Losing weight to manage overweight or obesity can significantly reduce disease risk.
However, major weight loss can sometimes result in loose skin. For some people, this may lead to feelings of self-consciousness and discomfort that may be significant enough to interfere with their quality of life.
This article takes a look at what causes loose skin after weight loss. It also provides information on natural and medical solutions that can help tighten and get rid of loose skin.
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What causes loose skin after weight loss?
The skin is the largest organ in your body. It forms a protective barrier against the environment.
The innermost layer of your skin consists of proteins, including collagen and elastin. Collagen, which makes up 80% of your skin’s structure, provides firmness and strength. Elastin provides elasticity and helps your skin stay tight.
During weight gain, the skin expands to make room for increased growth. Pregnancy is one example of this expansion.
Skin expansion during pregnancy occurs over a few months. The expanded skin typically retracts within several months of delivery.
By contrast, when the skin has been significantly stretched and remains that way for a long period, collagen and elastin fibers become damaged. As a result, they lose some of their ability to retract.
Consequently, when you lose a lot of weight, excess skin may hang from the body. In general, the greater the weight loss, the more pronounced the effect of loose skin.
What’s more, researchers report that people who have weight loss surgery form less new collagen, and its composition is not as strong as the collagen in young, healthy skin.
Summary: Skin stretched during significant weight gain often loses its ability to retract after weight loss due to damage to collagen, elastin, and other components responsible for elasticity.
Factors that influence the loss of skin elasticity
Several factors contribute to loose skin following weight loss:
- Length of time. In general, the longer someone has had overweight or obesity, the looser their skin will be after weight loss due to elastin and collagen loss.
- Amount of weight lost. Weight loss of 100 pounds (46 kg) or more typically results in a greater amount of loose skin than more moderate weight loss.
- Age. Older skin has less collagen than younger skin and tends to be looser following weight loss.
- Genetics. Genes may affect how your skin responds to weight gain and loss.
- Sun exposure. Chronic sun exposure has been shown to reduce skin’s collagen and elastin production, which may contribute to loose skin.
- Smoking. Smoking leads to a reduction in collagen production and damage to existing collagen, resulting in loose, sagging skin.
Summary: Several factors affect the loss of skin elasticity during weight changes, including age, genetics, and the length of time someone has carried excess weight.
Problems related to excess loose skin
For some people, loose skin from a lot of weight loss may cause physical and emotional challenges:
- Physical discomfort. Excess skin may be uncomfortable and possibly interfere with normal activity. One longitudinal study found a possible increase in self-consciousness after weight loss.
- Decreased physical activity. While one study found that weight loss encouraged more people to exercise, excess skin was found to interfere with exercise in some people after bariatric surgery.
- Skin irritation and breakdown. One study found that of 124 people who requested plastic surgery to tighten skin after weight loss surgery, 44% had reported skin pain, ulcers, or infections due to the loose skin.
- Poor body image. Loose skin from weight loss may pose negative effects on body image and mood.
Summary: Several problems may develop due to loose skin, including physical discomfort, limited mobility, skin breakdown, and poor body image.
Natural remedies to tighten loose skin
The following natural remedies may improve skin strength and elasticity to some degree in people who have lost small to moderate amounts of weight.
Perform resistance training
Engaging in regular strength training is one of the most effective ways to build muscle mass in both young and older adults.
While research isn’t currently available, an increase in muscle mass may help improve the appearance of loose skin.
Collagen hydrolysate is very similar to gelatin. It’s a processed form of the collagen found in the connective tissue of animals.
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Although it hasn’t been tested in people with loose skin related to major weight loss, studies suggest that collagen hydrolysate may have a protective effect on skin’s collagen.
In a controlled study, skin elasticity, along with texture and hydration, increased significantly after 12 weeks of taking a liquid collagen supplement. The drink also contained vitamins C and E, as well as biotin and zinc.
Collagen hydrolysate is also known as hydrolyzed collagen. It comes in powdered form and can be purchased at natural food stores or online.
Another popular source of collagen is bone broth, which provides other health benefits as well.
Consume certain nutrients and stay hydrated
Certain nutrients are important for the production of collagen and other components of healthy skin:
- Protein. Adequate protein is vital for healthy skin. The amino acids lysine and proline play a direct role in collagen production.
- Vitamin C. Vitamin C is needed for collagen synthesis and also helps protect skin from sun damage.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish may help increase skin elasticity and have anti-aging effects.
- Water. Staying well hydrated may improve the skin’s appearance. One study found that women who increased their daily water intake had significant improvements in skin hydration and function.
Use firming creams
Many “firming” creams contain collagen and elastin.
Although these creams may temporarily give a slight boost to skin tightness, collagen and elastin molecules are too large to be absorbed through your skin. In general, collagen must be created from the inside out.
Summary: Some natural remedies may help tighten loose skin after pregnancy or small to moderate weight loss.
Medical treatments to tighten loose skin
Medical or surgical treatments are more invasive options to tighten loose skin after major weight loss.
Suggested read: Collagen — What is it and what is it good for?
People who have lost a significant amount of weight via bariatric surgery or other weight loss methods often request surgery to remove excess skin.
In body-contouring surgery, a surgeon makes a large incision and removes excess skin and fat. They then suture the incision with fine stitches to minimize scarring.
Specific body-contouring surgeries include:
- Abdominoplasty (tummy tuck): removal of skin from the abdomen
- Lower-body lift: removal of skin from the belly, buttocks, hips, and thighs
- Upper-body lift: removal of skin from the breasts and back
- Medial thigh lift: removal of skin from the inner and outer thighs
- Brachioplasty (arm lift): removal of skin from the upper arms
Multiple surgeries are usually performed on different body parts over 1 to 2 years after major weight loss.
Body-contouring surgeries usually require a hospital stay of 1 to 4 days. Recovery time at home is typically 2 to 4 weeks. There may be also some complications from the surgery, such as bleeding and infections.
Body-contouring surgery may improve the quality of life after significant weight loss. However, one study reported that some quality of life scores decreased in people who had the procedure.
Alternative medical procedures
Although body-contouring surgery is by far the most common procedure to remove loose skin, less invasive options with a lower risk of complications include:
- Radiofrequency treatment. Such treatments may use a combination of infrared light, radiofrequency, and massage to reduce loose skin. While this treatment doesn’t induce weight loss, it may help reduce small areas of fat cells.
- Ultrasound. A controlled study of ultrasound treatment in people who had bariatric surgery found no objective improvement in loose skin. However, people did report relief of pain and other symptoms following treatment.
It appears that although there are fewer risks with these alternative procedures, the results may not be as dramatic as with body-contouring surgery.
Summary: Body-contouring surgery is the most common and effective procedure to remove loose skin that occurs after major weight loss. Some alternative procedures are also available, but not as effective.
Having excess loose skin is common after losing a lot of weight. You may choose to seek treatment if the loose skin is bothersome.
For small to moderate amounts of weight loss, your skin will likely retract on its own. Natural home remedies may help too.
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However, more significant weight loss may need body-contouring surgery or other medical procedures to tighten or get rid of loose skin.