Sagging skin is often a side effect of significant weight loss. On your endeavor to lose weight you’re probably thinking whether it’s possible to prevent problems with loose skin. That way, you would be more confident and satisfied with the results. Right? In this post, we’re going to provide some useful ways to prevent sagging during weight loss and other useful info you need to know on your journey.
Causes of Loose Skin in Weight Loss
Skin, as the largest organ of your body, creates a protective barrier against environmental influences. Proteins including collagen and elastin form the innermost layer of the skin. In fact, collagen accounts for about 80% of the skin’s structure and its role is to provide strength and firmness (1). Elastin is in charge of elasticity and also keeps your skin tight.
As you gain weight the skin expands in order to make enough room for increased growth of fat mass in the abdominal and other areas of the body. Overweight or obese men and women tend to carry their excess weight for years. In some people, the weight problems start in childhood and adolescence.
Since the skin is stretched for a significant amount of time the damage of collagen and elastin ensues and they are deprived of their ability to retract (2). In turn, weight loss results in excess skin hanging from the body. Generally speaking, the greater the weight loss, the more pronounced is the sagging skin effect.
Evidence confirms that although excess skin is not a problem for the vast majority of people, it is linked to obesity and massive weight loss (3).
Why don't women have such a serious sagging skin problem after pregnancy? While pregnancy is also an example of skin expansion, this process develops over a few months. The expanded skin generally retracts within a few months after giving birth. On the other hand, in cases of overweight and obesity, the skin keeps expanding over a few years.
Factors that Contribute to Sagging Skin
The extent and severity of sagging skin depend on various factors, including:
- Age (the older you are, the less elastic is the skin)
- Amount of weight loss
- Length of time being overweight/obese
- Sun exposure
Effects of loose skin after weight loss dive deep into a person’s confidence and self-esteem. Sagging skin doesn’t allow you to observe and truly appreciate your significant weight loss. Moreover, sagging skin can produce physical discomfort and interfere with normal activity and mobility. Some people stop exercising entirely in the gym because sagging skin caused people to stare (4). Loose skin can also cause irritations and contributes to negative body image.
Now that you know why we develop sagging skin after weight loss and factors that increase the process, it’s time to see how to prevent or slow it down.
1. Do resistance training
Resistance training is a type of training that increases muscle strength by making the muscles work against a force or weight. Basically, strength or resistance training helps you improve and tone muscle mass thus helping you tighten your skin while losing weight. Moreover, resistance training happens to be an effective way to increase muscle strength for both young and older adults alike (5, 6).
The goal of this approach is to replace the fat that once filled the skin with lean mass. When the underlying muscle is tight and toned it gives the skin a strong foundation to rest. Increased strength, while preventing loose skin, is not the only benefit of resistance training. This type of training also amplifies the calorie burn thus contributing to your weight loss. You’ll get the best effects if you combine resistance training with aerobic exercise and a healthy diet (7). An amazing advantage of resistance training is its versatility in the form of numerous exercises you can perform, challenge yourself, and avoid monotony.
2. Lose weight gradually
When we’re trying to lose weight the goal is always to shed more pounds as quickly as possible. Rapid weight loss to notice results sooner is a priority for most people. However, that may not be the wisest idea if you have a lot of weight to lose. Fast weight loss could contribute to sagging skin.
A study from the International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism compared the effects of fast and rapid weight loss and reached interesting findings. The study showed that weight loss, regardless of its severity, could lead to a reduction in waist circumference, hip circumference, total body water, body fat mass, and other parameters. However, body composition is more favorable following a slow weight loss (8).
The British Journal of Nutrition published research showing although the magnitude of weight loss was similar in rapid and gradual weight loss, the latter had certain advantages. The gradual weight loss promoted greater reductions in fat mass and body fat percentage. Additionally, gradual weight loss significantly preserved resting metabolic rate and body composition compared with rapid weight loss (9).
Why does this happen?
The underlying mechanisms require further research that would elucidate them. A combination of factors is involved. Rapid weight loss is focused primarily on the fast burning of fat. At that point, there is nothing to replace the lost fat and the skin is more likely to sag. The skin has its own elasticity which weakens more and more in people who have been overweight for a long time.
The impaired elasticity doesn’t allow the skin to tighten on its own, especially with substantial weight loss. The body can’t catch up with rapid weight loss. It takes a lot of time to shape and tone the body as you’re losing weight. On the other hand, gradual weight loss allows you to strengthen muscles and replace the fat you lose thus helping you shape and contour your body, tighten skin, and improve body composition.
3. Reduce sun exposure
Excessive sun exposure is, probably, the biggest enemy of our skin. Overexposure to the sun’s damaging UV rays can produce unfavorable effects that go beyond the premature formation of fine lines and wrinkles on your face. UV rays penetrate deep into the skin’s layers and break down collagen and elastin fibers (10). As a result, sun exposure can decrease the elasticity of your skin. The lack of elasticity aggravates the sagging of the skin. The more you are exposed to the sun, the greater these effects are.
Therefore, one way to prevent sagging of the skin during weight loss is to reduce sun exposure, at least in a period between 10 am and 3 pm when the sun is the strongest. Keep in mind that reducing sun exposure won’t make your skin tight automatically. Instead, it will prevent further damage. This is important now when you’re trying to combat loss of elasticity.
4. Quit smoking
About 40 million U.S. adults smoke cigarettes and approximately 4.7 million middle and high school students use at least one tobacco product including e-cigarettes (11). Nicotine in tobacco products increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, and many other health problems. Smoking also harms your skin. Tobacco smoke contains about 4000 chemicals and many of them trigger the destruction of collagen and elastin fibers (12, 13). Since these fibers give skin its elasticity, smoking can contribute to the loosening of your skin.
Moreover, smoking also narrows your blood vessels. To remain healthy, elastic, and strong your skin needs oxygen and nutrients. Blood delivers them. Narrowed blood vessels indicate poor blood flow meaning the skin doesn’t get much-needed nourishment to stay healthy. This is yet another mechanism through which smoking can negatively affect the skin and its elasticity.
To prevent skin from sagging during and after weight loss it’s a good idea to quit smoking. To a long-time smoker, it may seem difficult, or even impossible, to abandon this unhealthy habit. Successful cessation of smoking is possible with strong willpower and support from friends and family. You can join support groups or online boards and programs which help people quit smoking.
5. Consider taking collagen supplements
Collagen is the vital component of the dermis, the innermost layer of the skin. As we age, the concentration of collagen lowers gradually. Various factors, including unhealthy lifestyle, can exacerbate this process. An important strategy to prevent sagging skin during weight loss is to improve levels of collagen in your skin. One of the most convenient ways to make it happen is to consider taking collagen supplements.
A growing body of evidence confirms the effectiveness of collagen supplements. For example, a study from the journal Nutrients found that collagen supplementation was more effective than placebo. Intake of collagen supplements significantly improved skin elasticity, hydration, density, and roughness. These results were retained after a follow-up period of four weeks without the intake of collagen (14). A systematic review of 11 studies published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology confirmed the short- and long-term efficacy of collagen supplements. Intake of these products improved wound healing and slowed skin aging. Moreover, collagen supplements also increased skin elasticity, hydration, and dermal collagen density in this review as well (15).
Not all supplements are equal, though. If you’re considering taking collagen supplements you need to choose wisely. Make sure to buy products made by reputable brands. Check customer experiences to see whether they were positive or negative.
You can also encourage the production of collagen through diet. You can enrich your meal plan with:
- Bone broth
- Chicken (especially neck and cartilage)
- Fish and shellfish
- Egg whites
- Citrus fruits
- Tropical fruits (such as mango, kiwi, guava, and pineapple)
- Leafy greens
- Bell peppers
6. Drink plenty of water
Do you drink enough water throughout the day? Or maybe you wait to feel thirsty? The fact is that most people don’t drink enough water during the day. Hydration is crucial for overall health and wellbeing. It can also help you slim down (16). Water is also important for your skin, its elasticity, thickness, and function. Many studies confirm that water is crucial for skin physiology (17, 18). Therefore, in an effort to prevent sagging skin during weight loss you need to drink plenty of water during the day.
If you tend to forget to drink water, you can download an app that will remind you and track water intake. Or, you can write down reminders on post-it notes and keep them in a visible place e.g. next to your computer, on the cupboard, on the mirror, options are endless.
Nowadays it’s easy to buy flavored water and while it may seem tempting it’s not a good idea due to hidden sugars. If you want to spice things up you can always add strawberries, lemon, or other fruits to your water.
7. Use firming creams
The skincare market is massive. Nowadays we have easy access to a wide range of products that promise to nourish and rejuvenate our skin on the face and body. Firming creams are incredibly popular across the globe. They contain collagen and elastin, which is exactly what your skin needs to remain tight and less saggy.
Keep in mind that firming creams deliver temporary benefits and they are not a replacement for a healthy lifestyle. Just like the supplements, firming creams vary. Some are effective and others are not. Go for those creams that contain reliable ingredients, collagen, elastin, vitamins A, C, and E.
8. Modify your diet
Successful weight loss requires lifestyle modifications. The crucial adjustments include a combination of a well-balanced diet and regular exercise. Your diet can help strengthen the skin and improve its elasticity.
Make sure your menu consists of plenty of protein which encourages collagen production. Since vitamin C is necessary for collagen synthesis an abundance of fruits and vegetables can help you out. Additionally, vitamin C is an antioxidant (19) that protects your skin against oxidative stress. The greatest source of free radicals is sun exposure. Your diet should also contain healthy fats such as olive oil and Omega-3 fatty acids.
What If Natural Methods Don’t Work?
The severity of sagging skin depends on several factors, as seen above. If the natural prevention methods don’t work for you, you’re not powerless actually. It’s wise to see your doctor and consider body-contouring surgery. The main goal of these surgical procedures is to remove excess skin from the affected areas.
Multiple surgeries can be performed at the same time. Your doctor will refer you to a reliable plastic surgeon, or you can look around and make an appointment. The surgeon will inform you whether you’re a good candidate for such a procedure. Reconstructive surgeries, e.g. after a significant weight loss, may be covered by insurance in many cases at least to some extent.
You work hard to lose weight and the numbers on the scale become lower and lower each time you step on it. Weight loss is a major success, but it can come with sagging skin. Loose skin is bothersome to most people. It doesn’t allow them to enjoy the results they’ve achieved and caused other problems such as irritations. You can prevent sagging skin with resistance training, proper nutrition, and collagen supplements. But keep in mind that various factors are involved here and they determine the severity of skin sagging. For some people, surgery is necessary to remove excess skin.