This article looks at what scientific research & medical experts have to say about a number of myths & marketing half-truths we hear these days regarding excess loose skin caused by significant weight loss.
If you’re real overweight, weight loss of over 50 pounds or so is a great step towards improving your health & quality of life.
But for many people that weight loss comes with the unwanted, inconvenient, often painful reality of saggy skin – and sometimes lots of it.
7 weight loss loose skin myths
Loose skin from weight loss eventually re-tightens
Weight loss causes the loose skin problem
Skin creams & supplements can get rid of loose skin
Dieting gets rid of loose skin
Exercise tightens loose skin
Everyone who loses weight ends up with loose skin
Surgery is the only option
Up ahead we’ll hear doctors & research scientists set the record straight on the relationship between weight loss & loose skin.
And for those who intend to lose a lot of weight, I’ve included suggestions from medical experts on how to minimize the amount of loose skin you end up with.
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science and medical resources, clinical studies, & nutritional data used in this article.
Myth 1: Loose skin from weight loss re-tightens
The reality: It depends. But in many cases involving weight loss in excess of 50 lb., the loose skin does not tighten back to what it was before the weight gain.
Depends on how much & how long
The main factors that affect whether the saggy skin tightens back or not include how much weight was lost, and how long the excess weight was carried. (1)
Depends on the quality of the skin
As you’ll read in a bit, human skin gets damaged from carrying lots of fat around.
And this makes it likely to end up as loose, redundant skin following massive weight loss.
But another important influence on skin health is the quality of food the person losing the weight is eating. (2)
A poor diet during & after the weight loss period prevents the skin’s ability to try & repair itself.
I’ll go into this relationship between healthy, tighter skin & good food in more detail in the section below titled ‘Dieting Gets Rid of Loose Skin’.
Even young people get loose skin
Age is considered a factor for loose skin by some skin doctors, since it’s common medical knowledge that as we stroll through middle age, our skin will lose its elasticity and our collagen production weakens. (3)
But I came across several YouTube videos featuring young adults in their 20s who:
- had lost a lot of weight
- also had lots of loose skin following their weight loss
The video below features a young guy who lost 160 lb., and below that is a video of a young woman who lost 260 lb. Both will show you how much loose skin they ended up with after losing all that weight.
Overstretched skin can’t bounce back
Plastic surgical director Joshua Zuckerman, M.D., says that skin dealing with an overweight body can only stretch so much, after which it “cannot full contract back down” after the weight is lost. (4)
How being extremely overweight damages skin
So we know now that the skin is stretched beyond what it should be on an overweight body.
And most people who lose a drastic amount of weight – either naturally or through weight loss surgery – are likely to have been overweight for several years. (5)
Medical research has shown many times over that this scenario causes damage to the skin’s materials (fibers and proteins like collagen & elastin) that our bodies can’t automatically repair.
Collagen & elastin weakness
Here, studies found that people who had lost significant weight had skin that was structurally weaker due to damage to both their collagen & elastin, compared to people who hadn’t been severely overweight. (6)
And in another clinical trial, the patients were having loose skin surgery following massive weight loss. Their collagen fibers were abnormally weak, and the researchers blamed the patients’ long history of being obese before losing the weight. (7)
Myth 2: Weight loss causes the loose skin problem
The Reality: No, not exactly. The loose skin problem exists because the skin is an a weakened & damaged state.
And it got that way because of:
1) all the weight gain that it had to deal with
2) how long the skin had to endure the stretching situation we just learned about
3) poor quality food that doesn’t nourish the skin
Besides the weight gained and the amount of time it hung around, here are a few other things that contribute to the skin damage that causes loose skin:
Myth 3: Creams & supplements get rid of loose skin
The reality: No they won’t.
Although… Note that some food-based nutrients, even those in supplement form, can be effective at helping prevent loose skin.
That is, if they’re taken during & after the “weight losing” period – and as part of a complete diet plan – as I get into later on in the article.
As far as creams go
I think all of the medical authorities I came across while researching this article poo-poo’d the idea that applying some kind of cream, lotion, or butter would have any effect at all on loose skin.
Here are a couple of examples of those opinions:
“There are no efficacious topical products or OTC remedies for excess skin” – Dr. Joshua Zuckerman, skin surgeon (11)
“There’s no magic cream (for loose skin)” – Dr. Jennifer Capla, skin surgeon (12)
“…collagen and elastin molecules are too large to be absorbed through your skin. In general, collagen must be created from the inside out.” – Healthline (13)
Myth 4: Dieting gets rid of loose skin
The Reality: It won’t, if by diet you mean just restricting your calories ‘somehow’, without a clear game plan.
A broad generality just won’t work here, since each person is different as far as:
- amount of weight lost
- years being extremely overweight
- current/recent diet quality
- current workout program if any
- actual amount of loose skin**
** “actual”– As you’ll read below, it turns out that what some people describe as their loose skin, is in fact fat instead.
And if some of it’s fat, it can be shrunk by a diet.
YouTube comparisons of loose skin vs. fat
The reason I bring up this fat vs. loose skin idea now is…
I saw several people on YouTube showing the audience their weight loss-related loose skin and sharing their feelings about it.
There are a lot of those kinds of videos, believe it or not.
And in a couple of them while the people were complaining about their saggy skin and pinching it, I noticed a big difference with what was between their fingers.
Skin is thin, but fat is…
It’s important to note here: Skin by itself is very very thin. As the medical authority site Healthline says,
“If you pinch the problematic area and there are more than a few millimeters of skin, then there’s subcutaneous fat present. Losing that fat could firm the skin.” (14)
Comparing what loose skin & fat look like
It was pretty easy to tell that a number of people had more than just skin in their hands: there was still a lot of fat there.
Compared to the others who had just folds of paper-thin skin, what they were pinching looked quite different: it looked like a typical roll of belly fat.
Check out these images, and see for yourself the difference between what’s loose skin, and what’s sagging skin with a bunch of fat left in it.
Is there a specific diet for reducing loose skin?
We’ve already learned how skin is damaged by weight gain, which can make getting rid of all that excess loose skin difficult.
But here’s an encouraging fact: Skin regenerates itself completely every several weeks. (15)
Plus as I mentioned earlier, good food & good skin go hand in hand.
As Healthline puts it:
“it’s increasingly clear that what you eat can significantly affect the health…of your skin.” (16)
Tightening loose skin through diet
Here’s an encouraging video from Dr. Ken D. Berry, author of the best-selling book, Lies My Doctor Told Me.
He goes into detail on loose skin following weight loss, and how the relationship between what you eat and your skin’s ability to heal itself are connected.
Here’s a few of my main takeaways from Dr. Berry’s video:
- There is no quick fix: all creams & pills are worthless
- Your skin’s quality is based on what you eat
- Skin regenerates every couple of months
- Feed your skin the right foods so it can improve
- You can tighten up loose skin but it’s a slow process
- Intermittent fasting helps
- The right foods + fasting can tighten loose skin
Myth 5: Exercise tightens loose skin
The Reality: Not necessarily. As we’ve just seen, if there’s fat there in that loose skin, then burning calories off through exercise could help.
But look at the picture of the guy who lost 160 lb. He has what is simply loose skin, there’s little to no fat there.
Looking at his shoulder & chest muscles, I can tell that he’s obviously been strength training.
And I bet he’d be sporting a six-pack of abs if it weren’t for all that extra skin hanging around.
No amount of cardio is going to help that, since there’s no fat to burn off.
Consider strength training
Weight loss expert Lori Shemek PhD recommends building muscle to help fill in the space where the fat was, and give the skin “a strong foundation to rest on.” (17)
Healthline recommends weight lifting as well, saying it can improve “the appearance of loose skin, especially if the loose skin is from weight loss”. (18)
Once again comparing those two photos from earlier, it’s pretty obvious that the guy strength training has done a better job to minimize his loose skin pretty well, considering he lost 160 lb.
Myth 6: Everyone losing weight gets loose skin
The Reality: Not true.
As Dr. Berry points out in his video and in lots of before/after success stories you see online, a number of people figured out how to lose weight successfully without ending up with a lot of excess loose skin.
Putting into practice all the medical experts’ opinions used in this article…
…I’d guess that those people who lost weight (without gaining folds of skin) combined a great diet with a workout program that improved their skin quality, and maintained or built their muscle during their weight loss effort.
And those people that avoided the loose skin problem probably didn’t lose their weight too rapidly, since most of the medical weight loss experts mentioned that as a contributing factor to skin problems. (19)
Also, Dr. Berry stated that going the specialized dieting route is not a quick fix and thus it will take time.
Myth 7: Surgery is the only option for loose skin
The Reality: Most of the plastic surgeons I came across while researching this article seem to think so, perhaps for obvious reasons. However, there are physicians & weight management experts who disagree and offer alternatives to surgery.
Plastic surgeons’ opinions on loose skin
“Typically speaking, after bariatric surgery or massive weight loss, plastic surgery is required” – Dr. J. Zuckerman (20)
“It’s something that has to be dealt with surgically” – Dr. J. Capela (21)
But again, cruise the internet and you’ll come across people who’ve lost in excess of 100 lb. that don’t have gobs of sagging skin needing to be surgically removed.
My thinking is: They obviously did something different than those who ended up with lots of loose skin. Right?
Weight loss experts disagree with surgeons
Other doctors, weight specialists, & medical authorities are on record stating that there are things someone intending to lose a lot of weight can do to avoid ending up with a lot of unwanted loose skin.
In these last few sections we’ve seen that there’s medical & science support for reducing loose skin via other means than surgery too.
And the final section below, How To Keep Skin Tight When Losing Weight, summarizes the advice that I gathered from those various health authorities. Interestingly, their lists were all about the same.
How to keep skin tight when losing weight?
Here’s a list of science-backed advice to help avoid ending up with a lot of loose skin while losing a lot of weight.
Do strength training
* Building muscle boosts metabolism, which helps boost fat burning (24)
* More muscle helps fill in spaces in your skin that were previously filled with fat (25)
Lose the weight gradually
* Medical experts generally agree that healthy weight loss is 1-2 lb. per week (22)
* Losing weight too quickly can affect skin quality (23)
Avoid sun exposure
* Sun is well-known to damage skin (31)
* Consider SPF clothing & regular use of broad spectrum sunscreen (32)
Eat or take skin-building nutrients
* Studies show collagen supplements improve skin’s collagen strength (26)
* You can also get daily collagen from bone broth (27)
* Vitamin C helps in collagen production and also provides antioxidant protection from sun damage (28)
* Fish oils with Omega-3s improve skin quality & texture (29)
* Lots of protein is important for healthy skin (30)
Eat lots of vegetables & fruit
* Dark leafy greens have the Vitamin C plus minerals to help boost collagen production. And carrots have vitamin A, which has beta-carotene in it, which is also good for your skin (35)
* Tomatoes & peppers have lycopenes in them, which are powerful anti-oxidants that help ward off skin damage (36)
Drink plenty of water
* Water has been shown to improve both the tone & function skin (33)
* Drink enough to prevent dehydration which damages skin (34)
I hope that my article on the relationship between significant weight loss and subsequent loose skin is useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey.