Let's go there: how weight loss affects your face

Reaching your goal weight can come with a surprising side effect: looser skin. Our experts share the science behind the sagging plus ways to tighten and smooth (if that’s what you’re interested in).
Published December 8, 2021

Most weight-loss milestones are celebrated. More energy! Lower blood pressure! Looser jeans! But there’s one we tend to get quiet—if not silent—about: changes to the skin. More pointedly, looser skin and wrinkles.

After all the effort that’s put into eating healthier, walking more, and prioritizing your wellness, it can be deflating to see this unexpected change in the mirror, as if you’ve pressed fast-forward on the aging process. You may even feel younger, so what’s up with those jowls—and why didn’t anyone give you a head’s up about this?

“Most patients are happy about the weight loss, but often feel discouraged when they see their skin changes,” says Marisa Garshick, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. Of course, you can (and should) feel all your feelings, whether that’s disappointment at newfound wrinkles or pride in the lines that now grace your face. But whichever side you land on, here’s one thing we can all agree on: It’s time to start talking about how weight loss affects our facial skin.

Just like plateaus and non-scale victories, complexion changes are a real and natural part of the weight-loss experience. And normalizing (and celebrating!) this shift can only better prepare you for the journey. So let’s take a science-backed look at the causes and explore what you can do about them if (big if!) that’s the route you choose to go.

How Does Weight Loss Affect the Face?

When you lose weight, you inevitably lose some fat, including that which naturally occurs in your face and neck. And when that happens, volume in your face and neck decreases, says Nina Desai, M.D., a dermatologist in Manhattan Beach, CA. That creates skin laxity (derm speak for sagging) and folds.

When fat is lost, so is collagen, the scaffolding within skin that keeps it firm and plump. Your skin already naturally loses collagen due to age (consider it the worthy tradeoff for another birthday), so combine that with losing weight and it’s not surprising to see droopier, wrinkled skin.

What is surprising is that it doesn’t take a dramatic weight loss of 100 pounds to experience loose skin after weight loss. Skin laxity can change after losing about 30 pounds, says Desai. “If you notice changes in larger areas of the body, like arms, abdomens, thighs, and buttocks, you may get that change in the face as well.”

At-Home Ways to Treat Skin Changes After Weight Loss

Creating a self-care ritual is an important part of any wellness journey, and skincare definitely counts as self-care. And if you choose a strategic regimen with targeted ingredients, you can help offset the impact of loose skin after weight loss.

Step 1: Start with sunscreen

Simply put, being uber diligent about applying (and then re-applying) sunscreen is the number one skincare rule. “Your sunscreen protects you from the most prevalent cause of premature aging, which is UV rays,” says Desai. “It’s the most important topical agent that you can use to improve the quality of your skin.”

Step 2: Adjust your skincare products

Look for products containing the antioxidants Vitamins C and E, suggests Desai. “Vitamin C protects the skin from free radical damage (which breaks down collagen) while also promoting the synthesis of collagen.” Similarly, Vitamin E helps boost collagen production and defend skin against future damage.

Step 3: Add in retinoids

Retinoids, the umbrella term for both over-the-counter retinol products and prescription-level retinoids, are considered the gold standard for anti-aging thanks to their ability to speed up skin cell turnover and regulate collagen production to firm up skin.

When to See a Dermatologist About Sagging Skin

If topical treatments aren’t giving you the results you’re hoping for, talk to your dermatologist about other options. For sagging around the jawline or cheeks, where weight loss changes can be most prevalent, you may want to consider injectables, says Desai. “We can use fillers, such as hyaluronic acid-based fillers, and inject them into these areas of volume depletion to plump them up, which also lifts the skin.”

You can pair fillers with other treatments to boost their effects. “Sometimes people notice their skin appears duller and more dehydrated after significant weight loss, with fine lines becoming more visible,” says Garshick. “It can help to perform procedures that resurface and boost collagen, such as fractional laser resurfacing as well as injectables such as Botox, which help to reduce muscle movement to prevent wrinkle formation.” Another option: Procedures like radiofrequency micro needling, which also stimulate collagen and tighten the skin.

Embrace Your New Skin

Your other option, of course, is to do nothing. In fact, embracing these changes could make you happier in the long run: There’s ample evidence to show that practicing self-compassion—that is, being aware of how you speak to yourself and making efforts to do so with kindness—is linked to high levels of well-being, less stress, a more positive outlook, and, most significantly in this case, being better able to let things go.

Ultimately, your approach is a personal matter. But whether you choose to embrace or address your new complexion, don’t forget that skin changes are a completely natural (and normal) side effect of getting to your healthiest self—and that in itself is worth celebrating.