What Causes Excess Skin
Major weight loss transformations are a testimony an individual’s determination, resolve, and discipline. But in some cases, that transformation is marked by loose excess skin.
"Our skin is a living organ, and it adapts to weight gain by expanding or stretching," says Christine Choi Kim, MD, a medical and cosmetic dermatologist based in Santa Monica, CA. "It has a limited ability to tighten once that weight is lost, and this depends on a number of factors."
When it comes to the extra flab around your stomach, the accumulation of fat stretches your skin tight—like a fully- or over-inflated balloon—so when you melt away fat, your skin isn't able to snap back to where it used to be, according to the Mayo Clinic. Over time, the elasticity of your skin weakens and stretches your abdominal muscles and connective tissue (also known as the inner girdle) which are largely responsible for how tight and toned your abdomen is. Click to the next page to find out skin doesn't just snap back.
Why Skin Doesn't Just Snap Back
Some people are more susceptible to excess skin. "Your skin's ability to contract and bounce back after losing weight depends on various factors such as the quality of your skin tone at baseline (determined by the strength of your collagen and elastin fibers), age, genetics, the amount of weight gained and lost, sun exposure, and lifestyle factors such as smoking," Kim says.
Quick, drastic weight loss shocks your system in such a way that your skin's elasticity doesn't have enough time to adapt to your new shape. Click to the next page to read about the side effects of loose skin.
Side Effects of Loose Skin
"Mentally, excess skin can lead to embarrassment and a lack of satisfaction with your body image—even after significant weight loss," Kim says. The accomplishment of losing 50 or more pounds is sometimes diminished because all your hard work isn't reflected in your excess skin. And it's not always anticipated. Some people think the end goal of weight loss means a tight, toned body, so the extra skin really hangs heavy on them, literally and figuratively.
Aside from hurting self-esteem, the extra skin can also be uncomfortable. Sweat can get trapped and chafing can occur, both of which spur irritation and rashes. What's more, it can hinder further weight loss and quality of life.
"You may not be able to wear the clothes you'd like to, or be able to perform the physical activities you want to because of the excess skin," Kim adds. Compression clothing is sometimes useful to keep extra skin from moving too much when you run; but it's still challenging. Click to the next page to find out what you can do on your own.
What You Can Do On Your Own
"Building muscle will help rev up your metabolism and exercise can help somewhat, especially if you have good skin to begin with and a modest amount of skin laxity," Kim says. "But it won't necessarily tighten excessively loose skin." There's just too much space for your muscle to fill.
"Don't waste your money on skin-tightening creams either," Kim advises. The same goes for DIY body wraps (wrapping saran wrap snugly around the midsection); you're dehydrating your skin, which temporarily gives the appearance of tighter-looking skin, but won't provide any lasting results. It's also potentially dangerous: Aside from dehydration, you run the risk of cutting circulation off by wrapping your torso too tight. Click to the next page to find out what a dermatologist or surgeon can do to help you.
What a Dermatologist/Reconstructive Surgeon Can Do
"If you have modest amounts of loose skin in specific areas, a dermatologist can use a number of non-invasive skin tightening devices that use radiofrequency or ultrasound energy," Kim says. Make an appointment with your dermatologist to see the available options and discuss what would be the most beneficial to you.
"If, however, you have significant amounts of loose skin, the only effective treatment is surgery to remove it," she adds.
A surgeon will remove extra skin—from your belly, backside, thighs, arms, chest, even your face—on the condition you're able to keep the weight off for 6 months. If you need skin removed from multiple areas on your body, you'll go under the knife multiple times in order to lower the risk of complications and decrease the pain during recovery. If you’ve been carrying 100 or more extra pounds over the years, and now have excess loose skin, you're probably a good candidate for plastic surgery. However there are certain health risks, so it should only be done in extreme cases. Click to the next page to find out how to prevent excess skin from forming in the first place.
How to Prevent Excess Skin from Forming
If you're about to embark on a major weight loss transformation, don't use any drastic measures. Sure, losing a tremendous amount of weight in the shortest timeframe possible seems appealing. But your health remains the most important thing. Plus, losing a modest amount of weight at a reasonable pace—about 1-2 pounds per week—will help prevent tons of excess skin.
Incorporate weight and resistance strength training so you can build or maintain muscle mass as you lose weight. If you just diet and do cardio, or diet alone, you'll lose the mass that plumps up your skin.
Remember, the accomplishment of having lost a significant amount of weight is an unbelievable feat in and of itself. Accepting your body and feeling content in your skin is huge to your health and happiness.