If there is one possible down side to losing weight, it is being left with loose/saggy skin. It’s not something that will affect everyone, but for those that it does, it can put a real damper on what otherwise is a great achievement after months of dedication and hard work.
Why can some people be left with loose skin after weight loss? Firstly you need to understand a few things about skin and its structure....
Although you probably don’t think of it as being one, your skin is an organ, the largest in your body in fact. An organ is simply a group of tissue, compromised of cells with a specific function. The main function of the skin is to act as a protective barrier to control entry and exit of substances, particularly pathogens and disease into and out of the body.
Your skin is made up of different layers. The top layer, known as the epidermis consists of several layers of cells, with the top layer being dead. These cells are continuously being replaced. The layer beneath the epidermis; the dermis, does not act in the same way. This layer is very much alive and consists of connective tissue, collagen fibres and blood vessels. Think about when you cut yourself. If it’s only a light scratch then it won’t bleed because you’ve only damaged the epidermis, but if it is a deeper cut and the dermis and subdermis layers are damaged then you will bleed as you will have cut into the blood vessels.
It is the structure of the dermis which gives your skin strength and elasticity to enable it to stretch. This is necessary in pregnant women, but will also occur when people are overweight and have a lot of subcutaneous fat (fat directly beneath the skin). It is a bit like when you breathe air into a balloon, the balloon (skin) stretches in order to contain the air (fat).
People that are overweight that then go on to lose weight may experience loose skin. The more weight you have to lose, the more likely you will be left with loose skin. This is because the skin has been stretched so much that it has lost its elasticity and therefore its natural ability to ‘snap back’.
So how can you reduce the chances of being left with loose skin when you are trying to lose weight?
It won’t be 100% possible to avoid loose skin if you are severely overweight, but everyone can benefit from following these points...
1. Lose weight slowly – You’ve all heard this one before, but it’s usually to highlight reasons such as ensuring you do not lose muscle mass and to avoid a rebound in weight gain due to the dangers of calorie restricted diets, but another reason to add to the list is that by losing weight slowly, you allow your skin time to adapt to the weight loss. If you lose weight too quickly, your skin may simply not be able to keep up with the weight loss and so the result will be loose/saggy skin.
2. Weight training to build muscle – As mentioned above, when losing weight, you do not want to lose muscle. This is for several reasons, one being muscle will help with further fat loss and because it is muscle which gives you the strong/toned look. Extra muscle will also help to ‘fill out’ your skin.
3. Eat plenty of Protein – Not only to help build/retain muscle, but because collagen and elastin which are found in the skin are both made from protein. If you don’t have enough protein to produce collagen and elastin then your skin will lose its elasticity/strength.
4. Drink plenty of water – Water helps the elasticity of the skin by helping to remove toxins from the body.
5. Exfoliate – To help with the removal of the dead epidermis cells and to help increase circulation in the dermis layer which will help with the health of the cells.
6. Vitamin C – Supplement with Vitamin C to help keep your skin healthy by helping with collagen formation which equates to better skin elasticity.
7. Omega 3 fish oil – Every cell in your body is surrounded by a phospholipid bilayer. By supplementing with Omega 3 you will improve the function of cells and therefore the health of the cells.
8. Quit smoking and avoid excess sun – Both speed up the aging process of cells and decrease elasticity.
Just a quick note - Do not confuse fat with skin! Just because it droops and jiggles does not mean it is loose skin. Subcutaneous fat is ‘soft’ and has no structure like a muscle so will always head south and you will be able to grab it. If you can hold more than a few millimetres then it is not just skin, but fat also.
For very obese people, surgery may be necessary after weight loss if the skin has been stretched too far and for too long.
Even if you do end up with a bit of loose skin after weight loss, let’s put things in perspective, you are healthier, fitter, hopefully happier, and now more likely to live longer so you should be proud of what you have achieved.