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Fat vs. Loose Skin: How to Tell the Difference?
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Fat vs. Loose Skin: How to Tell the Difference?

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on January 25, 2023
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6 min

Sometimes fat and loose skin can look the same on your body. This may leave you feeling confused or disheartened when you don’t see a difference. We explain the defining factors of loose skin and body fat, including 4 ways you could tighten sagging skin.

Fat vs loose skin
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Both loose skin and stubborn fat deposits play unique roles in your body.

You might think that excess skin looks like hanging fat, but this is not true. People only get loose skin after losing a substantial amount of weight in a quick time frame. Fat can similarly hang in certain places on the body and confuse you about how to tell the difference. 

There are many ways you might determine what loose skin is. By locating areas of excess skin, you can discover the right treatment that returns your body after massive weight loss. So, what are the characteristics of each, and how can you actually reduce loose skin?

In this article, you’ll learn the difference between loose skin and fat. 

Fat vs. Loose Skin: Is There a Difference?

Yes, there’s a difference between loose skin and subcutaneous fat. Loose skin is excess skin that remains after pregnancy or significant weight loss. Normal body fat is adipose tissue often derived from eating high-sugar foods or not exercising regularly enough.

Both fat and excess skin can look the same. This is because they hang on certain body parts and create stretch marks – types of scars due to skin being shrunk or stretched. However, they are not the same, which is important for people who are trying to lose weight fast

A study found that skin proteins change after intense weight loss in those with obesity. These proteins can help collagen fibers maintain skin elasticity. On the other hand, excess fat can be a result of poor dieting or a lack of exercise, leading to weight gain in your stomach or face.

How to Tell the Difference Between Fat and Loose Skin?

Loose skin is something you can pinch easily on your body. You can’t really grab excess fat because of the high-density adipose tissue. Plus, loose skin usually appears wrinkled and saggy in certain areas, which looks entirely different from stubborn fat deposits.

One thing to note is that drastic weight loss, smoking, illness, or pregnancy causes loose skin. Otherwise, you won’t see any hanging skin when maintaining your body weight. Fat is fleshy and tight, meaning it sits firmly on your limbs without hanging down or becoming wrinkly. 

You could do the pinch test to determine the difference. Pinching loose skin will be easy if you can stretch it and pull it away. This occurs due to the lack of collagen fibers left in your skin. However, you can’t pinch visceral fat, making this method effective in differentiating the two. 

What Does Loose Skin Look Like?

Loose skin may sag and drape against your body. This can cause a few wrinkles to appear, especially if you’ve recently given birth or lost weight. Plus, this skin should be easily flexible when pinched, which can help you determine whether it’s excess tissue. 

The decreased collagen formation in your skin can happen anywhere in the body. Some common places might be upper belly fat or your thighs. Skin that appears to be drooping isn’t fat, so you don’t have to worry about losing more stubborn weight on your health journey. 

Of course, everyone is bound to look different when it comes to their skin. Some people might have rolls of loose skin, while others get wrinkly patches. If you’re concerned about this excess tissue, consult with your doctor about finding the right body contouring surgery options.

Here are a few reasons why you might get loose skin:

  • Losing a huge amount of weight
  • Recent pregnancy 
  • Smoking
  • Age-related factors
  • Physical illness 
  • Sun exposure 

What Does Excess Fat Look Like?

Any sign of excess fat will protrude from your body. These fat cells usually expand due to a poor diet, lack of exercise, or high alcohol intake. You can also see a change in your body weight when stepping on the scale and not fitting into your regular clothes. 

Subcutaneous fat is the type of fat that is under your skin. Too much of it can increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and coronary artery disease. It’s important to monitor how much excess fat you currently have to avoid obesity or any life-threatening health problems.

You can build healthy habits to avoid loose skin and fat. Consider going for a long-distance run to burn some calories or drink more water throughout the day. Looking after your body is very important for reducing fat cells and stopping visceral fat wrapping around internal organs. 

Here are some reasons for more stubborn fat:

  • Poor sleep 
  • Dehydration 
  • Sugar addiction 
  • Junk food 
  • Sedentary lifestyle 
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Salt-based diet

How to Measure Your Body Fat?

You can use an at-home body fat scale to measure your fat percentage. It’s a smart scale that estimates both muscle mass and fat. If you don’t want to buy this tool, there are other ways of measuring, like skinfold calipers and simple BMR calculators. 

A basal metabolic rate calculator determines how many calories you need each day. This is great for people who want to gain, lose, or maintain weight. You can determine whether you’re exceeding your normal daily calorie intake and putting on more fat because of it. 

Those who need to eat more than 2,000 calories a day just to sustain normal functions may have more fat in their body. Their metabolism needs extra support when keeping them alive. Calculators are simple ways of finding out more about your basal and resting metabolic rate. 

Below are some formulas you can use:

Men: 66.47 + (6.24 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.75 x age in years)

Women: 65.51 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)

Get Rid of Loose Skin: 4 Tips for a Firmer, Tighter Look

There are ways you can naturally tighten loose skin at home. You don’t have to worry about dealing with sagging skin after weight loss. Just remember that everyone has unique bodies when it comes to losing weight, so don’t feel disheartened if you have more loose skin. 

Here are 4 tips for tightening loose skin:

#1 Exercise

Building your muscle through exercise or weight training can decrease the appearance of loose skin. This is because you have more muscle mass to fill extra skin around your thighs, stomach, or arms. You should perform weight training at least 3–4 times a week to notice results. 

For more guidance on exercise, consider downloading fitness apps, f.e.: Perfect Body app. You can find extensive training programs that cater to your personal weight loss goals.

#2 Start dry skin brushing

Dry brushing unclogs your pores and gently exfoliates the skin. This method could help with muscle tone by evenly distributing fatty deposits. All you need to do is buy a soft-bristled round brush and slowly rub circles over your legs, arms, neck, lower stomach, back, and chest. 

The dry brushing technique is also supposed to increase blood flow. The more blood circulating your skin’s outer layers, the more likely you’ll have reduced cellulite. Just be aware that dry brushing regularly might not work on large areas of excess subcutaneous body fat. 

#3 Try firming cream

Firming creams are meant to tighten your skin and make it appear youthful. They usually contain collagen and elastin – two components that naturally boost your skin’s elasticity. You could apply the cream to small areas that might have excess skin, like the jawline or chest.

#4 Consider cosmetic procedures

People with too much loose skin might need to undergo cosmetic procedures. One of them includes panniculectomy – a removal surgery that gets rid of excess skin on the belly. Body contouring is something you can do when toning or shaping certain body parts. 

A Word From a Dietitian

Dealing with fat and loose skin can be frustrating when losing weight. This is because they may look the same on your body. Despite their similar appearances, they don’t mean the same thing, as subcutaneous fat is adipose tissue that wraps around organs and promotes heart disease.

Loose skin is just a result of you losing this type of bad fat. Not every human body can restore the skin back to its natural shape after extensive weight loss. Just remember that excess skin around your stomach, thighs, arms, and back isn’t more harmful than subcutaneous body fat.

You can also try intermittent fasting to prevent loose skin. Fasting is believed to trigger autophagy – a natural process that destroys damaged proteins and cells. This means your body can replenish new skin cells and strengthen your skin’s elasticity in the long term.

Consult with your doctor on ways to remove loose skin. They can offer the right treatment based on how much excess abdominal fat you have. For those who don’t want cosmetic procedures, it might be worth trying firming creams, dry skin brushing, or exercise like simple morning walks.

Conclusion

So, what is the difference between loose skin and fat?

Loose skin forms when you’ve dropped a substantial amount of weight. This is because collagen fibers can no longer keep skin elastic, firm, and hydrated. Subcutaneous fat is a type of fat located under the skin, which is usually the reason for weight gain or abdominal obesity. 

Consider gaining exercise tips from the Perfect Body app. You can burn calories to lose weight slowly while still maintaining the strength of your skin’s collagen fibers.

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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