Weight loss can be transformative for your quality of life, particularly for those who have undergone massive weight loss following bariatric surgery or significant lifestyle changes.
However, significant weight loss can also leave you with excess skin and stubborn fat deposits that won’t budge. At a certain point, it’s possible to reach a plateau in your weight loss journey–simply put, diet and exercise can’t improve the look of stretched-out skin. That’s where skin removal surgery and body contouring procedures can help.
What is Skin Removal Surgery?
Skin removal surgery refers to a range of surgical procedures aimed at removing excess skin that often occurs after significant weight loss. These surgeries, which fall under the umbrella of body contouring procedures, can target various parts of the body including the abdomen, upper arms, thighs, and even the face. The primary objective is to improve the body’s appearance by eliminating loose skin, thereby enhancing one’s quality of life and comfort.
For many weight loss patients, skin removal surgery is considered an integral part of recovering from obesity and reclaiming one’s health. Body contouring procedures have been shown to reduce your risk of regaining weight; interestingly, having procedures on three or more body areas is associated with better long-term outcomes than undergoing a single procedure.
Types of Skin Removal and Body Contouring Procedures
Everyone carries excess weight differently, so no two skin removal procedures are exactly the same. Your procedure can include one or more of the following procedures.
A tummy tuck, or abdominoplasty, tightens loose skin around the abdominal area, and can also include repositioning of the belly button. It’s ideal for those who have moderate excess skin folds around their midsection following significant weight loss.
A panniculectomy focuses on removing the pannus, which is an apron-like layer of excess skin and fat that hangs over the lower abdomen. This condition often occurs after major weight loss, bariatric surgery, or significant changes in body shape. Unlike a tummy tuck, which also tightens the abdominal muscles, a panniculectomy primarily aims to remove the extra skin and fat to improve comfort and hygiene.
Brachioplasty, also known as an arm lift, focuses on tightening the skin around the upper arms. If you have loose skin that resembles “bat wings,” an arm lift might be suitable for you.
A breast lift or mastopexy removes excess tissue to give sagging breasts a higher, rounder, and firmer shape.
A thigh lift aims to remove excess skin and fat from either the inner thigh or outer thighs. It’s a surgical procedure that enhances the lower body’s shape, especially after major weight loss.
Lower and Upper Body Lift
These body contouring surgeries target loose skin on the upper and lower body, often as a sequel to massive weight loss. An upper body lift focuses on the back and breasts, which can also include a breast lift or breast reduction. A lower body lift concentrates on the abdomen, buttocks, and thighs.
While not specifically a skin removal surgery, liposuction can remove excess fat deposits and is often performed in conjunction with other plastic surgery procedures to achieve the best possible results.
Who is a Good Candidate?
Determining whether you’re a suitable candidate for skin removal surgery involves a multi-faceted approach. Here are the major qualifiers:
1. You’ve experienced significant weight loss
Good candidates for skin removal surgery have typically lost 100 pounds or more, whether through diet and lifestyle changes or weight loss surgery.
2. You’re at a stable weight
Surgeons recommend maintaining your goal weight for at least six months to a year before undergoing any body contouring surgery. The reason for this is that fluctuating weight can affect the surgery’s outcomes, including the appearance and placement of incisions and scars.
3. You’re committed to a healthy lifestyle
A commitment to a healthy lifestyle is also crucial. This doesn’t just mean maintaining a stable weight; it includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, and abstaining from smoking. A healthy lifestyle supports better surgery outcomes and can minimize the risk of complications during the surgical procedure.
4. You have a clean bill of health
Before being approved for surgery, a comprehensive medical evaluation is necessary. This could involve tests to check for issues like heart conditions, diabetes, or any other potential risks that could affect your eligibility for anesthesia or surgery. Depending on the results, you may be referred to other healthcare providers for further evaluation.
5. You have realistic expectations
Having realistic expectations is essential. While body contouring surgeries like tummy tuck, arm lift, or thigh lift can bring about significant changes, they are not a substitute for weight loss and will not yield “perfect” results. During the consultation phase, your certified plastic surgeon will provide you with a realistic view of what the surgery can and cannot achieve, to help you set achievable goals.
6. You’re mentally prepared
Major surgery isn’t just a physical journey; it’s a psychological one as well. Ensure that you are mentally prepared for the changes that your body will go through and the recovery period that will follow. This involves understanding the full scope of the surgery, the risks involved, and the time needed for recovery.
By taking all these factors into account, you and your healthcare providers can make an informed decision on whether you’re a good candidate for skin removal or body contouring surgery.
What to Expect: A Step-By-Step Guide to Skin Removal Surgery After Major Weight Loss
If you’ve experienced major weight loss and are now considering skin removal surgery to address excess skin, fat deposits, or other related issues, understanding the process can help you feel more prepared and at ease. Here is a step-by-step guide to walk you through what to expect from start to finish.
Your journey should begin with thorough research about the surgical procedure you are interested in. Investigate different types of body contouring procedures, such as tummy tuck, arm lift, thigh lift, and lower or upper body lift. The better you understand your options, the more empowered you’ll feel.
Consultation with a Certified Plastic Surgeon
After you’ve done your initial research, schedule a consultation with a board-certified plastic surgeon. During this appointment, you’ll discuss your medical history, your weight loss methods (be it weight loss surgery or lifestyle changes), and your goals for skin removal surgery. The surgeon will assess whether you are a good candidate for the procedure and may recommend certain tests or evaluations by other healthcare providers.
Once you’ve been deemed a good candidate, you’ll undergo preoperative preparations. This often includes lab tests and may require you to achieve a stable weight or make lifestyle changes for a specified amount of time before the surgical procedure. You’ll also discuss anesthesia options and receive instructions for the day of the surgery, such as fasting guidelines.
Day of the Surgery
On the day of the surgery, you’ll arrive at the healthcare facility where the procedure will take place. After checking in and undergoing preliminary tests to ensure you’re ready for surgery, you’ll be prepared for anesthesia.
The plastic surgeon will then make incisions as planned to remove the excess skin and possibly fat. The specific type of incisions and their locations will depend on the procedure you are having—be it abdominoplasty, brachioplasty, or another type of body contouring surgery.
After the surgery is complete, you’ll be moved to a recovery room where healthcare providers will monitor your vital signs and manage any immediate postoperative symptoms.
Once you’re stable, you’ll receive discharge instructions that include wound care, medication, and a schedule for follow-up appointments. Follow-up appointments are crucial for monitoring your healing process and ensuring that you’re on track. It’s essential to maintain a healthy lifestyle to preserve the results of your skin removal surgery.
Long-term Benefits and Quality of Life
The primary purpose of skin removal and body contouring surgery is more than aesthetic–it improves your quality of life. The removal of excess skin can alleviate problems such as skin rashes or discomfort, allowing you to lead a more active, fulfilling life.
By understanding each phase of the skin removal surgery process, you can make informed decisions and manage your expectations effectively. Consult a board-certified plastic surgeon to start the process and determine the best path forward for you.
Risks and Considerations
All major surgery, including cosmetic surgery, has risks. You may experience complications such as infections, bleeding, or adverse reactions to anesthesia. Some patients also develop rashes or reduced skin elasticity post-surgery. To minimize your risk of adverse effects, be sure to choose a reputable, board-certified plastic surgeon for your surgery.
Skin removal surgery and body contouring procedures can be life-changing options after significant weight loss. If you’ve lost a significant amount of weight, whether through bariatric surgery, gastric bypass, or a dramatic change in lifestyle, these surgeries can offer you a way to refine your appearance and enhance your quality of life.