Excess body fat can have a dramatic impact on our skin

Carrying too much weight around is a health risk all on its own, but the way body fat affects our skin can be dramatic, and hard to reverse.

As we get older, it becomes more difficult to maintain a svelte bodyshape for various reasons. Without careful attention, we gain about one dress size every 5 years after the age of 30, and 50% of us will be obese at some point in our lives.

Let’s look at how body fat affects our skin, and ways to reduce our obesity risk.

How body fat affects our skin

Stretch marks

The most obvious way that an excess amount of body fat affects our skin is the way the skin has to stretch over the increased mass.

Skin cells stretch and multiply to cover the increase in girth, creating reddened scars, called striae. These scars are most commonly found on the roundest parts of the body such as the thighs, buttocks, belly and breasts.

An inability of collagen to form correctly is what causes the damage, creating the bands we know as stretch marks.

Stretch marks are a problem for anyone who has gained and lost a noticeable amount of weight, but become more severe issue for those who have gone up and down in weight many times over the years.

Yo-yo dieting can lead to stretch marks getting worse, as well as loose skin, because it becomes stretched irreversibly. Even when a dieter loses all the weight for good, they will have a greater amount of loose-looking skin that can sag and create dramatic, visible lines on the skin.


Another way excess body fat affects our skin is through cellulite.

Rare in the teenage years, this bumpy textured skin grows to cover more of our bodies, and deepens in appearance as we gain weight and become older. Its appearance is due to a change in the way the collagen fibers under the skin contain, or rather fail to contain, the fatty adipose tissue beneath.

For women, it’s like an inflated balloon being pressed against a net: the net only holds back certain parts; the balloon pushes through the holes.

Men’s collagen is formed differently – it tends to be tighter and more like bands as opposed to a net – which is why cellulite is less common, though still present, for males.

So what causes excess fat in the first place?

While there are many factors that can shift the rate of weight gain or loss, the core of the issue is consuming more calories than we burn.

We consume calories through the foods we eat, and some foods are more calorie dense than others.

Our bodies divert much of this energy into the essential processes of our cells and organs to keep us functioning.

We must burn any calories we consume above this level through additional activity, or our bodies will store it as fat, primarily in the buttocks and breasts and then the rest of the body.

Since many common and delicious foods are so high in calories, you can overdo it just a little bit, consistently, and still gain weight. Processed foods are the biggest offenders, since they tend to have a lot of added sugars and fats, so sticking to more natural, less processed foods is a good idea for your weight and your skin.

How can you lose excess body fat?

If you’re looking to lose excess fat, the best thing you can do is combine a lower-calorie, nutrient-dense diet with an exercise program that includes both aerobic training and resistance exercise with progressively heavier weights.  If you are female then don’t worry about building too much muscle; womeny typically don’t have enough testosterone to make them big and bulky so will get a desired slim, toned look.

Eating too much can easily become a habit, as can drinking sugary drinks. If you regularly drink soda, you’re drinking a lot of calories that have no nutrients in them, so switching to unsweetened tea or water can make all the difference. If you add cream and sugar to your coffee, or get the frozen coffee milkshakes many cafes offer, consider drinking your coffee closer to black.

Another change you can make is switching breads and wraps for lettuce, so adding nutrients and reducing calories.

It’s also best to use smaller plates and then the correct portion sizes will look bigger.  Also reduce snacking and eating out, and track the foods you eat each day so you have an accurate picture of what your food intake actually is (that way you can modify accordingly). A tracking app is the most convenient for this purpose, such as Lose It!, Cronometer, or MyFitnessPal.

Knowing how body fat affects our skin can help us make better decisions for our skin health earlier in life so we can look better for longer.


Last Reviewed: 29-Aug-2017

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