Sagging skin is not harmful, but it can lower a person’s self-esteem. Sagging skin may occur as people age or after weight loss. Some medical conditions, such as cutis laxa and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, can also cause loose skin, though these are uncommon.
Certain lifestyle factors may also prematurely age the skin and cause sagging. These include eating an unhealthy diet and having high sun exposure.
This article looks at why skin sagging occurs and some tips that may help prevent it. It also details some approaches that may help improve the appearance of saggy skin.
Why does skin sagging occur?
Hyaluronic acid levels also reduce with age. Hyaluronic acid is a molecule that helps the skin retain moisture and appear fuller. For most people, the skin begins to lose firmness between the ages of 35–40 years.
Sagging skin may also occur after significant weight loss. The skin stretches to accommodate an increased body mass. Over time, however, this can damage the collagen and elastin in the skin. This can lead to sagging after weight loss.
Also, during pregnancy, the skin of the abdomen stretches. This may lead to skin sagging after giving birth.
High sun exposure, particularly exposure to UV light, can also result in wrinkles and sagging skin. Some people may refer to this as photoaging. This is due to harmful UV rays reducing the elasticity of the skin.
Some common areas where skin sagging may occur include the:
- face and jawline
- upper arms
- inner thighs
Tips for preventing saggy skin
Many external factors expose the skin to free radicals. The body produces free radicals in response to its environment. If free radicals build up, oxidative stress occurs. This can increase inflammation in the body.
Oxidative stress can cause the skin to age prematurely and may contribute to sagging. Pollution, exposure to UV light, cigarette smoke, and an unhealthy diet can also increase free radical production.
Antioxidants may act to neutralize free radicals. Plant-based foods are good sources of antioxidants.
People can also attempt to prevent loose skin by:
- enjoying the sun safely
- avoiding sunbed use
- eating a healthy diet
- staying hydrated and using moisturizer
- getting adequate sleep
- stopping smoking, if applicable
- losing weight at a steady pace, if applicable
- reducing exposure to environmental pollution and cigarette smoke
Ways to improve skin sagging
Some lifestyle approaches may help with sagging skin, depending on its cause and severity. Some techniques are better for certain areas of the body than others.
These approaches may include:
Engaging in exercise such as resistance training can increase muscle mass. Building muscle through exercise can improve the appearance of sagging skin, especially in the legs and arms.
Also, facial exercises may improve muscle tone around the jaw and neck. This may reduce sagging skin in these areas.
There are many firming products available that are marketed for the treatment of loose skin. These aim to reduce minor sagging affecting the skin of the face, neck, or abdomen.
The American Academy of Dermatology says that these products have limited efficacy. They are unlikely to penetrate the skin deeply enough to improve sagging.
Products containing retinoids may offer some benefit. Retinoids may increase the amount of collagen in the skin, helping it appear firmer.
Eating a healthy diet that includes a range of brightly colored fruits and vegetables supports good skin health. Additional supplementation may have some benefits for sagging skin.
Some skin supplements to consider include:
Collagen supplements may help replace collagen that the body naturally loses. Collagen supplements come in tablet, powder, capsule, and drink form.
One study in the journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology monitored the effects of collagen supplementation on the skin. It found that 8 weeks of collagen supplementation improved skin elasticity.
Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals that may cause skin aging. Vitamin C is a well-known antioxidant and supports collagen production. Without vitamin C, collagen production reduces significantly.
Antioxidant supplements may come in tablet, capsule, powder, and gummy form. A healthy diet provides a range of antioxidants, including vitamin C.
Massage may improve blood flow around the body. Increased blood flow helps remove waste products, such as free radicals.
Massage may also stimulate fibroblasts. Fibroblasts are cells that help produce connective tissues that keep the skin firm. These connective tissues may include collagen and elastin.
A small study examined the effects of a hand-held massage device in combination with an anti-aging face cream. It found that massage increased the effect of the cream on facial wrinkles and neck sagging.
Nonsurgical treatments may help with mild-to-moderate skin sagging. They are usually short procedures that require minimal recovery time. Typical reactions include skin flushing and temporary swelling.
Nonsurgical procedures increase collagen and elastin production by using devices to heat different layers of the skin below the surface. People may see results 2–6 months after treatment.
These treatments may include:
High intensity ultrasound penetrates the deepest layers of the skin, and heat may encourage the body to produce more collagen.
A single treatment may result in modest skin lifting and tightening. Additional treatments may give a more significant effect.
Laser treatments send heat deep into the skin without harming the top layer. Results usually require three to five treatments, and they may appear 2–6 months after the last treatment.
Laser treatments can tighten skin all over the body but are especially beneficial on the abdomen and upper arms.
Nonsurgical radiofrequency uses a device to heat the tissue beneath the skin.
Some people report that a single treatment can produce results, but it may take longer and more treatments to achieve the best results. Effects can last for 2–3 years with the right skin care.
Several minimally invasive options may increase skin firmness.
These can include:
Intense pulsed light
Intense pulsed light (IPL) uses light energy to heat cells under the skin’s surface.
Results usually require multiple treatments.
IPL can cause skin flushing and mild swelling, which should fade within 24 hours. IPL is sometimes unsuitable for people with tanned skin or people with dark skin tones.
IPL may be unhelpful for skin tightening in some people, but it might help reduce signs of aging.
Surgical radiofrequency heats the skin using small filaments inserted under the skin. A healthcare professional may administer local anesthetics to numb the treatment area.
Recovery takes around 5 days, and results tend to appear within a month.
Laser resurfacing targets the deeper layers of the skin. A healthcare professional will apply a topical anesthetic before the procedure to numb the treatment area.
Recovery time depends on the laser the healthcare professional used and the size of the treatment area. It is typically 3–10 days.
A single treatment may offer significant results. Sometimes, however, a series of treatments is necessary. The results can last for several years.
For severe skin sagging, some people may consider surgical options. Body contouring procedures require a significant amount of recovery time, which may span several weeks.
People may choose to treat a single area of the body or multiple areas. Body contouring may leave scarring.
Some different types of body contouring surgery include:
Several factors may cause sagging skin. These include aging and weight loss. It is not harmful, but some people may dislike how it looks.
Different options may help improve the appearance of sagging skin. Mild-to-moderate sagging may benefit from:
- increasing exercise levels
- using firming products
- massaging the skin
- including supplements in the diet
Nonsurgical and minimally invasive procedures may also help, but they tend to come with additional costs and potential risks.
In cases of severe skin sagging, some people may consider cosmetic surgery. However, body contouring procedures are expensive and pose further potential risks.