Losing Excess Skin After Weight Loss


Jill Daniels, Freelance Medical Writer

Jill Daniels is a freelance health writer based in New York City. She spent several years writing for WebMD, including their Weight Loss Clinic and Fertility Center programs. Jill has also written/reported for publications including InStyle, People and Women's Own. She received a degree in journalism for Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

January 14 2008

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Significant weight loss can come with some great benefits like increased energy, improved self esteem, and better overall health. Unfortunately, shedding those extra pounds can also come with an unwanted result – excess skin.

Everyone's skin has a natural elasticity, but the larger you get, the more your skin's elasticity decreases. As you gain weight, the tissue expands and your body creates additional skin by producing more skin cells. The good news is that loose skin after weight loss is avoidable. The bad news is that it's not always avoidable. Whether or not excess skin is your fate depends on several factors:

  • The speed at which you shed your pounds definitely matters. If you lose weight slowly, say 1 to 2 pounds a week, your skin has a better chance of adapting to your weight loss. If you want to lose weight, but don't want the excess skin, plan your meals and reduce your caloric intake in small amounts each week. If you drastically reduce your calorie intake, you can put your body into starvation mode, which can cause you to hoard fat, reduce your metabolism, lose muscle, and ultimately wind up with excess skin after your weight loss.
  • Your age is another factor that affects whether or not you will have loose skin. The younger you are, the more elasticity your skin has. Young and healthy skin can simply stretch and shrink better than old skin.
  • How much weight you lose also plays a role in whether or not you'll wind up with excess skin. If you lose 20 pounds, you have a good chance of your skin rebounding. If you lose a lot of weight, like more than 100 pounds, there's a strong chance that you will be left with excess skin. That's just a fact. (But remember, it's still healthier to lose the weight!)
  • How long skin has been stretched out from obesity or being overweight can also affect how likely your skin is to bounce back. The longer you have been overweight, the less likely your skin is to return to normal. Many people who are heavy enough to qualify for weight-loss surgery have skin that has been stretched beyond the point of being able to snap back.
  • Genetics also plays into your skin-sag fate. Sadly, there's not much you can do about this one.

What May Help Prevent Loose Skin?

Exercises in general can be your best bet. There aren't really specific exercises you can do to tone up excess skin after weight loss. But, exercising as a whole can help. Adding muscle allows you to form a tight layer under the skin that can improve how the skin looks. A combination of exercises is best. Cardiovascular exercise will allow you to burn calories and lose weight, and strength-training activities will help you to build and tone the underlying muscle. Participating in toning exercises while you're losing weight also helps you preserve your muscles while you're losing fat. And staying hydrated is important. Make sure to drink plenty of water during your weight loss. A well-hydrated body is generally great for skin and health.

It's essential to note that while exercise is beneficial to your overall health, and it may help with the appearance of loose skin, it's not a magic bullet for reducing excess skin after weight loss. If you do wind up with extra skin, don't despair. Too much skin is far better than too much weight. Excess skin doesn't put nearly as much strain on your heart or your metabolic system – and it can be eliminated.

Proper hygiene is critical for people who have lost large amounts of weight —more than 100 pounds — and are left with excess skin that forms large folds. In addition to being unsightly, these skin folds also create a moist environment that can lead to rashes, bacterial and yeast infections, and other physical problems. Even so, it is better to lose the weight.

How to Eliminate Loose Skin After Weight Loss

Creams and supplements have not been proven to work when it comes to getting rid of loose skin. But a plastic surgeon may be able to help with excess skin removal. A surgical procedure called body contouring or a body lift can eliminate excess skin in many areas of the body, including the midsection, arms, and thighs. This surgical procedure can remove loose skin, and improve the shape and tone of the underlying tissue that supports skin and fat, resulting in smoother contours to the body

The rising popularity of weight loss surgery — about 205,000 people underwent the procedure, also known as bariatric surgery, in 2007— has been matched by a rise in the number of body contouring surgeries performed. The number of lift procedures, where excess skin is removed and the body is reshaped, has grown astronomically. Take the lower body lift, for example, which is a surgery to remove a band of excess skin around the waist, stomach, and buttocks. The number of lower body lifts performed in 2000 was 207, according to the ASPS. In 2006, the number was 10,323, a rise of 4887%.

The amount of time the surgery takes and the length of time you would be required to stay in the hospital depends on the extent of the skin removal. If you're considering this surgery, you should be at a stable weight for several months prior to surgery, and you should consider the pros and cons of undergoing the procedure. It does involve general anesthesia, recovery time and some scarring. But it is considered the best way to remove excess skin after weight loss.

While initial results of body contouring are visible almost immediately, it can take as many as one to two years for the final results to become fully apparent. Surgical scars will remain, but so should the benefits of your excess skin removal – as long as you maintain a stable weight and maintain your general fitness.