Q: I lost 50 pounds and now have flabby skin folds. Is there anything I can do about this problem? What about collagen supplements?
A: The skin is fairly elastic—it stretches and contracts as we move our joints and in other circumstances, such as pregnancy and childbirth. Skin contains collagen and elastin, two proteins that share some properties with a rubber band. Like a rubber band, they lose their ability to contract if stretched too much for too long a time.
The “anatomy” of skin (that is, thickness and other qualities, including elasticity) varies all over the body; elasticity depends on your age (young skin is more elastic) and the amount of weight you lose. Sun exposure and smoking reduce elasticity.
No food or supplement, including collagen supplements, will correct sagging skin. Exercise won’t remove or alter flabby skin, but strength training can tone and bulk up muscles under the skin, and that can improve appearance a little. You would have to build lots of muscle to fill out the sagging skin.
If your problem is severe, your physician may refer you to a plastic surgeon. People undergoing weight-loss surgery, who may lose half their body weight, often have surgery to remove excess skin. There are many surgical procedures: abdominoplasty (tummy tuck), gluteoplasty (for the buttocks), and brachioplasty (arm lifts). Surgery is expensive, and insurance may not cover it. It will produce scarring and carries risks such as infection. You must be committed not to regain the weight. There are also some nonsurgical, noninvasive techniques that use lasers to tighten the skin, but these are of limited usefulness.