How to tighten loose skin after losing weight

Losing a lot of weight is an impressive achievement that significantly reduces the risk of disease.

However, people who achieve greater weight loss are often left with a lot of loose skin, which can negatively affect the appearance and quality of life.

This article discusses what causes loose skin after weight loss. It also provides information on natural and medical solutions that can help tense and get rid of loose skin.

What causes loose skin after weight loss?

The skin is the largest organ in your body and forms a protective barrier against the environment.

The innermost layer of your skin consists of proteins, which include collagen and elastin. Collagen, which makes up 80% of the structure of the skin, provides firmness and strength. Elastin provides elasticity and helps keep the skin tight.

During weight gain, the skin expands to allow room for further growth in the abdomen and other parts of the body. Pregnancy is an example of this expansion.

Skin expansion during pregnancy occurs within a few months, and expanded skin usually shrinks within a few months of the baby's birth.

By contrast, most overweight and obese people carry an additional weight for years, often starting in childhood or adolescence.

When the skin has stretched significantly and stays that way for a long period of time, the collagen and elastin fibers are damaged. As a result, they lose part of their ability to retract (1).

Consequently, when someone loses a lot of weight, excess skin hangs from the body. In general, the greater the weight loss, the more pronounced is the effect of loose skin.

In addition, the researchers report that patients who undergo surgery to lose weight form less new collagen and the composition is lower compared to collagen in young and healthy skin (2, 3, 4).

Bottom line: 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 losing the skin after losing weight:

  • Overweight time: In general, the longer someone has been overweight or obese, the looser your skin will be after losing weight due to the loss of elastin and collagen.

  • Amount of weight lost: Weight loss of 100 pounds (46 kg) or more generally results in a greater amount of skin hanging than more modest weight loss.

  • Years: Older skin has less collagen than younger skin and tends to loosen after losing weight (5).

  • Genetics: Genes can affect the way your skin responds to weight gain and loss.

  • Solar exposition: It has been shown that chronic exposure to the sun reduces the production of collagen and elastin in the skin, which can contribute to skin loss (6, 7).

  • Of smoking: Smoking leads to a reduction in collagen production and damage to existing collagen, resulting in loose and loose skin (8).

Bottom line: Several factors affect the loss of skin elasticity during weight changes, including age, genetics and the amount of time someone has put on weight.

Problems related to excess loose skin

Loose skin due to massive weight loss can cause physical and emotional problems:

  • Physical discomfort: Excess skin can be uncomfortable and interfere with normal activity. A study of 360 adults found that this problem occurred more frequently in people who had lost 110 pounds (50 kg) or more (9).

  • Decrease in physical activity: In a study of 26 women, 76% reported that their loose skin limited mobility with exercise. What's more, 45% said they had stopped exercising completely because their flutter made people stare (10).

  • Irritation and decomposition of the skin: One study found that of 124 people who requested plastic surgery to tighten their skin after weight loss surgery, 44% reported skin pain, ulcers or infections due to loose skin (11).

  • Bad body image: Weight loss of the skin can have negative effects on body image and mood (12, 13).

Bottom line: Several problems can develop due to the loss of the skin, such as physical discomfort, limited mobility, skin breakdown and poor body image.

Natural remedies to tighten loose skin

The following natural remedies can improve the strength and elasticity of the skin to some extent in people who have lost small or moderate amounts of weight.

Perform resistance training

Participating in regular strength training exercises is one of the most effective ways to develop muscle mass in both young adults and older adults (14, 15).

In addition to helping you burn more calories, an increase in muscle mass can also help improve the appearance of loose skin.

Take collagen

The collagen hydrolyzate is very similar to gelatin. It is a processed form of collagen found in the connective tissue of animals.

Although it has not been tested in people with loose skin related to significant weight loss, studies suggest that collagen hydrolyzate may have a protective effect on skin collagen (16, 17, 18).

In a controlled study, the collagen concentration increased significantly after four weeks of supplementation with collagen peptides, and this effect was maintained for the duration of the 12-week study (18).

The collagen hydrolyzate is also known as hydrolyzed collagen. It comes in powder form and can be purchased at natural food stores or online.

Bone broth is another popular source of collagen, which also provides other health benefits.

Consume certain nutrients and stay hydrated

Certain nutrients are important for the production of collagen and other components of healthy skin:

  • Protein: The right protein is vital for healthy skin, and the amino acids lysine and proline play a direct role in the production of collagen.

  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is necessary for the synthesis of collagen and also helps to protect the skin from sun damage (19).

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: A small study found that omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish can help increase skin elasticity (20).

  • Water: Staying well hydrated can improve the appearance of your skin. One study found that women who increased their daily water intake had significant improvements in hydration and skin function (21).

Use firming creams

Many "firming" creams contain collagen and elastin.

While these creams can temporarily increase skin tension, the collagen and elastin molecules are too large to be absorbed by the skin. In general, collagen must be created from the inside out.

Bottom line: Some natural remedies help tighten loose skin after pregnancy or small to moderate weight loss.

Medical treatments to tighten loose skin

Medical or surgical treatments are often necessary to tighten loose skin after a significant loss of weight.

Body contouring surgery

Those who have lost a significant amount of weight through bariatric surgery or other methods of weight loss often request surgery to remove excess skin (22).

In body contouring surgery, a large incision is made and excess skin and fat is removed. The incision is stitched with fine stitches to minimize healing.

Specific body contouring surgeries include:

  • Abdominoplasty (tummy tuck): Extraction of the skin of the abdomen.

  • Elevation of the lower part of the body: Removal of the skin of the belly, buttocks, hips and thighs.

  • Elevation of the upper part of the body: Removal of the skin from the breasts and back.

  • Medial thigh lift: Removal of the skin from the internal and external thighs.

  • Brachioplasty (arm elevation): Removal of the skin from the upper part of the arms.

Multiple surgeries are usually done in different parts of the body within one to two years after a major weight loss.

Body contouring surgeries usually require a hospital stay of one to four days. Recovery time at home is usually two to four weeks. There may also be some complications of surgery, such as bleeding and infections.

That said, most studies have found that body contouring surgery improves quality of life in previously obese people. However, one study reported that some quality of life scores decreased in those who underwent the procedure (23, 24, 25, 26).

Alternative medical procedures

Although body contouring surgery is by far the most common procedure for removing loose skin, there are also less invasive options with a lower risk of complications:

  • VelaShape: This system uses a combination of infrared, radiofrequency and massage light to reduce loose skin. In one study, it led to significant loss of the skin of the abdomen and arms in overweight adults (27, 28).

  • Ultrasound: A controlled study of ultrasound treatment in people who underwent bariatric surgery did not find an objective improvement in loose skin. However, people reported pain relief and other symptoms after treatment (29).

It seems that although there are fewer risks with these alternative procedures, the results may not be as dramatic as with body contouring surgery.

Bottom line: Body contouring surgery is the most common and effective procedure to remove loose skin that occurs after a significant loss of weight. Some alternative procedures are also available, but they are not as effective.

Bring the message home

Having excess loose skin after losing weight can be stressful.

For people who have lost small or moderate amounts of weight, the skin will probably retract on its own eventually and can be helped by natural remedies.

However, people who have achieved significant weight loss may need body contouring surgery or other medical procedures to tighten or get rid of loose skin.

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