Loose skin after weight loss surgery is inevitable if you have lost a significant amount of weight. Although there are many benefits to bariatric surgery, including improved health, longer life expectancy, more mobility, fewer health complications, and extreme weight loss, of course, there is the risk of having loose skin after weight loss surgery. With extreme weight loss does come excess skin, or loose skin that has lost its elasticity. Loose skin can make everyday life harder and more painful and can be a social burden.
The body areas that seem to be the most problematic are around the abdomen (pannus), back, breast, arms (bat wings), and legs. Occasionally patients will develop excess skin around the neck. Fortunately, there is surgery to remove this extra tissue and improve cosmesis and functionality.
Why Does Loose Skin Happen
When patients lose a significant amount of weight, they are likely to have loose skin after weight loss surgery. Think of a balloon. First, the rubber is tight and elastic, but after several days of being filled with air, it loses its elasticity and becomes stretched out when deflated. The same is true for your skin. Although our skin has a natural elasticity, that elasticity is lost after being stretched over several years.
It is fundamental to note that everyone is different, though. Some patients may lose a significant amount of weight and have less loose skin, while others may have more. Other factors determine the amount of loose skin that remains, such as your genetics, age, how long you were overweight, history of sun exposure, and if you are/were a smoker (both of which damage collagen).
How to Tighten Loose Skin
For most individuals, excess skin does not present any health risk, aside from the risk of infection or rash. Yet, excess skin can be a burden to everyday life, limit mobility, and diminish the self-confidence gained from losing a significant amount of weight. Although there is not a magic solution to get rid of loose skin after weight loss surgery (besides surgery), there are several options patients can consider to tighten or diminish the appearance of their loose skin.
After weight loss surgery, patients will lose muscle mass along with their weight loss; therefore, we encourage all of our patients to engage in strength training exercises 3 to 4 times a week. But as an added bonus, resistance and strength training can also improve the appearance of loose skin by building muscle mass and tightening the skin around the muscle.
“[Although strength training is] not necessarily changing the skin structure itself, but rather how it looks.” – Dr. Caroline A. Andrew, weight-management specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery.
Take Collagen Supplements
Collagen has been making headlines in recent years, touting benefits like diminishing the appearance of wrinkles and boosting elasticity in the skin. Collagen makes up 80% of the skin’s structure, while elastin provides elasticity and helps your skin stay tight.
As we know, loose skin results from the skin being stretched out for long periods, causing damage to the collagen and elastin. Studies suggest that collagen supplements could produce positive effects on skin aging and elasticity. Although consuming collagen supplements will not create a drastic change in the appearance of loose skin, combined with weight training, it could have positive benefits to tightening the loose skin.
Drink Lots of Water
The skin is made up of 64% water. Properly hydrated skin can improve the skin’s appearance helping it stay firm, minimize the appearance of fine lines, and give you an outer glow. Bariatric patients should be consuming at least 64 ounces of sugar-free beverages a day, but more is always better.
Skin Removal Surgery
For individuals who have a lot of excess skin that has become burdensome to their life, there is always the option to have excess skin removal surgery, which can significantly improve an individual’s life by reducing pain, increasing mobility, and finding confidence. Although there are some risks/cons to this procedure, such as the risk of wound infections and a lengthy recovery time, we have never met a patient that regretted their decision to have this procedure.
With that said, we encourage you to discuss excess skin removal surgery with your bariatric or plastic surgeon. This procedure can be costly, yet the removal of your loose skin will significantly improve your self-esteem and quality of life.