Article By: Whittany Gibson, RDN
Whittany is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in bariatric nutrition counseling, providing education and support prior to and following weight loss surgery.
Is loose skin holding you back from feeling your best after weight loss surgery? If this is you, you’re not alone. After significant or dramatic weight loss, you can be left with more than just a memory of your heavier self! Excess skin can be very uncomfortable, often causing painful rashes and discomfort. It can hold you back from wearing the clothes you finally should be able to fit into or from the exercise you want to do. But there are solutions! While excess skin is inevitable, it's helpful to understand the "why" behind it and what you can do to help minimize the look of saggy skin.
1) Why is there so much loose skin? Many factors can cause loose skin. Aside from weight loss, genetics and lifestyle factors should also be considered. You have a particular genetic makeup that you have zero control over. Additionally, lifestyle choices such as years of smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and poor diet also affect your skin's health. The amount of loose skin you have after weight loss also depends on how much you lose, and more rapid weight loss can mean saggier skin. Typically, those with the most excess weight to lose before surgery can experience more. Just think about how much time your skin has been stretched by extra fat. It won't be easy for your skin to bounce back. Also, as you age, you lose skin elasticity. Saggy skin, regardless of size, is inevitable and a part of life and aging.
2) Will I have a lot of loose skin after my weight loss? The amount of loose skin you will have cannot be predetermined. It depends on your age, genetics, and amount of excess weight. Everyone will have loose skin to some degree. Younger patients will likely have less saggy skin due to having better skin elasticity and more collagen, whereas older patients will not. Other factors include your body type, the current condition of your skin, and lifestyle choices.
3) My loose skin is causing rashes and pain. What can I do? Ask your surgeon or medical team about interventions. These can include prescription creams to create a barrier and help prevent friction, or powders to help keep moisture at bay. After you have lost most of your excess weight, surgical options may be available to you.
4) How can I minimize loose skin? To help the appearance of your skin, optimize good nutrition and skin care.
- Stay hydrated. Aim to meet your minimum fluids goals of at least 64 oz clear, sugar-free liquids for hydration, as this helps your skin's elasticity.
- Moisturize. This will help your skin to stay hydrated, improving its appearance.
- Optimize your diet. Include collagen-rich foods, healthy fats, and foods high in antioxidants. Your primary sources are fish, chicken, shellfish, avocado, nuts and seeds, and colorful fruits and vegetables.
- Use supplements. While diet should be considered first, it can be hard to consume enough dietary sources just given the size of your stomach and the amount of food you can eat. Hair, skin, and nails or collagen supplements may help.
- Build muscle. Muscle can help take up the space where there once was fat. It can also help you to look toned, keep a healthy metabolism, keep bones strong, and protect aging bones.
These are not fix-all solutions by any means. You will still have excess skin. However, supplements, in addition to all the other recommendations, can help improve the skin's elasticity and help slow collagen breakdown as you age.
5) What about surgical options? Surgical options can be the answer to taking care of your excess skin and eliminating issues with rashes and discomfort. A panniculectomy is usually the prominent procedure since most loose skin lies in the abdominal area. Depending on your insurance and medical necessity, insurance may cover most of the cost of this procedure. However, it is not usually considered until one year after surgery, as this is when you will have lost most of your excess weight. Plastic surgery for other areas of concern can also be considered but may not be covered by insurance.
Remember, you cannot prevent loose skin, but you can take different approaches to lessen the severity. With a healthy diet, exercise, and good lifestyle habits, you can improve the condition and appearance of your skin. Discuss alternative options with your surgical team. It’s also important to celebrate your success with your weight loss. Although you may not be 100% happy with your appearance, you have made great strides to improve your health and longevity. Now that’s something to be proud of!
BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.