If you’ve spent hours in the gym trying to lose weight, you probably know that saggy skin can be an all-too-common side effect. Saggy skin, on both the face and body, is often associated with the loss of fat.
The deterioration or reduction of collagen and elastin in the dermis are another cause of saggy skin.
While anyone can get saggy skin, it’s more likely to occur in people as they age. People who have lost significant amounts of weight are also more susceptible. Certain medical conditions may also be the cause.
Sagging skin can be challenging to treat at home, but there are skin-tightening options that can help, from over-the-counter products to surgical solutions.
Firm skin can stretch and snap back into place easily. When skin loses this ability, it starts to sag. Saggy skin can happen almost anywhere on the body. Common areas where you might see saggy skin include:
- upper arms
There are several causes of saggy skin. They include:
As skin ages, it loses two important proteins manufactured in the dermis — elastin and collagen.
As its name suggests, elastin gives skin elasticity. It provides firm skin with the ability to bounce back when stretched.
Collagen is produced by fibroblasts. When skin is taut and firm, it has collagen to thank. Collagen is comprised of tightly-constructed fibers, which help skin maintain its structure and firmness.
Both elastin and collagen production decline as people age. These two proteins can also become deteriorated by external factors over time, such as:
- UV exposure
- pollutants in the environment, including cigarette smoke
- certain lifestyle factors, such as poor nutrition and drinking alcohol to excess
Too much sun exposure and not taking care of your skin or health can speed up the process of skin aging. This can make your skin look saggy and wrinkled at a younger age.
Carrying extra weight for an extended period of time can cause damage to the collagen and elastin fibers in your skin. This makes it harder for skin to snap back when you lose weight. If you lose a significant amount of weight of 100 pounds or more, significant amounts of saggy skin may result.
Sagging skin is more likely to occur when weight loss is rapid, such as after bariatric surgery. In some instances, these weight loss procedures may result in large amounts of sagging, drooping skin that hangs on the body.
Since younger skin bounces back more readily, your age at the time of weight loss can also play a role in how saggy your skin becomes.
Acquiring some degree of saggy, loose skin is common after pregnancy. Women who carry multiples, such as twins or triplets, may see more sagging skin around the abdomen than those who carry one baby. Maternal age may also play a role.
There are a few medical conditions that are marked by saggy skin. One of these is a very rare subtype of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, known as granulomatous slack skin.
People with this condition see a very gradual slackening of skin on the elbows and knees. Saggy skin caused by granulomatous slack skin does not typically respond well to treatment.
Another condition that causes saggy skin is Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), a rare, connective tissue disorder that is inherited. People with EDS have a defect in collagen production that results in saggy, doughy skin, often on the face.
If you are concerned about area of saggy skin, there are things you can do to reduce or eliminate it.
Saggy skin amounts can range from slight to significant. When deciding on treatment options, consider these factors:
- the areas of the body where sagging occurs
- the amount of sagging
- your feelings about your condition
If you have minor sagging or you’ll be satisfied with modest results, there are at-home options you can try on your face and body. They include:
Saggy skin on the body caused by moderate weight loss or pregnancy can be improved through exercise. Any movement that builds muscle mass or tightens muscles can reduce the look of minor skin sagging. For example:
- Weight lifting or resistance training. Working out with weights, machines, or resistance bands helps increase muscle mass.
- Pilates. Also known as contrology, Pilates uses controlled movements to tighten and strengthen the body’s core, glutes, legs, and arms.
- Facial exercise. There is a
small amount of evidencethat facial exercises can reduce saggy skin around the chin, jowls, and throat. Many advocates of yoga believe that certain exercises are beneficial for reducing saggy facial skin. A great pose to try for this is simhasana (Lion Pose).
Creams, lotions, and serums that contain ingredients such as retinol may improve elasticity around the eye area and on facial skin. Both over-the-counter (OTC) products and prescription medications can help.
Prescription retinoids, such as tretinoin and retin-A, boost collagen production. These will usually produce more significant results than their OTC counterparts.
Remaining hydrated, wearing sunscreen, and eliminating harmful habits like smoking can help your skin appear fresher and less saggy.
Non-invasive and minimally invasive treatments can improve the tone and elasticity of saggy skin. They tend to be most effective if they’re combined with healthy lifestyle choices, such as not smoking cigarettes and never tanning. These procedures are done by a dermatologist and include:
- Laser therapy. Several types of laser therapy treatments can help boost collagen production and improve overall skin tone. Most people see the best results after multiple treatments. Laser therapy can be beneficial for firming the upper arms and stomach, as well as other areas of the body.
- Laser resurfacing. This highly effective procedure also uses a laser, but is more invasive and has a longer recovery time, typically around two weeks. Laser resurfacing removes the upper layers of skin and sends heat deep into the lower layers. It’s sometimes referred to as laser peeling.
- Microfocused ultrasound (MFU). This technique sends heat deep into the skin’s layers, supporting collagen production and lifting saggy skin. It can take several months before you start to see an improvement in your skin’s firmness and elasticity. The results from ultrasound are not permanent and typically last about 1 year.
Surgical procedures to remove loose skin are often recommended after weight-reduction surgery. In most cases they’re considered cosmetic procedures and may not be covered by insurance. These procedures fall under the category of body contouring surgery.
Body contouring procedures can leave some degree of visible scarring on areas such as the upper arms. They also require significant amounts of time for recovery, lasting from 2 weeks to 1 month. You may opt to have one area of the body treated, or multiple areas.
Types of body contouring surgeries include:
- tummy tuck (abdominoplasty)
- arm lift surgery (brachioplasty)
- face lift
- neck lift
- lower body lift
- upper body lift
- medial thigh lift
When to see your doctor
See your doctor about sagging skin if:
- you’re emotionally distressed about saggy skin
- there has been an immediate or significant change in your skin’s condition, causing looseness, swelling, or a rash
- you have saggy skin that hangs down and causes chafing, irritation, or pain
At-home treatments for saggy skin can produce small-to-moderate results.
Non-surgical procedures for this condition are effective, but often temporary.
If you have a surgical procedure to remove saggy skin, it’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions about ongoing weight management.
Saggy skin is not a medical condition and isn’t a problem for everyone. But for some, it can be frustrating or affect self-esteem. If you have saggy skin that does not respond well to at-home treatments, see your doctor to discuss your options.