There’s nothing more motivating than seeing before and after photos of a successful weight loss journey.
It establishes the fact that weight loss is not unachievable, as it is often touted to be.
It’s just a matter of applying some basic rules and sticking with them until you achieve your desired body weight.
But, there’s one aspect of weight loss that’s rarely spoken about, if ever.
Loose, saggy skin that hangs off your body after a drastic transformation never makes it to social media, does it?
But sadly, it’s an unavoidable aspect of weight loss that you’ve got to deal with.
The question is, how much weight loss causes loose skin?
Is it 10 lbs., 20, 50, 100?
Unfortunately, there’s no clear consensus out there about how much weight loss will leave you with saggy skin.
We figured that it was time to add our two cents to this debate.
As always, we are going to provide only fact-based information& back up any claims with references (as much as possible).
What Causes Skin to Lose Its Tightness and Become Loose?
The skin is the body’s largest organ of the integumentary (external) system, (oh yes, it is an organ) and probably the most elastic one, that has to adapt to even the slightest fluctuation in your body weight.
Think of it like an external wrapper that is wrapped around your body mass, which includes muscle, water and a layer of fat that may be thick or thin, depending on your body composition.
The skin itself is made up of several layers.
The outer layer, called the epidermis is in a constant state of renewal, with dead cells being flushed out and newer ones taking their place. But below this layer, lies the dermis and sub-dermis, two other layers that are made up of fiber, blood vessels and elastic connective tissue.
When you are overweight for a prolonged time frame, this elastic connective tissue, made up of collagen and elastin,(which is a protein that gives the skin the ability to stretch), adjusts to your body weight by wrapping around it, like say, a stretched cling wrap.
When you lose weight dramatically, (fast, unsustainable weight loss), there’s a sudden loss of fat and muscle, which leaves you with an empty wrapper of sorts that was overly stretched to begin with.
Now, the good news is that being a living organ, the skin will adapt to your new body weight and will eventually return to its original form.
The bad news, is that it’s impossible to predict how long it will take to return to its normal form. It may take weeks, months or even years.
Most people do not have that kind of time or patience.
What Determines How Much Time the Skin Takes to Regain Its Elasticity?
There’s a myriad of factors that can affect the skin’s ability to regain its elasticity following weight loss.
How Long Were You Overweight For?
The longer you were obese, the more collagen and elastin you are likely to lose after weight loss. This makes it all the more difficult for your skin to regain it in a short time span.
How Much Weight Did You Lose and How Soon?
This is one of the most important aspects that affect the elasticity of your skin. Someone who lost 30 lbs. over the span of 6-8 months is less likely to have loose skin, as opposed to someone who lost 80 lbs. over the same time. The skin needs time to adjust to the change in body mass. When it does not have that time, it starts to sag. We will talk more about this in a bit.
How Old Are You?
If you are younger, you have a higher concentration of collagen in your skin, which makes it easier for the skin to adapt to a sudden change in body mass. The older you get, the more difficult it becomes for the skin to adjust to sudden weight loss. (1)
Good Old Genetics
Chances are that you inherited your skin elasticity from your folks. Having good genes is half the battle won. Same goes for other traits if you want to get taller, gain muscle, etc, genes play a vital role in that. Also of course, if you want to lose weight for some people it’s really hard to lose weight in the first place doesn’t matter how much time they spend on a cardio exercise machine, for them it’s going to be harder simply
Chronic sun exposure is probably one of the worst things for your skin. It can cause UV damage, reduce the amount of collagen in your skin and also reduce the production of elastin. (2)
Smoking and alcohol are two lifestyle habits that can reduce collagen further and also damage the existing collagen in your skin. (3)
So, How Much Weight Can I Lose Before It Causes Loose Skin?
The thing with weight loss is that we all need instant results, rather than more sustainable, but slow results.
This is what makes people choose crash diets or drastic calorie cuts to loose fat. But if you are losing more than 2-3 lbs. a week, it’s very likely that you are also losing lean muscle tissue along with fat.
That’s doubly hard on your skin’s elasticity.
Also, once someone has made up their mind to lose weight, they rarely think about something like loose skin.
However, if you are obese, you must consider all of the above-mentioned factors and set a reasonable calorie reduction that allows you to lose weight while allowing your skin to adapt to the change in body mass.
There’s a clinical study that was conducted in 2008, which showed exactly this. Slow and steady changes to diet and activity might help you prevent loose skin. (4)
But we still cannot put a number out there, can we?
Will I Have Loose Skin After Losing 50 Pounds?
You are likely to have some amount of loose skin after a 50 lbs. weight loss, especially in areas where your body tends to store the most amount of fat.
Everybody has different fat distribution. Some tend to store a lot of fat in the belly, hips and thighs, while others may store more fat in the arms, some have skinny arms.
Assuming that you took a more sensible approach towards weight loss and lost 50 lbs. over the span of a year or more, any stretch marks and loose skin will be concentrated in one or two areas of your body.
The skin on the rest of the areas should have adapted to the new, leaner musculature under it.
But if you took a more dramatic approach towards fat loss and lost 50 lbs. in five to six months, then you are likelier to have loose skin on multiple parts of the body.
What About 30 Pounds?
30 lbs. are not a lot of weight. I mean, it definitely is. Don’t get me wrong.
What I mean is that it’s not too drastic a drop in body weight, to cause loose skin, in MOST people.
if you are genetically prone to have loose skin…
if you are say, 40 years old (hypothetically) and your skin has lost a fair bit of elastin in the recent past…
if you have a field job and have been exposed to the sun for years…
…then chances are that even a 30 lbs. drop in weight may cause loose, saggy skin.
How to Avoid Loose Skin After Weight Loss
There are two ways to do this.
- You can either lose weight slowly and steadily, allowing the skin in your problem areas enough time to adapt to the new bodyweight. You can accelerate the process somewhat with a healthy diet, nutrition, and some supplementation.
- You don’t get hung up over loose skin. Just continue to focus on the weight loss. In all probability, it’s going to make you fitter, healthier and more active anyway. So focus on the bigger picture and cross the bridge when you come to it. Yes, there are ways in which you can restore your skin to its former glory.
Let’s talk about the first way in detail.
Hydration is the most underrated component of maintaining healthy skin. All that you’ve got to do is drink adequate amounts of water every day and it is clinically proven to improve skin biomechanics, which by the way, includes elasticity, maximum extensibility and the ability of the skin to return to its original state. (5)
Many a time, during weight loss, our diets become micro-nutrient deficient, which results in the skin losing elastin and collagen. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish such as Salmon helps keep your skin hydrated. Avocados are incredibly healthy and are a rich source of skin-healthy fats that improve the elasticity. (6)
If your diet is deficient in Vitamins, it’s imperative that you pop a multivitamin pill every day. You need vitamins like Vitamin C & E, to protect the skin from free radical damage and to produce enough collagen.
There’s at least one clinical study that reveals that dietary collagen might help improve skin elasticity. Although it’s a little preposterous to come to a definitive conclusion based on one study, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence out there pertaining to Asian diets, which are rich in dietary collagen, and delayed aging in the population. A little extra collagen protein in the diet never hurt anybody, did it? (7)
How Long Does It Take to Tighten Skin After Weight Loss, Is It Even Possible?
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer to this.
Our bodies are unique and each one has different biochemistry, DNA, genetics, diet, nutrition and lifestyle habits, all of which play a key role in determining how soon our skins regain their lost elasticity.
In some cases, the loose skin may take years to regenerate, which can affect a person psychologically.
There are people who have successfully lost over 100 lbs., but are forced to cover themselves up in public using compression garments, because they feel disheartened with all the additional skin.
Surgical Methods to Correct Loose Skin
Surgery as a method to improve physical characteristics may be looked down upon. But after losing a lot of weight, men and women with loose skin may face emotional and psychological challenges, adapting to the extra skin and may be dissatisfied with the way their bodies look.
A study reveals that many men and women experience a marked improvement in psychological health and social aspects after surgical intervention to correct excessive, saggy skin. (8)
There are multiple ways to correct the condition. Also, removal of excessive skin on the abdomen and the breasts may be covered by insurance for health reasons.
It’s a cosmetic surgical procedure (not covered by insurance) in which the skin and muscles around the abdomen are tightened. If you have loose skin concentrated around the abdominal area, then this is probably the best way to fix it. An abdominoplasty can produce excellent, scar-free results.
A panniculectomy is recommended if the excessive skin hanging around your belly or limbs are causing an infection or skin breakdown. The surgical procedure involves removing the excessive skin and tightening it.
Body contouring is a more detailed and pricier procedure in which patients have the option to completely transform their physical appearance. A procedure called circumferential body lift, where incisions are made on the abdomen, flank and back, often results in a loss of 5-12 lbs. of loose skin. Also, because the procedure has many physiological (reduces pain and chaffing) and psychological benefits, insurers may cover it.
Foods that Tighten Skin After Weight Loss
Believe it or not, your dinner plate can make a significant difference in the way your skin looks, especially after weight loss.
Apart from the fatty acids and the micronutrients that I mentioned earlier, there are some food items that you can add to your diet to improve the collagen and elastin levels of your skin.
Protein is the fundamental building block of muscle tissue. But it’s also a critical macronutrient in helping to maintain the elasticity of the skin. Protein is made up of amino acids, which accelerate the skin regeneration process and amplify the production of collagen. Collagen is the most abundantly found protein in the human body, and along with elastin, it is the most crucial element in helping tighten skin after weight loss. In a nutshell, bump up your protein intake. If you don’t have time to prepare your food you can use protein shakes, but don’t solely rely on protein shakes and not working out.
All Colors of The Rainbow
Experts suggest adding as many colored foods to your diet as possible. (9)
- Dark greens such as Kale, Spinach, Broccoli, Pok choy, Brussels sprouts
- Purples such as cauliflower, eggplant, turnips, cabbage
- Oranges and yellows such as bell pepper, carrots, Bananas, Squash, Pumpkin
- Reds such as tomatoes, red peppers, radishes
- Whites such as garlic, Turnips, Fennel, Celery and radishes
Each one of these is loaded with beneficial phytonutrients and antioxidants that help improve skin tone and may improve the elasticity of your skin.
Cut down on Sugar
Sugar, the bane of the modern, processed diet is related to the formation of advanced glycation end product (AGE), which is a toxic molecule. It can attach itself to collagen transforming it from flexible to rigid, which makes it harder for your skin to regain its elasticity.
Does Everyone Get Loose Skin After Weight Loss?
If you are talking about a substantial amount of weight, to the tune of 30-100 lbs. in a relatively short time span, then yes.
Even teenagers who lose a lot of weight in a short time span will have some amount of excessive skin to deal with.
The time is the key here though. If the weight loss is spread out over a span of a year and a half, then the loose skin will be much lesser.
The good thing is, with age on their side and proper nutrition, their skin might bounce back a lot sooner than the skin of a 45-year old.
Why Some People Have No Loose Skin After Losing up To 150 Lbs
There can be a lot of reasons why this can occur.
- They probably lost that 150 lbs. over a period of two to three years, which gave their bodies enough time to adapt to the changes. Hence, their skins regained the lost flexibility and elastin content, gradually tightening over the remaining lean muscle tissue, rather than just hanging loose over their abdomen or limbs.
- They were extremely diligent with their diets and nutrition, making healthy changes that helped them maintain optimum skin health and elasticity. Lots of Omega-3 fatty acids, adequate protein, all the important micronutrients, all of these go a long way in helping the skin bounce back a lot sooner.
- They use compression garments. Believe it or not, unless you see someone in the buff, there’s no way to know how their bodies really look. Compression garments are very effective at concealing loose skin. In fact, it was argued that it one of the seasons of ‘The Biggest Loser’, the participants wore compression garments to the finale to conceal all the extra skin that they had.
- They corrected their skin surgically. Really, it’s not a big deal to surgically correct loose, sagging skin. By addressing weight loss, you have taken the first step towards a healthy lifestyle. If surgery is what it takes to fix the remaining, tiny problem that’s causing you anxiety, then so be it.
This, or they are some genetic outlier bestowed with the most amazing stretchy skin aka Mr. Fantastic.
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