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Your Options For Dealing With Loose Skin After Weight Loss

Published: 13th May 2018. Last updated: 21th July 2019.

Shaun Ward MSc ANutr

Staff Writer


Introduction

Obesity is a major global health challenge and contributes to the majority of deaths in the world [1].

To counter this issue, it is advised that overweight individuals alter their diet and activity levels to promote weight loss and improve their health.

Many people are successful with such lifestyle interventions and dramatically improve their health in a short space of time. It is not uncommon for some individuals to even lose over 50% their initial weight.

However, after rapid weight loss, an individual may be left with excess skin due to the skin having been stretched to support its prior frame [2].

For example, even after weight loss from bariatric surgery, over 75% of patients desire some type of body contouring surgery to deal with issues such as loose skin [3].

This loose skin could seriously affect ones self-esteem as it may not be visually satisfying to look at. Additionally, excess skin may cause skin inflammation, skin-to-skin friction, and potential difficulty in walking, urinating, and performing sexual activity.

There are even documented cases where excess skin has caused itching, fungal skin infections, and restrictions to physical activity.

More often than not the excess skin is located on the abdomen, inner thighs, breasts and upper arms – but this is entirely dependent on an individual basis [4].

Here are the main ways to treat loose skin:

Surgical Treatment

Surgical treatment is currently the only method that will give short-term results in removing loose skin.

This typically involves the surgical excision of excess skin and the subsequent remaining skin to be stitched back together.

Although this procedure sounds extreme, it is actually the only evidence-based treatment for excessive skin that has been shown to increase quality-of-life after surgery [5].

Further, patients that undergo body contouring after bypass surgery appear to achieve better long-term weight control [6].

Success rates of this surgery are fairly high, but there are only a limited amount of studies to get a good overview of the procedure [7].

Importantly, this surgery is not without risk and can lead to severe scarification which should be a genuine consideration before an individual chooses to go forward with this decision.

The surgery also requires a minimum of 4 weeks before the patient returns to work, and physical exercise should not be resumed until 6-8 weeks.

Non-Surgical Treatment

For many different reasons, people with loose skin may not wish to proceed with surgical interventions.

This presents them with potential alternative treatments for their loose skin which are all aimed at tightening the skin via infrared light, radio-frequency, and ultrasound [8].

New radio-frequency technologies focus on inducing heat into the epidermal layer of the skin have been found to be mildly effective in body contouring and skin tightening after 5-8 painless treatments [9].

The effects of dermal heating are now well-recognized and include immediate effects on collagen and elastic fibers [10].

However, it is important to note that these types of treatments are, at best, going to give minor improvements and will certainly not cure any major issues with loose skin.

Most studies fail to find any significant differences in skin elasticity before and after treatments, although patients commonly report subjective changes in skin consistency, skin pain relief, and decreased inflammation processes such as skin bursts [11]. These side benefits are likely due to increased blood flow in the area being treated.

Muscle Gain

Some individuals that succeed with massive weight loss will choose not to undergo any form of invasive or non-invasive surgery to treat their loose skin.

Alternatively, they may opt to spend years adding muscle mass to their frame in hope to “tighten” the skin.

Other examples can be used to get a better picture of this concept. For example, if you have a certain amount of wrapping paper to wrap a present, then it is logical to think that the smaller the present, the more spare or loose wrapping paper is left. On the other hand, the bigger the present, the more paper is needed to wrap around it and you will be left with less spare or loose wrapping paper.

The same concept can be made when it comes to loose skin. The bigger the physique, the less loose skin. However, the goal is obviously to build the physique without regaining fat mass, and therefore building muscle mass becomes the primary focus.

No scientific studies have spent the time to analyze how effective such a long-term approach might be to treat loose skin, but there are plenty of positive experiences that have been documented online [12].

It appears that some people have been happy with their results by focusing on building muscle mass, but it is not an approach that will get rid of the issue, despite small improvements over time.

How well this approach may suit you depends on the amount of loose skin there is to begin with, and your skins ability to alter its elasticity and tightness whilst muscle mass is being added.

At the very least, it may be a viable option for people who want to try out natural methods to treat loose skin before resorting to surgical procedures.

If so, it is recommended to start following a reputable resistance-based strength program for beginners to ease your way into a sustainable routine.

Conclusion

Rapid weight loss may leave someone with a lot of excess skin. This may lower self-esteem and cause other issues such as skin inflammation, skin friction, and difficulty in walking, urinating, and performing sexual activity.

Surgical means are the primary treatment for loose skin which involves the surgical excision of excess skin, however this usually causes serious scarification that people should be aware of before surgery.

Alternative and less-invasive treatments for tightening the loose skin include infrared light, radio-frequency, and ultrasound procedures. However, there is limited evidence that these work and will only produce small improvements, if any.

Alternatively, someone may opt to spend years adding muscle mass to their frame in hope to “tighten” the skin. No data is available to infer how successful this approach might be.

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