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After many years, I was finally able to overcome past trauma, reverse my autoimmune disease, and shed some pounds. (50 of them actually!) With weight loss though can come sagging skin. Here’s the complete rundown on how to tighten loose or sagging skin after weight loss.

What Causes Sagging Skin?

According to the Cleveland Clinic’s article, An Overview of your skin, as we age the elastin and collagen that make skin plump and firm start 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, the 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.

You’ve probably heard me rave about grass-fed collagen, gelatin, and bone broth more than once. This superfood is something our body makes and one of the places you’ll find it is the dermis, the middle layer of skin. Fibroblast cells in the dermis synthesize collagen and elastin that give skin its plumpness. Collagen makes up a whopping 75-80% of our skin! Keratin, which makes up hair and nails, helps our skin have some rigidity and protection.

How to Prevent Loose Skin After Weight Loss

The best way to solve a problem is before it becomes a problem. 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.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water and other non-caffeinated fluids is key to tighten loose skin and keep it hydrated.

Therapies to Help With Sagging Skin

Now that we’ve covered some of the basics for preventing and tightening 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 circulate and fibroblasts, which in turn stimulate collagen and elastin.

I’ve seen great results with my Joov red light therapy, even at just 5 minutes a day. My skin is firmer and I have fewer wrinkles and post-baby stretch marks.

Hydrotherapy

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 prevent 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 and sagging skin. Lemon performed best out of the three, however, caution should be used because it is phototoxic.

Food to Tighten Loose Skin

Our body needs certain nutrients to function its best and skin is no different. Overall healthy eating is important, but here are some specific nutrients to focus on. Vitamin and supplement information is largely sourced from the National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.

Protein

Protein, protein, and more protein. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are responsible for many processes in the body. According to Piedmont healthcare, 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, pastured 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.

Vitamin C

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 the 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
  • Kiwi
  • Broccoli

Vitamin D to Tighten Loose Skin

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% of the vitamin D that’s in one tablespoon of cod liver oil! Grass-fed dairy has naturally higher levels of vitamin D, no fortification necessary.

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:

  • Sunshine
  • Cod liver oil
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Eggs
  • Beef liver
  • Vitamin D3 supplement

Vitamin K2

Vitamin K2 works along with vitamins A and D, magnesium, and calcium for better absorption and function, according to Lucy Mailing, Ph.D. 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 is 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:

  • Grass-fed meat
  • Pastured dairy
  • Egg yolks
  • Liver
  • Fermented foods like sauerkraut

Zinc

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. According to a 1995 article, Zinc as An Aid to Healing, 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 the skin can become toxic, according to a 2018 article in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology. 

The Cleveland Clinic Journal of Nutrition explores zinc in their article, Skin findings associated with nutritional deficiencies. The journal reports meat and eggs are the most important sources of zinc and deficiency is a worldwide problem.

Oysters are by far the highest source of zinc at 673% of your daily value in just 3 ounces. Other good sources include:

  • Beef
  • Crab
  • Lobster
  • Pork shop
  • Beans
  • Dark meat chicken
  • Pumpkin seeds

Copper

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. The 1998 article, Copper, lysyl oxidase, and extracellular matrix protein cross-linking, reports the enzyme lysyl oxidase helps collagen and elastin do their jobs and keep skin strong.

Where to Get It

Copper supplements are available, but it’s generally safer to get it from food. Sources include:

  • Beef liver
  • Oysters
  • Crab
  • Dark chocolate
  • Mushrooms
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Sunflower seeds

Vitamin A

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.

A 2004 trial in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, was stopped early due to disturbing findings. Both beta-carotene and retinoid supplements increased the risk of death from lung cancer and heart disease in the control group. While participants were at higher risk than the average person because of previous lung damage, whole food vitamin A is much safer.

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. Meaning, that preformed vitamin A from animal foods is optimal. Some good sources of vitamin A include:

  • Beef liver
  • Herring
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Egg
  • Salmon
  • Dairy
  • Orange vegetables (beta carotene)

Resveratrol

Resveratrol is thought to help improve the appearance of skin and have anti-aging effects. According to dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, resveratrol can improve skin texture and firmness. It hydrates skin, deactivates free radicals, and supports collagen production.
While researchers claim the evidence that resveratrol positively affects the skin is slim, there is more research pointing toward its ability to increase weight loss.

Where to Get It

The good news is you’ll find resveratrol in natural wine.  Other sources include:

  • Red grape skins
  • Purple grape juice
  • Mulberries

Berberine

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 the skin according to a May 2008 article in Phytomedicine.

A September 2008 study from the same journal reported berberine also 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 according to the 2018 article, Skin Protective Effect of Epigallocatechin Gallate. A 2019 article in Nutrients found it increases both collagen and elastin.

Where to Get It

  • Organic green tea
  • matcha powder

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. The 2017 article, Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) as a supplementation for weight loss, found ALA had a small effect on improving BMI. 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

The Bottom Line on Loose Skin After Weight Loss

Losing weight can be a liberating experience, but saggy skin doesn’t have to go with it. By eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods and focused on certain nutrients, skin can become firmer and smoother looking!

What are some ways that you’re supporting your skin after weight loss? 

Sources:

  1. Anderson I. (1995). Zinc as an aid to healing. Nursing times, 91(30), 68–70.
  2. Beitner H. (2003). Randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind study on the clinical efficacy of a cream containing 5% alpha-lipoic acid related to photoaging of facial skin. The British journal of dermatology, 149(4), 841–849.
  3. Cleveland Clinic. (2016, March 17). An Overview of Your Skin.
  4. Drake, V. (2011, November). Vitamin D and Skin Health. Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute. 
  5. Galimberti, F., Mesinkovska, N. (2016, October). Skin findings associated with nutritional deficiencies. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine  83 (10) 731-739
  6. Goodman, G. E., Thornquist, M. D., Balmes, J., Cullen, M. R., Meyskens, F. L., Jr, Omenn, G. S., Valanis, B., & Williams, J. H., Jr (2004). The Beta-Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial: incidence of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality during 6-year follow-up after stopping beta-carotene and retinol supplements. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 96(23), 1743–1750.
  7. Holmes, A. M., Kempson, I., Turnbull, T., Paterson, D., & Roberts, M. S. (2018). Imaging the penetration and distribution of zinc and zinc species after topical application of zinc pyrithione to human skin. Toxicology and applied pharmacology, 343, 40–47.
  8. Kim, S., Kim, Y., Kim, J. E., Cho, K. H., & Chung, J. H. (2008). Berberine inhibits TPA-induced MMP-9 and IL-6 expression in normal human keratinocytes. Phytomedicine: international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology, 15(5), 340–347.
  9. Kim, S., & Chung, J. H. (2008). Berberine prevents UV-induced MMP-1 and reduction of type I procollagen expression in human dermal fibroblasts. Phytomedicine: international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology, 15(9), 749–753.
  10. Kim, E., Hwang, K., Lee, J., Han, S. Y., Kim, E. M., Park, J., & Cho, J. Y. (2018). Skin Protective Effect of Epigallocatechin Gallate. International journal of molecular sciences, 19(1), 173.
  11. Kuzma, C. (2015, December 22). 8 Ways To Keep Your Skin Firm As You Shed Pounds. Prevention. https://www.prevention.com/fitness/a20492525/8-ways-to-keep-firm-skin-with-weight-loss/
  12. Lietz, G., et al. (2012). Single nucleotide polymorphisms upstream from the ?-carotene 15,15′-monoxygenase gene influence provitamin A conversion efficiency in female volunteers. The Journal of nutrition142(1), 161S–5S.
  13. Mailing, L. (2018, July 2). The 16 essential vitamins & minerals for gut & skin health.
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  16. NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine, (2020, April 4). Resveratrol. Medline Plus.
  17. Prasanth, M. et al. (2019). A Review of the Role of Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) in Antiphotoaging, Stress Resistance, Neuroprotection, and Autophagy. Nutrients, 11(2), 474.
  18. Rucker, R. et al. (1998). Copper, lysyl oxidase, and extracellular matrix protein cross-linking. The American journal of clinical nutrition67(5 Suppl), 996S–1002S.
  19. Shunatona, B. (2020, May 4). Dermatologists Explain Why Vitamin D Is So Crucial for Healthy Skin. Byrdie.
  20. Shunatona, B. (2020, February 6). Dermatologists Love Resveratrol (Found in Red Wine) for Healthy Skin. Byrdie.
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