Skin is your body's outer shield, protecting it from the elements, fending off the sun's damaging rays and putting up with a number of other environmental irritants. As you age, your skin is affected by the daily wear and tear of life -- so it's no wonder that your skin eventually loses some of its elasticity.
Skin elasticity is the skin's ability to stretch and then go back to normal once the need to stretch is gone [source: Columbia University]. Along with wrinkles and gray hair, reduced skin elasticity is a fact of aging for most people. The condition is known as elastosis and can be especially easy to see in parts of the body that have been most exposed to the sun. In fact, elastosis is seen most noticeably in people who spend most of their time outdoors; it can cause a leathery, weather-beaten appearance [source: Dugdale].
Problems with skin elasticity can also arise after a person loses a large amount of weight in a short period of time. Skin often cannot keep up with the sudden changes the body has been through, and it may not shrink back to the same size as the body, leaving unsightly excess skin behind.
Supplements and creams are available for those looking to improve their skin elasticity in small ways, but for more severe cases -- such as major weight loss -- surgery is the only option to actually rid the body of excess skin. This option is often invasive and costly, however.
One of the least invasive ways to attempt to combat skin elasticity problems could be by taking supplements. Read the next page to learn about a few of the most popular kinds of supplements that might prove beneficial to those with decreased elasticity in their skin.
Skin Elasticity Supplements
If you find you have lost some of your skin elasticity through the normal aging process, taking supplements may be the answer to improving your skin's ability to stretch. However, keep in mind that most available supplements have not been scientifically proven to help skin elasticity. That means that many of these remedies are likely based more on old wives' tales than on lab tests, so your personal results will vary.
Since the body uses vitamin C to form collagen and cartilage, some people believe taking the supplement can also help treat problems with skin elasticity [source: Medline Plus]. People have been taking vitamin C for ages to help reduce the risk of getting a cold. Reportedly, it can also help our bodies to absorb iron more quickly and avoid some infections. Therefore, even if it doesn't help restore your skin's elasticity, a daily dose of Vitamin C might help you in other ways.
Vitamin E is also said to help improve skin elasticity, though, as with other supplements, this has not been scientifically proven. The vitamin's antioxidant properties may be able to benefit a variety of conditions. However, be careful and always follow dosage directions, since taking too much vitamin E can be dangerous [source: Mayo Clinic]. Read the supplement's bottle to know the correct dosage amount, and do not exceed it.
Another supplement used to slow physical signs of aging is lutein. It is used commonly by people who are experiencing macular degeneration, an eye disease in which severe vision loss or blindness can occur. But lutein, too, has not been scientifically proven to stop or reverse skin elasticity problems [source: PDR].
If you aren't interested in taking supplements to combat loss of elasticity, creams are another option. Visit the following page to learn about improving skin elasticity with topical treatments.
Skin Elasticity Creams
Creams are easy to use and noninvasive, making them a popular choice for those seeking to improve their skin elasticity. However, like supplements, the ingredients in topical treatments may not have been scientifically proven to help your skin in this way. Results will vary by individual.
Vitamin A, also known as retinol, has been shown to improve the appearance of aging skin in some studies. The vitamin is a popular ingredient in over-the-counter skin care products because of this, and stronger prescription-only products are also available. In addition to potentially improving skin's appearance, research suggests that vitamin A may prevent some types of cancer, help growth and development, and improve the body's immune function [source: Mayo Clinic]. Other benefits to the skin include promoting collagen production, reducing fine lines and improving skin tone and color. While retinol can hydrate the lower layers of skin, its potential side effects include leaving the top layer dryer than normal, so moisturizer is a necessity [source: WebMD].
If you'd rather smooth on a cream than gulp down a pill, vitamin C might also have positive effects for skin elasticity when used as an ingredient in skin care products. Since its antioxidants can help stimulate collagen production and reduce fine lines and wrinkles, it has the potential to help with elasticity issues, too. But eating vitamin C through natural sources like fruits and vegetables may be the best way to absorb the substance, according to doctors, so don't expect miracles from creams that contain vitamin C [source: WebMD].
Creams and supplements may help improve aging skin, but skin that has gone through weight loss may have different needs when it comes to elasticity. For more on this problem, read the next page.
Skin Elasticity After Weight Loss
While losing weight is normally fantastic -- especially for those who are extremely overweight -- one often overlooked side effect is the amount of excess skin you may be left with. Those who already had poor skin elasticity before weight loss likely will not have skin that is able to adapt to their new body shape; in such a situation, you may need to turn to plastic surgery.
Whether skin elasticity will be a problem after your weight loss depends on how much you lose and how long it takes you to lose it. People who lose 50 pounds or less over the course of several months probably will not struggle with skin elasticity problems, since their skin may be able to shrink along with their body mass. But those who lose 50 to 100 pounds in a short period of time may find that their skin has not cooperated. This can be especially likely for people who undergo bariatric surgery, or gastric bypass surgery, as they are very likely to lose lots of weight quickly [source: Columbia University].
People who lose a moderate amount of weight and still have excess skin can have a body lift, or area-specific plastic surgery, done wherever it is needed, from the abdomen to thighs or arms. Those who undergo bariatric surgery to lose the weight may need overall body contouring surgery, which can include a series of procedures over the course of two years. Often, bariatric patients' skin has been so severely stretched that it may have lost its ability to tighten and tone [source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons].
For those who lose weight naturally, a waiting period of two years is recommended before undergoing surgery to ensure that you are ready for the invasive procedure. In addition, most insurance companies don't cover contouring surgery, since it is considered an elective procedure, making it a costly out-of-pocket expense [source: Columbia University].
To learn more about how to improve skin elasticity, visit the links on the following page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Causes of Aging Skin." 2008. (Accessed 9/16/09) http://www.skincarephysicians.com/agingskinnet/basicfacts.html
- American Society of Plastic Surgeons. "Loss of Skin Elasticity in Post-Bariatric Patients Leads to Modifications to Body Contouring Techniques." 10/8/04. (Accessed 9/16/09) http://www.plasticsurgery.org/Media/Press_Releases/Loss_of_Skin_Elasticity_in_Post-Bariatric_Patients_Leads_to_Modifications_to_Body_Contouring_Techniques.html
- Columbia University. "Weight Loss and Excess Skin." Go Ask Alice. 4/13/07. (Accessed 9/16/09) http://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu/5511.html
- Dugdale, David C. "Aging Changes in Skin." Medline Plus. 8/10/08. (Accessed 9/16/09) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/004014.htm
- Manson, JoAnn. "Can the Skin's Elasticity Be Restored?" EverydayHealth. 7/14/08. (Accessed 9/16/09) http://www.everydayhealth.com/specialists/menopause/manson/qa/skins-elasticity-be-restored/index.aspx
- Mayo Clinic. "Vitamin A (retinol)." 3/1/08. (Accessed 9/16/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vitamin-a/NS_patient-vitamina
- Mayo Clinic. "Vitamin E." 3/1/08. (Accessed 9/16/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vitamin-e/NS_patient-vitamine
- Medline Plus. "Vitamin C." 8/26/09. (Accessed 9/16/09) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/patient-vitaminc.html
- PRD. "Lutein." Physicians' Desktop Reference. (Accessed 9/16/09) http://www.pdrhealth.com/drugs/altmed/altmed-mono.aspx?contentFileName=ame0436.xml&contentName=Lutein&contentId=592
- WebMD. "Skin Care Products: Best Ingredients for Aging Skin." 2/17/09. (Accessed 9/16/09) http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/cosmetic-procedures-products-2