How to deal with excess skin after weight loss

Losing weight does wonders for your health, but it can sometimes result in a new challenge: excess skin. If this is a concern of yours, listen up. We’ve investigated all of your options for beating this problem.
Excess skin

Your skin and weight-loss
There’s no doubt about it, dropping dress sizes is a thrill, but the euphoria can be tinged with disappointment if you’re left with excess skin. It can affect anyone, but the older you are and the longer you’ve been overweight, the more likely you are to experience loose skin after weight loss.

“Long-term weight problems cause chronic stress on the skin due to stretching, and gravity compounds this further,” says Dr Phillip Artemi, dermatologist and Honorary Secretary of the Australasian College of Dermatologists. Think of it like a rubber band – if you stretch it out for a second, it snaps right back. But if you keep it extended for a week or more, it won’t have the same elasticity.

Whether you’ll experience excess skin depends on a number of factors: age; genetics; natural levels of elastin in the skin; and even height. “The shorter you are, the less surface area you have and the more your skin is stretched with any weight gain. This increases the likelihood of excess skin after weight loss,” says Dr Artemi. “We’re all different though, so it’s best to focus on the factors you can control.”

That includes sticking to a sensible weight-loss plan. Gradually kicking the kilos, increasing muscle strength and taking care of your skin should be top of your list. “What you eat can also make a difference as some foods can help improve skin elasticity,” says Dr Mark Edinburg from The Eden Institute of Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery. “Healthy eating can keep your hormones balanced and this has a direct impact on reducing excess skin.”

What are your options?

Gone are the days of rib-crushing girdles that leave you gasping for air. Modern shapewear can be both functional and comfortable, but the key is to stay true to your size and choose the right degree of control.

Light control can help create a smoother torso while moderate control prevents jiggling. It’s best to save the firm control for special occasions because it’s quite constricting and not as practical for everyday wear.

The style you choose depends on what area you’re focusing on. Slips and high-waisted briefs help create a smoother midriff, while bike shorts or legging styles help visibly firm and smooth your upper thighs.

Food and exercise
Some areas of the body are more prone to excess skin, namely the tummy, thighs and upper arms, so an exercise program that includes resistance training and cardio is essential. “Resistance exercise can help improve muscle tone under the skin and, although it doesn’t have a significant effect on the skin itself, it certainly helps with the bigger picture,” says exercise physiologist Allan Bolton. “To reduce your chances of having a problem in the first place, keep following the basic Weight Watchers principles: eat well and move well.”

Nutrition editor Emma Stirling says a nutrient-rich diet high in plant foods and antioxidants, such as fruit, vegetables and grains, can also have positive effects on the general health of your skin. Other good foods include eggs and reduced-fat dairy for vitamin A, which supports cell growth, and oily fish for omega-3s that can act as anti-inflammatories.

Health experts and medical professionals consider surgery to be a last-resort option, so speak to your GP about it first. A qualified plastic surgeon will tailor the procedure to your individual needs, but options generally include a tummy tuck, an arm lift, a thigh lift or the increasingly popular butt lift. “After the hard work of losing weight, improvements are remarkable if you have a well-done tummy tuck,” says Dr Edinburg. However, he cautions that surgical removal of excess skin isn’t without risks, including infection.

“Patients need to be made aware of both the positives and negatives of surgery,” says Lois O’Sullivan, registered nurse and cosmetic surgery consultant at Profile Perfection. “There’s a lot of bruising and the final result isn’t seen until the swelling goes down, which can take months. It’s an invasive procedure with a lot of downtime, but it can also be life changing.”

Always get several opinions first. If surgery is the best option for you, consult a qualified plastic surgeon who is a member of the Fellows of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, and Society of Aesthetic Surgeons. A cosmetic physician is not legally required to have the same degree of training as a plastic surgeon.

What about doing nothing?
Serious amounts of excess skin can affect more than your self-confidence – it can make exercising uncomfortable and increase the risk of infection and dermatitis. “But remember that the physical problems associated with excess skin are much less than those associated with being overweight,” says Dr Artemi.

According to Dr Artemi, preventing moisture from collecting in excess skin folds is important – dry well after showering (use the cool setting on the blow dryer if you need to) and steer clear of fragrant soaps because they can dry out the skin. “If you notice a skin problem developing, see your GP early,” advises Dr Artemi.