If you've lost weight recently, you may have noticed that you have loose skin hanging around. Whether it's flaps under your arms, or a hanging pouch around your stomach, loose skin can be an embarrassing issue. In this article you'll learn why skin gets loose, how to tighten it after fat loss and which medical procedures, nutrition tactics and exercises will actually help keep your skin tight.
Why Skin Gets Loose
Skin is an elastic living tissue that stretches as we move and grow (or shrink). It's not one big piece of rubber that covers your body, but an actual organ. And just like all the other organs in your body, it is made of cells.
The cells on the outer part of your skin are constantly being lost and replaced with new cells, but the skin cells under that outer layer are more permanent. These lower layers of the skin are made up of connective tissues, fibers, blood vessels and all sorts of components that can stretch or contract -- depending on how you treat them.
When you lose weight (and especially when you lose weight quickly) the elastic parts of your skin don't have time to adapt to your new shape. If you are older, have poor nutrition, aren't hydrated, have excessive sun exposure or smoke, this problem is aggravated even more, since all of these things contribute to decreased elasticity.
How to Tighten Loose Skin
As you lose weight and loose skin begins to appear, don't panic! Your skin will slowly return to a shape that fits your new body. But that process can take up to two years, so here are steps you can take to make your skin tighten faster:
#1: Don't Lose Weight Too Quickly
Crash diets and excessive amounts of time spent exercising can rapidly shed both muscle and fat, and result in a greater amount of loose skin. Aim for no more than 1-2 pounds of fat loss per week, and include weight training so you build muscle to help stretch the skin.
Water is a crucial component of maintaining skin elasticity. From both food and drink, you should be taking in at least two liters of water each day.
Two ingredients that keep skin plump and elastic are collagen and elastin, and the protein to help form these is found in cottage cheese, milk, legumes, tofu, beans, seeds, nuts and fish. The oils in these foods will also help with skin elasticity.
#4: Care for Your Skin
Avoid harsh detergents like sulfates in soaps, shampoos and dishwashing liquids. Limit sun exposure, stay away from tanning booths, and limit exposure to hot and chlorinated water, since all of these elements decrease elasticity.
Do You Need Surgery?
Skin can only be stretched so far before it loses some of its innate ability to snap back. If you've had a 9-month pregnancy, then you can tighten your loose skin. In contrast, if you've carried 50-100 extra pounds on your body for a long time, you might need to resort to plastic surgery and stapling to tighten loose skin.
As mentioned earlier, elasticity of your skin will naturally decrease with age. Although you have control over the rate of your weight loss, staying properly hydrated, eating the right foods and caring for your skin, you simply have no control over your age! So rather than letting age stress you out, you should focus on the things over which you do have control -- like exercising and eating right -- and you'll find that you always look better than your peers. And feel great!
Ben Greenfield is a fitness and triathlon expert and host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. His book, "Get-Fit Guy's Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body -- A Workout Plan for Your Unique Shape," will be published by St. Martin's Press in May 2012.