Medically Reviewed by Ana Reisdorf MS, RD on January 8, 2020.
After all your good work in losing your excess weight, it can be disheartening to find that your skin can’t keep up. Many people who lose weight will find their skin feels loose, especially around areas that experience the most fat loss.
These areas include the stomach, face, and neck, as well as your limbs and bottom. It’s an understandably frustrating result. Getting in shape is tough work, and we’d all want to feel great about our bodies afterward.
That’s why a lot of people opt for surgical procedures like body contouring to get rid of that extra skin. But there are also natural ways to deal with loose skin, and the benefit of choosing them is that you’re also supporting the natural health of your skin. That means it can better adapt to further changes in your body shape in the future and the damaging effects of age.
So why do we have excess skin when we lose weight, and what can we do about it? We’ll go over five natural ways to get rid of loose skin in this article, but let’s start by learning what makes your skin what it is, and how it responds to changes in your body.
Losing Weight Fast
Losing weight doesn’t always mean loose skin. People end up with excess skin when they lose a lot of weight very quickly, which is why it is often associated with bariatric surgery (stomach stapling).
Around 70% of people who get bariatric surgery end up with excessive loose skin and over 80% of these people report negative physical, social, or mental impacts (1).
Surgery isn’t the only way people lose weight fast. Intermittent fasting is increasing in popularity. By reducing overall caloric intake and promoting a body state where fat is burned for energy, it can lead to losing a lot of pounds very quickly.
Partial day fasting – the “16/8” method, with 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating food – can result in losing up to 9% of total body mass in 12 weeks (2).
Some exercise regimes can also burn fat quickly. High-intensity interval training results in fast and sustainable weight loss, especially in conjunction with intermittent fasting or other fat-burning diets (3).
Why Do Some People Get Loose Skin After Losing Weight?
Human skin is elastic, meaning it can stretch and mold into different shapes when pressured, but rebound to its original shape afterward.
However, it also has another property called viscosity. This is because of the high water content of the skin. Viscous materials do not rebound to their original shape after stretching or deforming. It’s the viscosity of the skin that results in loose skin after losing weight (4, 5).
The elasticity of the skin is due to two proteins, collagen, and elastin. Collagen provides structure to the skin, while elastin is responsible for most of the elasticity. Both are required for healthy, elastic skin that resists deformation (6).
The skin naturally loses its elasticity over time as it loses collagen, and the elastic cross-links between elastin fibers break down. When this happens, the viscosity of the skin increases, and it loses its ability to conform to new shapes.
Your skin can also become damaged in other ways. The UV radiation from the sun is one. A poor diet that is high in sugar and lacks vitamins is another (7).
5 Natural Ways To Reduce Loose Skin After Weight Loss
Some people choose for plastic surgery after dramatic weight loss to get rid of the loose skin. For those of us who would prefer a natural, non-surgical route, there are plenty of options.
These five strategies work by improving the overall health and elasticity of the skin. Surgery might provide an instant fix to loose skin, but improving your skin health is a more sustainable solution that will guarantee healthy skin throughout your whole life.
- Eat a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet can improve most aspects of your health, and your skin is no exception. Both micronutrients and macronutrients are important. Micronutrients are found in small quantities in food but are nonetheless important to the functioning of the body. These include vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Vitamins are the primary antioxidants in the skin. Free radicals, highly reactive molecules produced naturally or by UV light, can cause oxidative damage to your skin if you don’t have enough vitamins to neutralize them.
Vitamin E is the primary antioxidant in the skin and is found in a range of dietary sources. These include grains, oils, vegetables, meat, eggs, and fruit. Vitamins C and A are also required in support of vitamin E. Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables, while vitamin A is found mostly in colored vegetables (8).
Eating plenty of vegetables is the best way to get the vitamins your skin needs to stay healthy. Healthy skin is more elastic, so over time, excess skin will naturally reduce.
Macronutrients are the main components of food – fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. The relative mix between these types of nutrients in your diet affects the functioning of your body, your health, and your skin.
The big one to avoid is sugar. Sugar causes chemical bonds to form between the collagen and elastin proteins in the skin, reducing their elastic properties. These bonds are irreversible, so the loss of elasticity is permanent. Avoiding sugar keeps the skin elastic, so it can better adjust to changes in weight and tighten up over time (9, 10).
On the other hand, diets high in fat are beneficial for the skin. Large studies of women in the United States (11) and Japan (12) both found that increased fat intake improved measures of skin health.
- Take Supplements
Vitamin C supplements can increase your collagen production. Deficiencies in vitamin C harm your skin because it plays a vital role in producing collagen. Vitamin C stabilizes the expression of the collagen gene – that is, the process of reading the DNA and turning it into copies of the collagen protein. Eliminating vitamin C results in a reduction of collagen expression by up to 4.9 times, so it’s important to keep your vitamin intake high (13).
A lab study has also shown vitamin D and E supplements improve skin health, making it more elastic and preventing dryness (14). By improving these physical attributes of the skin, vitamin supplements support its natural ability to conform to your new body shape over time.
Supplementing with collagen itself is another way to boost the expression of collagen in the skin. Collagen hydrolysate supplements have been shown in clinical studies to increase collagen in the skin and improve its health and appearance (15, 16).
- Build Muscle
Losing loose skin is a tricky one. There are a lot of factors that influence how well your skin will be able to rebound to its original shape. Sometimes, you won’t be able to get rid of it all.
In that case, building more body mass will keep your skin tighter. But, you don’t just want to put on more fat again. Building muscle mass will make your loose skin tighter while also improving your health, strength, and physical appearance.
There’s no easy way to build muscle, but with a commitment to a program, you can achieve results in a relatively short time.
Resistance training is the most effective exercise for building muscle. This involves repetitions of weight-training exercises to overexert your muscles. When your muscles are recovering from the exercise, they’ll rebuild themselves stronger and bigger.
A considerable body of evidence supports resistance training as the most effective way to build muscle. You’ll need to think about your diet as well – your body needs a lot of protein to build all that new muscle, so protein-rich foods or protein powders will help speed up the process and avoid injury risk (17, 18).
It’s easiest to join a gym and have a qualified personal trainer take you through the process. They’ll tailor a training plan specific to your body type and fitness level, and help you stay safe during the process.
The added benefit of regular exercise is that it improves the circulation of blood in your skin. That reduces oxidative damage, reducing the effects of skin aging in the long-term (19).
- Massage The Area
Good blood flow is extremely important for skin health, as it is required for all of its natural repair processes.
Red blood cells carry oxygen to skin cells, which is required for using energy, building proteins, and all other cellular processes.
They also carry away toxic byproducts that accumulate as a result of these processes. A buildup of these can cause inflammation, which contributes heavily to skin aging (20).
Aged skin loses its moisture and elasticity, making it less able to adapt to your new body shape. Improving your circulation is, therefore, a great way to keep your skin young, healthy, and able to respond to changes in your body mass.
Massage is a great way to improve the circulation of the skin in the massaged area. In studies measuring skin blood flow, massage significantly improved the blood flow in the massaged area compared to control groups (21, 22).
Researchers studied the effects of a vibrating massage device on the expression of several skin proteins. They found that after using the massaging device and applying anti-aging skin cream, elastin and collagen production went up (23).
Getting a massage is also a great stress relief. Stress actually causes inflammation in the body, too, so you can help yourself out in two ways (24).
- Use Skin Creams
The market for cosmeceuticals is packed out. With so many products available that claim to be miracle anti-aging, anti-wrinkle or moisturizing skin creams, it’s hard to know what works and what doesn’t.
Add to that the fact that some of these products can potentially cause allergic skin reactions and contact dermatitis, and you might want to avoid the hassle altogether.
Actually, several natural plant extracts are safe and effective ways to improve your skin health. The extracts contain high concentrations of the plants’ natural antioxidants, which are usually compounds called anthocyanins. They are responsible for the deep red and purple color of many antioxidant-rich vegetables.
A cream containing fennel extract significantly improved the hydration of the skin compared to a placebo cream (25). The available evidence also generally supports the efficacy of a bunch of other extracts, like rose oil, tea tree oil, lavender oil, and rosemary extract (26).
There are a lot of plant extracts that can work, but they all have one thing in common: antioxidants. By protecting against oxidative damage, they are able to slow down the process of cross-linking between elastin and collagen fibers (27). This is the same process discussed above, that excess sugar in the diet can promote.
Like everything else on this list, effective skin creams are all about improving your skin’s health so it can naturally adapt to your new body shape. It may take a while, but healthy skin will be able to adapt to all kinds of changes in your body shape. Wherever you are on your weight loss journey, healthy skin is a must.
Getting body contouring surgery can seem like an attractive option if you’re dealing with an excess of loose skin after losing weight. It’s natural to want to get rid of the problem as quickly as possible.
But before going under the knife, consider that you’re likely to experience more changes in your body shape as you go through life. Life circumstances change. Most people will put on weight and lose it at different times.
For example, you could get into a strong habit of building muscle at the gym for a couple of years and then get a new promotion at work that stops you from being able to exercise much at all. Life is varied, and whatever happens, you’ll want your skin to be naturally healthy so it can adapt to all of the changes your body will go through.
Not to mention that we’ll all get older eventually. Healthy skin is best able to resist the age-related deterioration that we will inevitably experience.
The upshot of all this is that these five techniques will help you lose that excess skin right now, but they’ll also prepare you for further changes in the future and help your skin age gracefully. The holistic approach may require a little more effort than a body contouring procedure, but you’ll be glad you took it.