When Good Results Turn Bad: Tightening Loose Skin After Liposuction
- Skin does not always bounce back on its own.
- Certain liposuction techniques help encourage skin to tighten back up.
- Skin folds can lead to a variety of health problems.
Many people assume that after undergoing a liposuction procedure they will instantly emerge from their doctor’s office with bikini-ready bodies. However, the reality isn’t always that simple. While it’s true liposuction can always be counted upon to remove excess fat from a treatment area, the skin that once housed that fat doesn’t just disappear on its own. It can linger and hang off your arms, or abdomen, or wherever the fat was removed from your body. This is where skin-tightening comes into the picture.
Loose Skin After Liposuction
Liposuction breaks up and drains whole fat cells from the body. It is intended as a body contouring procedure. In other words, it aims to give you an ideal shape by removing fat deposits in troublesome areas. It is not intended for weight loss, although some weight is lost during the process.
That being said, some people do get a more substantial amount of fat removed during liposuction. A 2015 study in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery suggested using an individual patient’s BMI as a metric for determining how much fat can be safely removed. Basically, the heavier you are, the more fat you can reasonably part with.
However, this comes with some side effects. Liposuction removes fat, not skin. So all of that skin that grew to accommodate your heavier frame will still be there when all is said and done. The more fat you have removed, the more excess skin you’ll likely have.
Why Doesn’t Skin Bounce Back?
Skin elasticity (how well your skin tightens back up) is affected by more than just the amount of fat removed. Consider the following:
- Length of time spent at a heavier weight. The longer your skin spends stretched out, the less likely it will bounce back.
- Speed of weight loss. Losing weight gradually may give your skin time to react. However, if you lose a ton of weight in a short period of time, your skin will have trouble catching up.
- Age. Put simply, the older you are the less elastic your skin.
- Overall health. Healthy skin is more elastic.
- Genetics. Sometimes these things are at least partly out of our control.
If your skin isn’t firming up after liposuction, ask a cosmetic doctor on our forum about your best treatment options.
Researchers Are On The Task
Plastic surgeons are not ignorant of this problem. Studies have been conducted in an effort to perfect methods and reduce the amount of excess skin.
Plastic surgeon Marco Gasparotti introduced what he called “superficial subdermal liposuction” in 1989. This technique involves removing not only deeper layers of fat, but also superficial fat (just beneath the skin) to promote skin contracture. In short, the skin hangs better and tightens more readily without the superficial fat in the way.
While this method is largely considered successful at preventing too much excess skin, researchers like the late Dr. Yvez-Gerard Illouz warn against removing too much superficial fat as it can lead to irregularities on the skin’s surface.
Other liposuction technologies, like laser-assisted liposuction (LAL) and ultrasound assisted liposuction (UAL) promise tighter skin. However, both of these methods come with their own risks, including subdermal burns and contractures to the skin resulting in contour irregularities.
Your cosmetic doctor will be able to help you understand the new technology available, what’s safe, and what isn’t.
If you’re looking for some guidance in how best to avoid loose skin after fat removal, consult with one of our plastic surgeons online to see your options.
More Than Just an Eyesore
Maybe you’ve made peace with your post-liposuction body and aren’t interested in additional procedures. Think again. Loose skin is not just a cosmetic problem. No matter how thoroughly you shower, folded layers of loose skin can trap sweat and dirt, leading to sores, rashes, and even infections.
Intertrigo is an inflammatory condition that affects skin folds. It most frequently crops up beneath the breasts, in the armpits, and under skin folds on the abdomen. This painful burning condition is brought on by trapped heat and moisture, as well as friction between patches of skin. Once it occurs, it is difficult to alleviate as these same factors aggravate the condition.
If left untreated, Intertrigo may lead to infection. Usually, this takes the form of a yeast infection due to the warm and moist conditions. However, other types of infections could form, especially if the skin becomes broken due to friction or scratching.
Skin folds lead to more problems than just inflammation and infection. Depending on the amount and location of the excess skin, you could suffer from muscle and joint pain. Most commonly, you might see people with loose skin on the lower back complaining of back problems. However, this can happen at other parts of the body as well.
» If you’re experiencing skin problems as a result of your folds, speak to a cosmetic doctor near you.
Non-Surgical Strategies for Managing Loose Skin
Surgery is hard on the body and presumably you’ve had liposuction somewhat recently. You might not be looking to go back under the knife just yet. There are some things you can do to encourage your skin to tighten up or at least make the appearance of loose skin less dramatic.
- Give it time. We know you didn’t want to hear this one, but there it is. Chances are your bikini-ready friend had some loose skin after her liposuction. It takes time for skin to bounce back.
- Wear your compression garment. Your surgeon gave you this for a reason. It does more than help reduce bleeding and inflammation. It can also help with skin retraction.
- Intense pulsed light. Intense pulsed light (IPL) involves the use of light waves to treat various skin concerns. It has more recently been used to encourage skin contracture by heating up collagen in the skin.
- Radiofrequency. RF therapy refers to the use of radio waves to tighten skin. It is theorized to work in much the same way as IPL, by heating up the skin to induce collagen growth.
- Strength training. To be clear, this will not tighten your skin. It will help give you a more filled out appearance by filling some of that empty space with muscle.
- Water. Drinking water will not directly tighten loose skin. However, it will keep your skin healthy and healthier skin is stronger and more likely to bounce back.
Note that all of the above are established methods for dealing with loose skin. However, they are not all necessarily proven to be successful. RF skin tightening in particular has had mixed results, according to this 2015 study.
Surgical Methods for Managing Loose Skin
Now it’s time for a hard truth. The only 100% sure fire way to get rid of that extra skin is to literally cut it off. That means going back to your plastic surgeon and getting some new procedures done.
Body contouring surgery is an umbrella term for a variety of plastic surgery procedures, all of which involve cutting away excess skin and pulling the remaining skin taut. You’ve likely heard of many of these procedures already.
- Tummy tuck
- Face lift
- Upper arm lift
- Thigh lift
- Back lift
In short, where there is loose skin, there is likely a “lift” you can do.
Body contouring is serious surgery. Doctors will want to know that you’re committed to keeping the weight off. If you need multiple areas treated, your surgeon will also likely schedule multiple sessions. Typically, plastic surgeons will only treat a couple of areas at once.
Serious surgery also means serious recovery. Expect to be in recovery for as much as six weeks for a single surgery, depending on what you have done. If you’re looking at multiple sessions, then you could be in for a long haul.
If you’re contemplating liposuction or body contouring surgery, or if you’ve already got loose skin that you want to address, use our free online consultation tool to speak to a cosmetic doctor near you.
Going In With Your Eyes Open
Understand that no cosmetic procedure can promise you the perfect body. Liposuction will help put you on the path to a healthier looking figure, but it’s not without its own downsides and complications.
If you are adamant about getting liposuction, consider preparing your body by getting closer to your ideal weight the old-fashioned way. You can also start on a skin-healthy diet to promote elasticity.
If you’ve already had it and want to address your skin concerns, start making a plan to tone your muscles and look into surgery.
» Need more information before making up your mind? Ask a cosmetic doctor about loose skin treatments and prevention on our forum.
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