Avoiding the Sag
Losing weight can be good for your waistline—but tough on your skin.
By Lisa James
Between completely changing your diet and diligently stepping up your exercise routine, the past few months have been a real challenge. It was all worth the effort, though; you’re leaner, trimmer and more energetic than you’ve ever been before. Life is good, right?
Yes, for the most part. There is one quibble, though—the saggy, poorly toned skin you experienced, particularly on your face, after losing all those excess pounds. You know you should really be happy about the new numbers on the bathroom scale. But what’s the point of weight loss if you end up looking older?
Fortunately, you can help preserve a sleek, youthful appearance while you shed the pounds, especially if you think about how your skin will look prior to beginning a serious weight loss effort.
Droops and Wrinkles
Body fat occurs in two forms. Visceral fat gathers in the body’s core, in the abdomen and around the vital organs; it’s the type of fat most commonly associated with health hazards such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Losing this fat affects theskin less than the loss of subcutaneous fat, which is found just underneath the skin.
As in the rest of the body, subcutaneous fat forms under the skin on the face. “When you’re heavier you have a heavier cushion that fills out lines and wrinkles, and helps give the skin a youthful, plump look,” explains Melissa Piliang, MD, a dermatologist with the Cleveland Clinic. “If you lose weight, especially if you lose weight quickly, you lose the fat under the skin, too. And the skin doesn’t stretch back as quickly as the fat is lost beneath it, so it hangs and has more wrinkles.
Large pores may appear deeper and more prominent. It’s frustrating for people.”
In addition, “more skin is built to accommodate the size of the fat cells,” says nutritionist and herbalist Tim Mount, CN, CCNH, who teaches at the Natural Healing Institute in Encinitas, California. “When fat is lost, the excess skin pulls in, resulting in a wrinkled surface.”
These changes tend to be most noticeable on the lower half of the face, leading to prominent jowls and a “turkey-neck” appearance. But Mount says skin changes can occur elsewhere including the arms, knees and waist.
Improved Skin Quality
The best way to avoid the skin problems associated with weight loss is to address this issue before you start reshaping your body.
“You want to lose slowly, one to two pounds a week,” recommends Piliang. “This aging effect is most noticeable when weight loss is very rapid and people go on a restrictive diet, suchas a liquid diet or cutting out whole food groups. You want to follow a sensible weight loss plan—lean protein, healthy fats, nuts, fruit and vegetables, whole grains—and really limit sugars and processed carbs.”
Noting that extreme diets can lead to “nutritional deficiencies that can make the skin appear dull or dry,” Piliang suggests eating healthy fats and leafy greens, and to “take a multivitamin to make sure they’re not missing any key nutrients.”
Keeping skin supple during weight loss means maintaining the health of collagen. This key structural protein forms a matrix in the deeper layers of the skin, accounting for nearly 80% of the skin’s dry weight. “After weight loss the loose collagen matrix in the skin that hangs from the body needs additional support,” says Mount.
Healthy collagen—found not only in the skin but throughout the body including the joints and blood vessels—requires eating properly. Piliang says, “It’s important to get the building blocks of collagen in your diet: protein, vitamin C.”
Ingesting collagen directly doesn’t help the skin. “Since the role of collagen in the body is to be strong and tough, collagen in its natural form is not easily digested and absorbed,” Mount explains.
Mount says collagen becomes more useful within the body when it is broken down through a process called hydrolyzation. “Hydrolyzing collagen dramatically increases the bioavailability and bioactivity of collagen when taken as a supplement,” he says. “Collagen in the diet doesn’t have nearly the same benefit.”
What’s more, in comparison to the use of topical applications, Mount says, “Internal supplements provide long-lasting benefits as the nutrients are incorporated into the skin from within.”
Mount adds that aging also affects collagen production. “Collagen declines for all people after the age of 25,” he says. In one study, a supplement containing hydrolyzed collagen was able to reduce dryness and wrinkles while increasing collagen density and skin firmness (Clinical Interventions in Aging 10/13/14). Piliang’s suggestions for an anti-aging regimen include not smoking and using a high-quality sunscreen.
In addition, says Mount, “collagen may be the most important nutrient a person can take internally, but other products like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, healthy fats and vitamins all impact beauty.”
Looking to drop some weight? Just remember to support your skin throughout the process so that you end up looking as good as you feel.