Whether or not weight loss leads to loose skin depends on how much weight you lose, how quickly you lose it, your age and other factors. But there are certain strategies that may help you lose weight without sagging skin.
More than 70 percent of people who undergo weight-loss surgery have excess skin, per a November 2013 study in Obesity Surgery. And that loose skin can be a physical and cosmetic problem: For instance, it can lead to chafing, skin infections and even be a barrier to physical activity, according to Penn Medicine.
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Though some loose skin may be inevitable with extreme weight loss, here are 7 tactics to help prevent or minimize it.
Can You Lose Weight and Not Have Saggy Skin?
Whether you can lose weight without loose skin depends on how much weight you shed. If you lose a small or moderate amount, then it's certainly possible to have no loose skin after weight loss.
But skin sagging is far more likely when you lose a large amount of weight quickly (meaning 100 pounds or more), which is often the case if you have bariatric surgery or follow a medically prescribed very-low-calorie diet, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
That's because after your skin stretches to accommodate a larger body size, it often doesn't maintain the elasticity it needs to bounce back, per UConn Health.
Your age also plays a role in whether you're able to lose weight without excess skin. When you age, your skin naturally starts to lose elastin and collagen, per the Cleveland Clinic. And the less elastin and collagen you have, the less resilient your skin will be (and the trickier it will be to keep your skin tight when losing weight).
The following traits can also factor into whether you're able to lose weight without loose skin:
- Your genetics can influence your skin health (and your weight, for that matter), per July 2012 research in Dermato-Endocrinology.
- Too much sun exposure can be harmful to your skin and potentially contribute to looser skin, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
- Smoking can damage skin elasticity and lead to sag, per the Mayo Clinic.
1. Aim for Gradual Weight Loss
Fortunately, there are some tips for how to avoid or prevent loose skin when losing weight. The first? Aim for slow, gradual weight loss to minimize stress on your skin.
When you lose weight at a safe and sustainable rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week, you give your body — including your skin — time to adapt, per the Mayo Clinic. This is typically accomplished by creating a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day through eating less and moving more, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Yo-yo dieting also encourages loose skin. Repeatedly stressing your skin with quick weight loss and gain can exhaust its elasticity, which may lead to sagging, per Princeton University Health Services.
Accordingly, don't crash diet or try fad programs with extreme tactics like only eating one type of food or banning entire nutritional categories, per the Cleveland Clinic. Instead, adopt a weight-loss plan that prioritizes nutritious whole foods and moderate portion sizes so you can lose weight and maintain it in the long term.
While this isn't a foolproof way to prevent sagging skin during weight loss (especially if your goal is to lose a large amount), gradually shedding pounds may help you to avoid some loose skin after weight loss.
Losing weight too quickly can also cause you to lose muscle in addition to fat, which can hamper further weight loss because muscle burns lots of calories, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
2. Eat a Balanced Diet
Skin elasticity plays a major role in preventing loose skin during weight loss. Although age has a big influence on how well your skin bounces back after stretching out, a balanced diet can help keep the elastin and collagen strong, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
In general, eating plenty of nutrient-rich meals and avoiding foods that contain refined carbs, added sugar and trans or saturated fats will help support full-body wellbeing, including the health of your skin, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Per the Cleveland Clinic, certain nutrients may be especially beneficial for skin health, including:
- Vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits, bell peppers and broccoli
- Vitamin E-rich foods like almonds and sunflower seeds
- Omega-3 fatty acids like those in salmon, tuna and flaxseed oil
- Foods with polyphenols like grapes and dark chocolate
3. Stay Hydrated
Adequate hydration is also crucial for your skin health and elasticity, per the Mayo Clinic, which is why drinking plenty of water is another important tip for how to not have loose skin after weight loss.
In addition to benefitting your skin, drinking water is good for weight loss because it can keep you hydrated, suppress your appetite and fuel exercise, according to Johns Hopkins University.
How Much Water Should You Drink a Day?
Use the following calculation to determine how much water to drink:
Body weight (in pounds) ÷ 2 = minimum ounces of water you should drink per day.
4. Get Moving
Another tip for how to lose weight without loose or saggy skin is to exercise regularly. Frequent physical activity may limit muscle loss while you lose weight, per the Cleveland Clinic, which may improve the tone of your skin.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults do 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of intense cardio, plus at least two strength training sessions per week.
5. Take Care of Your Skin
As you age, collagen and elastin naturally lose their strength. But how you treat your skin can mitigate this process, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), and can affect your ability to lose weight without sagging skin.
Too much sun exposure is a common culprit when it comes to skin damage, per Harvard Health Publishing. The fix? Wear sunscreen every day, and shield your skin from the sun in other ways — like staying in the shade or wearing a hat or long sleeves — to further protect your skin from harmful UV rays, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Other beneficial habits, like eating well and moisturizing daily, can also help support skin health, per the NLM.
6. Quit Smoking
Chemicals in cigarettes can damage your skin's elasticity, according to the Mayo Clinic. For instance, nicotine can restrict the flow of nutrients into your skin, which can lead to premature wrinkles, dry skin and — you guessed it — the potential for saggy skin.
So if you're wondering how to prevent loose skin during weight loss, quitting smoking may help.
7. Consider Skin Removal Procedures
It's difficult to accomplish massive weight loss with no loose skin, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But if you've maintained your weight loss for at least a year and don't plan on losing any more, you may want to talk to your doctor about surgery to remove the excess skin (although you should keep in mind that these procedures can be costly and are not often covered by insurance.)
There are a number of procedures that remove loose skin, including:
- Tummy tuck
- Body lift
- Thigh lift
- Breast lift
- Brachioplasty, which removes excess arm skin
It's difficult to have large weight loss without loose skin, which often negatively affects people's satisfaction after weight-loss surgery, per April 2013 research in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences. If excess skin is affecting your quality of life, discuss treatment options with your doctor.
- Obesity Surgery: "Impact of Excess Skin From Massive Weight Loss on the Practice of Physical Activity in Women"
- North American Journal of Medical Science: "Post-Bariatric Surgery Satisfaction and Body-Contouring Consideration After Massive Weight Loss"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Surgery After Significant Weight Loss"
- UConn Health: "Body Contouring (After Massive Weight Loss)"
- Cleveland Clinic: "What You Need to Know About Aging Skin"
- Dermato-Endocrinology: "Genetics and skin aging"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Sun-Damaged Skin"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Fad Diets"
- Princeton University Health Services: "Skin Care"
- Mayo Clinic: "Why do doctors recommend a slow rate of weight loss? What's wrong with fast weight loss?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Is It Bad to Lose Weight Too Quickly?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics"
- Mayo Clinic: "Follow the Healthy Weight Pyramid"
- Cleveland Clinic: "23 Foods That Are Good for Your Skin"
- Mayo Clinic: "Does drinking water cause hydrated skin?"
- Johns Hopkins University: "Yes, drinking more water may help you lose weight"
- Mayo Clinic: "Is it true that smoking causes wrinkles?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Sun Damage: Protecting Yourself"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Aging changes in skin"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition"
- Penn Medicine: "How to Tighten Loose Skin"