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After many years, I was finally able to overcome past trauma, reverse my autoimmune disease, and shed some pounds (more than 50 of them actually!). As many of us moms know though, weight loss can come with an unfortunate downside… stretched out, loose, or sagging skin.
For the most part I’ve learned to become comfortable with the skin I’m in (consider it part of the glory of motherhood!), but today I’m sharing my post-weight loss skincare plan — what helped, what didn’t, and what the experts say.
What Causes Loose Skin?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, as we age the elastin and collagen that make skin plump and firm starts to decline. Certain stressors, like sun damage and smoking, speed the process up.
Weight loss is another prime reason for loose skin. After weight gain, skin stretches to accommodate for the extra body mass. When we lose that weight, especially a lot at once, the skin can’t keep up with the changes fast enough.
So how do we give skin a boost naturally?
Collagen makes up a whopping 75-80% of our skin and keratin, which makes up hair and nails, helps our skin have some rigidity and protection. Fibroblast cells in the dermis synthesize collagen and elastin that give skin its plumpness.
This is one of the reasons you’ll hear me rave about grass-fed collagen, gelatin, and bone broth. With a collagen-rich diet and some good skincare practices, we can nourish our bodies from the outside… and from within!
An Ounce of Prevention…
The best way to solve a problem is before it happens! This isn’t always possible, but here are some tips to lose weight in a healthy way that also supports skin health.
- Lose weight at a steady pace. Rapid weight loss can create lots of loose skin.
- Build muscles. We want to have healthy, toned muscles to support our body, including our skin. Strength training by lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises is key here.
- Massage increases circulation, lymphatic flow, and collagen production in the skin. All of these help skin have more tone and elasticity. Try these at-home massage methods.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water and other non-caffeinated fluids is key to skin hydration.
Therapies to Help Tighten Skin
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics for preventing and addressing loose skin, let’s look at helpful therapies.
Red Light Therapy (LLLT)
Red light therapy (RLT) penetrates deep into the skin, affecting blood vessels, lymph pathways, and nerves. It reaches down into our dermal layer to rejuvenate skin and smooth tone. RLT increases circulation and fibroblasts, which in turn stimulate collagen and elastin.
I’ve seen great results with red light therapy, even in just 5 minutes a day. My skin is firmer and I have fewer wrinkles and post-baby stretch marks.
While jumping into an ice bath may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, it has its benefits. Hydrotherapy, or cold water therapy, has been used for centuries to restore and maintain wellbeing. Cold baths or showers increase circulation, improve metabolism, and boost weight loss. It also transforms harmful white fat into healthier brown fat for better insulin sensitivity and heat retention.
Dry Brushing and Exfoliation
Like hydrotherapy, dry brushing is known to increase circulation in the skin. This low-cost and easy method is exactly how it sounds. I use a dry body brush and gently rub it in circles over my skin. It’s invigorating and I found it helped tighten my skin and lessen stretch marks during pregnancy.
Dry brushing is one of the main ways to increase lymphatic flow to aid in nutrient transport and waste detox. Another way to get the exfoliating benefits is with a body scrub. This refreshing body scrub features grapefruit essential oil to help with cellulite, but it may also help with sagging skin.
The 2002 article Inhibition of elastase activity by essential oils in vitro found that lemon, grapefruit, and juniper essential oil helped inhibit elastase. The elastase enzyme destroys the elastin in our dermal layer and contributes to aging, sagging skin. Lemon performed best out of the three, however, caution should be used because it is phototoxic.
Protein, protein, and more protein. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are responsible for many processes in the body. We need enough protein to build muscle mass, increase collagen, repair tissue, and even oxygenate red blood cells.
Where to Get It
Whole foods are best, but I also like adding some grass-fed collagen powder to smoothies and drinks. Grass-fed meat, organ meats, and dairy (if tolerated), free-range eggs, and wild-caught fish are all good sources. Bone broth is high in gut healing and skin-nourishing collagen too.
Collagen is an important part of our skin’s structure, but we don’t just get it from animal products. Vitamin C helps the body synthesize collagen production. This powerful skin antioxidant helps protect against sun damage and has an anti-aging effect on skin.
Where to Get It
Surprisingly, orange juice is not a great source of vitamin C and it’s also really high in sugar. Unlike some animals, humans can’t make their own vitamin C. Some of the top ways to get more vitamin C are:
- Red, yellow, and orange bell peppers
- Camu camu berry powder
- Citrus fruits
I take high quality vitamin C supplements along with a real food diet.
We need vitamin D for so many things, but especially our immune system. According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, a poorly functioning immune system weakens the skin barrier, leading to dryness and inflammation. Not enough vitamin D also throws off insulin sensitivity, which in turn causes stiff and prematurely aged collagen.
You can get your vitamin D levels tested to see where you’re at. However, most people are too low.
Where to Get it
Many turn to fortified pasteurized milk for their vitamin D, but that isn’t the best option. One cup of fortified milk has only 8% the vitamin D that’s in one tablespoon of cod liver oil! Grass-fed dairy has naturally higher levels of vitamin D, no fortification needed.
It’s important to note that while mushrooms are technically high in vitamin D, they contain D2, not D3.
Most evidence indicates that vitamin D3 increases serum… levels to a greater extent and maintains these higher levels longer than vitamin D2. (NIH Office of Dietary Supplements)
Other vitamin D sources include:
Vitamin K2 works along with vitamins A and D, magnesium, and calcium for better absorption and function. This vitamin binds to calcium and tells it where to go in the body. K2 helps prevent elastin from becoming calcified and hard.
Where to Get it
K2 is found primarily found in grass-fed meat and dairy products, especially butter. This isn’t the same as K1 found in dark leafy greens. Our gut can convert some K1 into K2 but impaired gut function (which many of us have), interferes with the conversion process.
You’ll find K2 in:
This nutrient is crucial for healthy skin. A 2016 article in Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics points out that skin has some of the highest levels of zinc, mainly in the epidermis. Zinc helps make keratinocyte skin cells and maintain skin’s integrity. It also plays a role in wound healing.
Where to Get it
Zinc can be applied topically, but eating it is best. Too much zinc applied to skin can become toxic.
Oysters are by far the highest source of zinc at 673% of your daily value in just 3 ounces. Other good sources include:
- Dark meat chicken
- Pumpkin seeds
If you want to try a zinc supplement, consider this information first.
When you think of copper you may think of pots and pans, but it’s also necessary for our bodies. We need a minimum of 2 parts zinc to 1 part of copper though to maintain a healthy balance. Copper activates an enzyme that helps tighten skin.
Where to Get It
Copper supplements are available, but it’s generally safer to get it from food. Sources include:
- Beef liver
- Dark chocolate
- Sunflower seeds
This vitamin plays a pivotal role in skin health. A 2019 article, Vitamin A and Wound Healing, reports it stimulates skin cell growth and collagen in the skin. Both of these are important for firm, non-saggy skin.
Where to Get it
Unlike some nutrients, it’s not recommended to supplement with vitamin A. Both beta-carotene and preformed vitamin A (retinoids) supplements can be deadly. Retinoid supplements are known to cause birth defects.
While too much vitamin A, especially from supplements isn’t a good idea, it’s critical to get normal levels through food. About 45% of us are genetically low responders to beta-carotene, according to findings from a 2012 article in the Journal of Nutrition. This means preformed vitamin A from animal foods may be optimal for some people. Some good sources of vitamin A include:
- Beef liver
- Ricotta cheese
- Orange vegetables (beta carotene)
Resveratrol is thought to help improve the appearance of skin and have anti-aging effects. According to dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, resveratrol can improve skin’s texture and firmness. It hydrates skin, deactivates free radicals, and supports collagen production.
While researchers claim the evidence that resveratrol positively affects skin is slim, there is more research pointing towards its ability to increase weight loss.
Where to Get It
Good news, you’ll find resveratrol in natural wine. Other sources include:
- Red grape skins
- Purple grape juice
Naturally found in some plants, like barberry root, berberine is used in anti-aging products. It can help prevent skin inflammation and helps maintain healthy collagen in skin.
A 2008 study also reports berberine mitigates the effects of UV damage.
Where to Get It
- Barberry root bark
- Dried barberries
- Barberry glycerite
EGCG (from Green Tea)
Found in matcha and green tea, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), helps tighten loose and sagging skin. EGCG delays cell aging and plays a role in DNA repair. This antioxidant also helps skin hold moisture and reduces wrinkles. A 2019 article in Nutrients found it increases both collagen and elastin.
Where to Get It
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)
ALA is an antioxidant found in every single cell of the body. It’s thought to help with weight loss and collagen production. A 2013 article in the British Journal of Dermatology reported ALA is anti-inflammatory and helps fight damaged skin.
Where to Get It
Unlike certain vitamins, our bodies synthesize ALA. So basically eating a healthy, balanced diet gives us the raw tools we need to make ALA. Many foods have ALA in small amounts but it can primarily be found in:
- Organ meats
- Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
Bye Bye Loose Skin!
Losing weight can be a liberating experience (along with loving your body exactly as it is)! Dry brushing, red light, and focusing on certain nutrients can benefit from the inside out and the outside in, improving health and making skin the healthiest it can be.
This article was medically reviewed by Madiha Saeed, MD, a board-certified family physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
What are some ways that you’re supporting your skin after weight loss?
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