Like many of my patients, maybe you have lost weight recently in an effort to boost your health and lower your risk for serious diseases like diabetes and heart disease. And like my patients, you may not have been prepared for the loose skin that can occur along with weight loss – especially if you’re over age 40! Take heart, though, as there are several things you can do to tighten up your skin again that I’d like to tell you about.
Lose The Weight AND The Loose Skin
In your 20’s you could lose 20-30 lbs in a month and your skin could bounce back fairly easily. As we get older, past the age of 40, and especially past age 50, skin loses some of its elasticity and ability to bounce back as quickly as it once did. We shouldn’t try to lose a significant amount of weight quickly – 1-2 lbs a week is best to help our skin re-adjust itself.
If you’ve lost a significant amount of weight, such as 50 lbs or more, it will take a little longer for your skin to re-form to a smaller frame with less fat. If your BMI (body mass index) was over 40 to begin with, you may need a surgical procedure to remove excess skin in certain areas, especially if it is prone to rashes and infections. However, your skin is an amazingly resilient organ and, with the proper treatment, it can re-form to a smaller frame. Here are some things that help:
Diet. While you were dieting, hopefully you were eating more protein. If not, some of your weight loss could have been muscle tissue and this needs to be rebuilt so that the skin has pumped up muscle to cover now instead of fat. Make sure you are eating adequate amounts of protein. Figure 0.5 grams per pound of body weight. Ex. Weight: 150 lbs/75 grams protein every day to re-gain muscle mass.
Water. Water is crucial to skin elasticity and plumping up sagging skin. In fact, a simple test of dehydration is skin “tenting” on the back of your hand or forearm. If you can pick up skin in these areas, you’re dehydrated and need water. Drink a minimum of 64 ounces of water a day, although many researchers advocate more, such as 90 to100. However, drinking more than this, unless you are sweating very heavily can have negative health effects.
Vitamins. The best vitamins to rebuild skin and its collagen that helps it stay firm and elastic is Vitamin C. I recommend dieters take at least 1,000 mg of Vitamin C a day in divided doses of 500 mg. This helps build collagen that creates the “scaffolding” structure of your skin and holds it together. Other supplements that can help are liquid collagen which can be bought in most health food stores. This will help skin elasticity.
Weight training. As I mentioned earlier, skin lies over fat and then muscle beneath it. When you lose most of the fat, skin only has muscle and bone to drape across. Hopefully, you were weight training during your weight loss to build muscles while losing fat. If not, you have some work in the gym to do! Start weight training, 3-4 times a week. Ladies, don’t worry, you don’t have the testosterone levels to get huge bulky muscles. You will get tighter, toned, and slightly bigger muscles that your skin can drape across more attractively. Your weight numbers may bump up on your scale, but added muscle is good weight. It’s fat weight that’s unhealthy.
Glutamine. This recommendation comes via bodybuilders who regularly supplement with this amino acid to build strong muscles AND tighten skin during and after significant weight loss. Glutamine powder, or capsules, can be bought at most health food stores. Take 5 grams on an empty stomach before weight training and 5 grams afterwards. Take an additional 5-10 grams before bedtime to augment muscle and skin repair that occurs during sleep repair.
Skin brushing/exfoliating. Skin cells die and slough off on a daily basis. Sometimes they do not shed as quickly as they should and form a dry, dull layer over new skin. It’s important for new skin cell growth and health to remove this layer of old, dead skin cells. This can be done either vigorously doing a dry skin brushing on a daily basis or using a medium-coarse exfoliating skin cleanser in the shower 2-3 times a week.
Skin wraps. A service of many spas, these are basically gauze bandages soaked in herbal mixtures that draw and tighten skin. You can be wrapped head to toe, or just problem areas like arms, thighs, and waist/stomach. Then you either do light aerobic exercise to raise your body heat or are placed on a far infrared heating blanket. Many of my patients swear by wraps for tightening skin, reducing unsightly cellulite that can make loose skin look much worse, and inch loss.
Laser tightening. Laser procedures heat collagen and elastin fibers beneath the skin and result in shrinkage and tightening of these structures, tightening the loose skin. Consult a good plastic surgeon for this procedure. Can be a little costly, but the results may be worth it to you.
Burn more fat. You may be surprised to hear that part of sagging skin is that it actually still has fat pockets in it causing it to hang. This is especially true of upper/under arm skin, and inner/upper thighs, knees, waistline. Be sure to do some cardio/aerobic work, lower your carb intake a little to help burn those extra fat pockets out of the skin. Add these supplements: Omega 3’s, green tea extract, L-carnitine to assist in fat burning and drink plenty of water.
Far infrared sauna. Available at certain spas for a weekly fee, or you can buy your own unit for home use. There are also far infrared arm, thigh, and body wraps for spot fat burning. Unlike steam saunas, far infrared saunas burn subcutaneous fat and reduce cellulite, as well as remove toxins from the body and burn calories. Recommended twice a week. Drink lots of water during use.
Let me also say, congratulations on your weight loss! It’s a big accomplishment and you should be proud of your effort. Now, put a little extra effort into tightening up your loose skin and you’ll be even more proud of yourself and how amazing you look!
Jay Brachfeld, M.D.