Subcutaneous fat, or the fat located under the skin, stores energy. How much you have can depend on genetics as well as lifestyle factors like physical activity and diet.

Subcutaneous fat vs. visceral fat

Your body has two primary kinds of fat: subcutaneous fat (which is under the skin) and visceral fat (which is around the organs).

The amount of subcutaneous fat you develop depends on genetics as well as lifestyle factors such as physical activity and diet.

People with a large amount of subcutaneous fat often have a large amount of visceral fat.

Everybody is born with subcutaneous fat. Aside from genetics, people typically have greater amounts of subcutaneous fat if they:

Why do we have subcutaneous fat?

The top layer of your skin is the epidermis. The middle layer is the dermis. Subcutaneous fat is the deepest layer.

Subcutaneous fat has five main functions:

  1. It’s the one way that your body stores energy.
  2. It functions as a padding to protect your muscles and bones from the impact of hits or falls.
  3. It serves as a passageway for nerves and blood vessels between your skin and your muscles.
  4. It insulates your body, helping it regulate temperature.
  5. It attaches the dermis to the muscles and bones with its special connecting tissue.

Subcutaneous fat is an important part of your body, but if your body is storing too much of it, you may be at a higher risk for health problems including:

One way of determining if you are overweight is by measuring your body mass index (BMI), which provides the ratio of your weight to your height:

  • normal weight: BMI of 18.5 to 24.9
  • overweight: BMI of 25 to 29.9
  • obesity: BMI of 30 or higher

Another way to determine whether you have excess fat is to measure your waist size. It’s been suggested that men with a waist size over 40 inches and women with a waist size over 35 inches could have a higher risk of developing obesity-related diseases.

The two most frequently recommended methods for shedding excess subcutaneous fat are diet and physical activity.


The basic principle of losing subcutaneous fat via diet is to consume fewer calories than you burn.

There are a number of dietary changes that help improve the types of food and drink you consume. The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommend a healthful diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, fiber, whole grains and nuts.

It should also contain lean proteins (soy, fish, or poultry) and should be low in added sugars, salt, red meat, and saturated fats.

Physical activity

One way your body stores energy is by building up subcutaneous fat. To get rid of the buildup of subcutaneous fat, you must burn energy/calories.

Aerobic activity is a recommended way to burn calories and includes walking, running, cycling, swimming, and other movement-based activities that increase the heart rate.

Many people who are increasing their activity to lose subcutaneous fat also participate in strength training like lifting weights. This type of activity increases lean muscle which can boost your metabolism and help burn calories.

There are a number of positive reasons that your body has subcutaneous fat, but having an excess can be bad for your health.

Spend some time with your doctor to determine the proper amount of fat for you and — if you are not at your ideal level — to help put together a diet and activity plan for optimum health.