed in phases and may take months or even years to complete. This type of surgery also carries many risks and potential complications and therefore, it is better to exhaust all your other options before considering this solution.

The lowdown

Loose skin is a common side effect of significant weight loss. While there are ways to reduce your risk of developing loose skin, loose skin is normal and usually won't cause any irritability.

For some, though, loose skin can affect their quality of life. The health of their skin can be improved with natural "at-home" options or via surgical interventions.

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