There are a lot of complex steps that doctors and patients take to get the desired results before and after a weight loss surgery. Whether it is changing a patient’s diet, implementing a consistent workout plan, or taking post-op measurements, there is a lot of work that goes into the process. So much so, that the notion of surgery being “the easy way out” is something only someone horribly prejudiced or misinformed would say.
This is because once someone makes the dedicated decision to go through the procedure almost all patients go through drastic changes in nearly all aspects of their life. It especially takes a toll on their bodies. This includes an extreme side effect of the rapid weight loss, excess skin getting left behind. How does it work, and what can a patient do to mitigate any irritation or inconvenience that comes with the excess skin?
How Our Skin Works
Our culture has an interesting relationship with our skin. We have used it to, unfortunately, socially define ourselves in pigmentation and race. Seen it as a source of embarrassment in our teenage years when it develops pimples. We have also relied on it to remove some bodily waste through sweat. It is the largest organ of our bodies, and it is what protects our bones, muscle, and nerves from dangerous outside elements. But how often do we look at how elastic our skin could be?
You may have heard the term ‘skin elasticity’ when you hear people selling beauty products or when people are talking about aging. This is because our skin is a lot more resilient than most people think. In our younger years, our skin produces and keeps two naturally occurring proteins called collagen and elastin.
Collagen is something that most people think of when they hear about healthy skin. However, it is one of the more common proteins that you can find all over our body; this includes places like bones, muscles, skin, and tendons. This is because of the function of collagen. It binds all the cells of our body like glue and sometimes has a stronger tensile strength than steel. Our body naturally produces collagen but slows down in production either because of aging or exposure to UV light, and toxic chemicals. This is why smokers look older than they are, and people who tan a little too much have wrinkled skin, the collagen is too damaged for the body to naturally repair.
Elastin, like the name suggests, functions to make our skin elastic. It exists in our connective tissue and helps our bodies snap back into our natural shape. It is also a load bearing tissue and helps store mechanical energy, making it easy for our bodies to follow through with literal motion. These proteins also exist in our lungs, and arteries.
Both proteins exist to make the skin malleable and easy to keep its shape. But what happens when the skin has been warped for too long?
Obesity and the Skin
Just because our skin has things that can make it bounce back into shape, that doesn’t mean that it is entirely immune from staying stretched out. There is only so much stretching that our skin can take before it can no longer snap back into place. For example, when a woman gains weight during pregnancy, her skin expands during pregnancy over a few months. Because she’s had it stretched out that long, it also takes months for it to retract.
With obese people, they have carried that weight for years. Some might have carried it throughout their childhood. That much pressure and stretch on the skin for that long usually damages the collagen and elastic fibers. So, when the weight loss surgery patient loses a rapid amount of weight, that skin will not bounce back soon. There are a few exercise methods that can help the skin retract a little, but often the excess skin will just hang from the body.
This can cause a host of problems when a weight loss surgery patient is trying to get their life back. A few of these problems that loose skin, especially around the belly, include:
- Physical Discomfort
- Decreased Mobility
- Skin Irritation
- Poor Body Image
- Social Discomfort
A lot of these loose skin irritations can often cause shame to people who have lost a lot of weight, although this type of weight loss is supposed to be a celebratory milestone. There is also the danger of infection, since skin folds often traps sweat and creates sores from excess friction.
Ways to Reduce Excess Skin
One of the most common and affordable ways to increase skin elasticity is resistance training. Resistance training is a type of workout that burns fat and builds muscle mass. The increase of muscle mass would fill in the skin to replace some parts of the body fat that was once there.
Another way to reduce excess skin after weight loss surgery is collagen intake. There are a few ways your body can increase your collagen levels, such as taking supplements that are made directly from the protein, and drinking bone broth. Scientists have proven topical creams to be useless in the long term, since collagen molecules are larger than the pores where it can go in. Also, intake of other nutrients, such as vitamin C, Omega -3 fatty acids, and protein, can also increase the chances of added skin elasticity.
One of the more drastic, and ultimately effective measures for decreasing excess skin is body contouring. Body contouring is a plastic surgery method that removes excess skin and reshapes it taught around the new body. There are different procedures for different parts of the body, such as the arms, thighs, and belly, and all of them require a hospital stay of one to four days. There has been speculation that most patients who have gone through these procedures have a higher quality of life overall, but there is a greater financial risk, as well as risks that come with going under another surgical procedure.
There are lesser known procedures that people have claimed to be effective and more low risk, such as VelaShape and Ultrasound treatment, both of which have varied degrees of recorded success but have not been proven on a grand scale to reduce that much excess skin.
What You Do After Weight Loss Surgery is Up To You
No matter what you research or which route you take, every person and body is different. That is why before you make any major decision, you should ask a weight loss surgery specialist for a recommendation. Just as I stated in the beginning, there are a lot of factors that involve weight loss treatment. So, talk it over about someone that you trust your treatment with and see if they might have recommendations.