With more than a third of American adults classified as obese, there is no question that there is an obesity epidemic in this country. Despite this, as a medical professional, I remain encouraged by the cultural changes and improved understanding I see occurring in regards to obesity. While I typically encourage obese individuals to implement a medically-supervised regimen for weight loss and health, I also alert them to some of the side effects associated with significant decreases in body mass and what they could do to alleviate their impact.
A common negative side effect of massive weight loss that I often see is the impact on skin. Rapid weight loss can result in stretch marks and loose skin since the sudden change in mass fails to give the skin enough time to compensate with regard to elasticity. For many patients, the result is loose skin that remains after the weight loss goal is reached.
Fortunately, there are means for reducing the impact of significant weight loss on skin elasticity:
Focus on Long-Term Weight Loss
Do not fall prey to crash diets or fast programs. I often hear about the “latest and greatest” fads for fast, sure-fire weight loss. In addition to having low success rate in regards to long-term weight loss, crash diets also have a negative impact on the skin’s ability to respond effectively to the body’s changing mass. Many of the nutrients vital to the health of the skin – such as vitamins rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids – are typically less plentiful in crash diets and fasting programs. I recommend that people seeking to shed large volume set reasonable weekly weight-loss targets. Dropping one to two pounds per week is a healthy goal that does not require an unhealthy diet, while also giving your skin time to adjust to the changing shape of your body.
Keep It Simple
In addition to maintaining a proper diet during a weight loss program, there are a few other steps that you can take to help your skin keep pace with the changes your body is undergoing. They include keeping well hydrated; protecting your skin from sun exposure with proper SPF coverage; and filling nutritional gaps in your diet with key supplements (such as vitamins C & E, beta-carotene and omega-3). While these suggestions are important for anyone, they are even more important in the midst of a significant weight-loss effort, as the skin is already being taxed to its limit as it works to recover elasticity and adapt to a new body size and shape.
Hit the Gym
Weight training has the dual benefit of not only helping to enhance long-term health, it also improves the appearance of loose skin that often occurs with large decreases in body mass. Weight training increases muscle mass that can “substitute” for some of the lost fat, thereby maintaining some of the pull on your skin. Sticking to the weight training regimen also means you will be less likely to gain back the fat that you worked so hard to lose.
Consider Non-Surgical Treatment Options
There are several non-surgical laser treatment options available to patients seeking tighter skin. Treatments such as Thermage and Ultherapy use radiofrequency or ultrasound technology to stimulate collagen growth underneath the skin’s surface in order to tighten the skin. Results are natural-looking and improve over time. Laser treatments can be performed on many areas of the body, including the face, neck, abdomen, buttocks, arms, and legs.
Sometimes Surgical Options Are Necessary
Patients with more extreme skin laxity issues often consider surgical options such as tummy tuck or body lift procedures to remove the unwanted skin and stretch marks resulting from the significant loss of weight. In some cases, surgical procedures may be the only option as the skin is simply unable to compensate for the dramatic change in the body’s shape.
I consult with many patients who take this as a final step in their long weight loss journey in an effort to fully experience a new sense of self – a sense of self that is more positive and more confident.
Our skin is wondrous and incredibly durable. However, it is not indestructible. One of the things that can damage it is extreme weight loss. If you are undertaking the challenge of shedding your obesity and building a healthier you, congratulations! Just be sure to seek advice from a medical professional before you start the journey. And keep the information shared here in mind in order to mitigate the negative impact of the weight loss on your skin.
About The Author
Gregory Nikolaidis, MD is a Board Certified Dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery, an Austin, Texas based dermatology practice.