Our skin is an amazing organ. It adjusts and expands depending on the weight we gain or lose. However, there are limits to the skin’s elasticity. Rapid weight loss often does not give skin enough time to snap back and readjust to the body’s new shape.
To understand why, here’s a simple rundown of basic skin structure. Your skin is primarily supported by two layers, the fat layer and the muscle layer. When you gain weight, the skin stretches to accommodate the new deposits of fat. When you lose weight rapidly, the fat cells shrink. However, the skin’s surface area remains the same, resulting in sagging or loose skin.
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How to avoid loose skin
The easiest way to avoid getting loose skin is to gradually lose weight. One of the common reasons for loose skin is aggressive weight loss; when your caloric deficit is high, and you’re losing muscle mass as well as body fat. It is recommended to aim for a 500 to 1000 calorie deficit when losing weight to avoid getting saggy skin, or 1 to 2 lbs lost per week.
Your diet plays a role in the fight against loose skin. Food rich in Vitamin C like green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits help collagen production, which is a substance that is vital for skin elasticity.
Another way to prevent loose skin is by building up muscle as you lose weight. The muscle fills in the void left behind by shrinking fat cells, keeping the skin nice and taut. However, this option may be unpalatable for people who are not looking to build muscle mass.
But sometimes, there’s no stopping the sag
Some people need to lose weight rapidly, for a variety of reasons like decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, or to restore mobility and improve one’s quality of life. Nearly half a million people undergo weight loss surgery every year to treat morbid obesity. Of these, 70 percent are affected by sagging skin.
Some people also lose weight rapidly because of a change in diet. Overweight people who go on the ketogenic diet, for instance, report losing nearly 100 lbs in as fast as 5 months.
And for some people, loose skin after weight loss is simply inevitable, thanks to genetics. Our genes dictate skin properties such as elasticity, and genes are accountable for up to 60 percent of the variation between individuals. In short, some people may lose weight and not have saggy skin, while some may have saggy skin even after a little weight loss.
The side effects of loose skin
Weight loss is a sign of tremendous will, and is a commendable achievement. However, loose skin can sour the victory. “You’ve done all this work, you’ve made this big, massive change that you see on the scale, but you don’t necessarily see it in your clothing, or the way you feel about yourself,” shares Deborah Olmstead, a weight loss patient from the US.
Loose skin can adversely affect an individual in many ways. A study by Jo Gilmartin of the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Medicine and Health has shown that loose skin has a negative effect on the body image of people who have undergone weight loss surgery, and can lead to depression, social anxiety, and difficulties with intimacy.
It can make exercise difficult, not just physically, but also socially. Instead of feeling empowered by being in a healthier weight, women reportedly avoid exercise because of embarrassment over saggy, excess skin.
Loose skin can also impede normal, physical functions. Weight loss patients report significant physical discomfort from saggy skin. It places patients at an increased risk for infections and rashes, because of chafing and constant moisture forming between the folds of excess skin. The chafing can get so painful as to warrant taking painkillers by some patients.
Loose skin has such a negative impact on one’s quality of life that nearly 90 percent of patients want to get plastic surgery to correct loose skin after weight loss surgery. Patients who opt to get body contouring procedures to get rid of loose skin are more likely to keep the weight off, and are generally in a better physical and psychological health than those who don’t.
What are the available treatments for loose skin?
There are a variety of options available for people who want to eliminate loose skin. Even the more extreme cases can be taken care of by surgical procedures such as a tummy tuck, or even a whole body lift, where surgeons make incisions across areas with loose skin, cutting off the worst of it and tightening the rest with sutures.
Those whose cases aren’t as extreme as patients who underwent massive weight loss surgery might want to opt for more minimally invasive options. These are procedures such as skin tightening through radiofrequency waves. These waves target tissues to stimulate the production of collagen, a substance in our skin that makes it more taut and elastic. This procedure is optimal for those who do not want the longer recovery period and risks associated with surgery.
However, a non-invasive approach will not be a fit for all. Patients who have folds or “pendulous” skin that folds over itself will be better off getting surgery to cut the excess skin off. People with pre-existing conditions may also not respond as favorably to the treatment as healthy skin. “Sun-damaged skin, for example, is harder to work on. But skin that is in good condition responds better to treatment,” says Dr. Bruce Katz of The Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. It’s important to check in with your doctor about the appropriate course of treatment.
At The Aesthetics Center, we offer tummy, face, and body skin tightening using radiofrequency technology. We use the BTL EXILIS ELITE™ system to perform body contouring and skin tightening procedures. Send us a message if you have any questions about how the technology works, or want to know which treatment option would be the likeliest to deliver the outcome you want.