How to Tell the Difference Between Fat and Loose Skin?

Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD
Published by Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD | Medical Doctor
Last updated: December 26, 2023
FACT CHECKED by Dr. Kristy Dayanan, BS, MD
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From a medical perspective, rapid weight loss often results in excess, sagging skin, which can be mistaken for residual body fat. This can lead to a misconception about one's body composition, particularly in areas where the skin is more prone to sagging.

In my practice, I have collaborated with fitness professionals and their clients to gain a deeper understanding of the distinctions between loose skin and fat.

In this article, I aim to elucidate the differences between loose skin and fat, explore the medical causes of redundant skin, and provide guidance on prevention and methods to tighten this excess skin.

Quick Summary

  • To distinguish between fat and loose skin, consider factors like skin texture and pinchability; loose skin is often wrinkled and more pinchable than fat.
  • Loose skin can result from rapid weight loss, pregnancy, illness, and smoking, impacting skin elasticity.
  • According to NBC, significant weight loss of 100 pounds or more can lead to large amounts of sagging skin.
  • Personally, I believe that a balanced approach combining gradual weight loss, proper nutrition, and targeted exercises is the most effective strategy for managing loose skin.

Difference Between Loose Skin And Fat

A man doing medical consultation to a specialist

Loose skin is the excess skin that remains after significant loss of weight or pregnancy while fat is a layer sitting beneath the skin throughout the body.

Another simple difference between loose skin and fat is that pinching loose skin is possible, whereas it is impossible to grab or squeeze fat.

Also, loose skin is wrinkled while that layer of persistent excess fat on your skin is droopy.

Related Article: Soft Vs Hard Fat

4 Causes Of Loose Skin

patient consulting a doctor

Saggy skin can be caused by several factors, such as:

1. Weight Loss

Carrying additional body weight caused by stubborn fat deposits might harm your skin's elastin and collagen fibers, making it more difficult for your skin to tighten up after the lose weight.

According to NBC, huge chunks of sagging skin may form if you shed 100 or more pounds [1].

If you undergo a drastic loss of weight procedure such as weight loss surgery, tummy tuck, or body contouring surgery in some instances, these techniques may result in excessive loose skin hanging off the body.

The same rule applies if you’ve lost weight fast.

"Losing weight quickly denies our skin enough time to contract and get firm, and this causes the saggy, hanging skin."

- Jordan Jacobs, MD

Because younger skin recovers more quickly, your age at the onset of weight reduction can also influence how saggy your skin gets.

2. Pregnancy

After pregnancy, it is typical to have sagging, loose skin. Women with multiples, like twins and triplets, may have more loose skin around the belly than those carrying one baby.

Maternal age could also be a contributing factor.

3. Illness

Body stretch marks

According to a study by NORD, loose skin is associated with a few medical problems, such as granulomatous redundant skin, a relatively unusual form of epidermal T-cell lymphoma [2].

This disorder causes a progressive loosening of the skin of the knees and elbows.

Treatment is usually ineffective for sagging skin induced by this illness and it’s difficult to avoid redundant skin if you have a diagnostic history of granulomatous.

4. Smoking

Cigarette use can cause accelerated aging. Smoking can constrict the circulatory system in the skin's outer layer.

As a result, blood circulation in your skin is disturbed, resulting in fewer nutrients and oxygen reaching your skin cells.

When you lack natural nutrition, your skin cells die, limiting your body's creation of elastin and collagen.

Factors That Affect Skin Elasticity Loss

A doctor writing prescription

Several factors lead to loose skin after weight reduction, including:

  • Duration: According to Healthline, the longer you remain overweight or obese, the saggier your skin will become after major weight loss, owing to collagen and elastin loss [3].
  • Significant amount of lost pounds: Losing more pounds of weight is associated with more sagging skin than when you reduce fewer pounds.
  • Age: Elderly skin has fewer collagen fibers than youth skin and is looser after loss of weight.
  • Genetics: Your genetic makeup may influence how your skin reacts to weight growth and loss. This isn't something you can control, but the good news is that you aren't out of options just yet.
  • Poor Nutrition: Inadequate intake of essential nutrients, particularly vitamins C and E, as well as proteins, can impair the body's ability to produce collagen and maintain skin elasticity.
  • Dehydration: Insufficient hydration can lead to dry, less pliable skin. Hydration is essential for maintaining the water content within skin cells, contributing to elasticity.

Ways To Tighten Your Loose Skin After Losing Weight

Partners working out in the gym

Luckily, almost everybody can get rid of loose skin and fat easily, provided that their overall health permits it. Here’s how.

1. Exercise

Gaining muscle mass can help improve your general appearance and reduce loose skin. Physical activity can improve your self-esteem, which might help reduce any self-conscious feelings about redundant skin and excess abdominal fat.

2. Supplements

I've personally found that incorporating collagen supplements into my routine not only aided in my weight loss journey but also played a crucial role in maintaining my skin's tightness and elasticity.

According to Medical News Today, the use of collagen can help boost collagen formation in the skin [4], aiding in firming and hydration of the loose extra skin.

It would be best if you got a collagen supplement that comes in tablet or powder form.

3. Radiofrequency Treatment

Getting a radiofrequency treatment

As per WebMed, radiofrequency (RF) therapy is a non-surgical method of treating loose skin and is also used for body sculpting [5].

It stimulates collagen formation using heat from a high-frequency alternating current.

RF therapy has grown in popularity as it leaves no scars and no downtime. In addition, you may show improvement in skin color and firmness.

However, since the treatment is becoming well known, it does not mean you should look for one now.

Before deciding on the therapy, you should first consult an expert in the field and select a qualified practitioner who uses an FDA-approved device.

4. Gradual Weight Loss

If you're still on a weight loss journey, aim for gradual weight loss instead of rapid changes.

Slow, steady weight loss allows your skin time to adapt to the changes, reducing the likelihood of excess sagging.

Additionally, it gives your body a chance to naturally tighten the skin as you lose weight.

FAQs

Does Fat Loose Skin Go Away?

Fat loose skin can go away when you use the proper remedies, including topical creams that boost collagen production, paired with physical exercise (strength training and high-intensity activities) or even cosmetic procedures.

Why Do I Have Loose Skin After Weight Loss?

You have loose skin after weight loss because most of the loose skin that follows weight reduction is extra visceral fat that is covered by skin.

What Exercise Tightens Loose Skin?

Exercise like crunches, pushups, sumo squats, and reverse lunges can help tighten loose skin.

What Are the Signs of Losing Belly Fat?

Signs of losing belly fat include being hungry all the time, clothes fitting differently, and abs showing through.

What's The Difference Between Belly Fat And Loose Skin?

The difference between belly fat and loose skin is that loose skin is wrinkled and can be pinched while belly fat is subcutaneous fat cells around your stomach that are more than an inch.


References:

  1. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/after-huge-weight-loss-sagging-skin-remains
  2. https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/cutaneous-t-cell-lymphomas/ 
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/skin/saggy-skin
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326536
  5. https://www.webmd.com/beauty/what-is-radiofrequency-skin-tightening#
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About The Author

Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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