Loose skin vs fat: What's the difference and why it matters

Arming you with all the information you need.

Written by
Imogen Kars
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
May 15, 2024
min read
Loose skin vs fat: What's the difference and why it matters
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We all know that excess fat can cause weight to sit around the abdomen and other various parts of the body — but did you know that excess skin can also play a role in this too?

In this article, we're going to dive deep into the difference between excess skin and excess fat. By the end of it, you'll be armed with all the information you need to know on what loose skin means, why it happens and how you can get rid of it.

What is loose skin?

First things first, let's remember the fact that skin is a living organ. It stretches and shrinks according to the weight loss or weight gain of the individual. Loose skin refers to the skin that remains after you have lost weight quickly — which often happens for people dealing with obesity.

This means that gradual weight loss is the best option when it comes to trying to prevent loose skin. When it comes to losing weight quickly and developing issues with loose skin, you're more likely to experience it on the lower abdomen area, as well as under your arms and legs.

Can loose skin ever tighten?

Skin is an organ, and because of this, it will absolutely bounce back and tighten up over time. There are many factors involved in this, including your age, the length of time that excess weight was present and genetics.

If you're having issues shifting sagging skin, your best bet is to contact a health professional to discuss your options.

What are the different types of fat?

In order to clearly understand loose skin vs fat, it's important we get to know the different types of fat and how they work. While we use the term fat to describe all body fat, there are actually various types that exist within us.

In order to completely understand the way the body works when it comes to losing weight, it's essential we understand the roles that each type of fat serves. While some fat gives us energy, some fats also protect our organs and help us to absorb nutrients, too [1].

In general, there are 6 major types of fat and they're classified depending on where they live and what their purpose is.

Subcutaneous fat

Subcutaneous fat is the layer of fat beneath the skin, and you can determine this type of fat by pinching loose skin. This type of fat is most common in the thighs, hips and buttocks.

Subcutaneous body fat isn't quite as dangerous as visceral fat in the way that it contributes to health issues, but it's important to know that subcutaneous fat deposits can still lead to diabetes or heart disease if there is too much within the body.

Visceral fat

Visceral fat deposits sit around organs, and it's known as the most dangerous type of fat. Excess fat in this category can lead to insulin resistance and severe inflammation because of its linkage with high levels of triglyceride, cholesterol and free fatty acids. Ideally, visceral fat should make up about 10% of your body fat [2].

Environmental factors, like diet and exercise, play a role in the development of excess visceral fat, while your genetics can influence how your body stores this type of fat [2]. A sedentary lifestyle coupled with a high intake of processed foods is a major factor in increasing visceral fat.

Essential fat

The next type of fat is essential fat, and this type is renowned for supporting the structure of the brain, the nerves, and the internal organs. Its protective functions make sure your organs continue to function properly.

White fat

Next up is white fat, which is also known as white adipose cells. This is the quintessential type of fat that most people have a basic understanding of, and it's located under the skin and around the organs.

Its primary function is to store energy. When an individual ingests food, these fat cells store energy as triglycerides. When it comes to fasting, this type of fat provides energy to the body by breaking down said triglycerides.

White fat also contributes to metabolism and weight regulation and works hard to produce important hormones like leptin which is known for stimulating appetite [3].

Brown fat

The purpose of brown fat is to burn energy. Responsible for maintaining the body's core temperature, brown fat is easy to burn, especially in cooler climates.

Beige fat

Beige fat refers to the fat that is created when the body is exposed to stress. High levels of beige fat aren't necessarily good, but it does allow the body to transform and burn fat into thermal energy.

What is the difference between loose skin and fat?

Now you understand the different types of fat within the body, it might be easier to comprehend the difference between loose skin and fat.

Where loose skin is the skin you're left with after drastic weight loss or pregnancy, fat refers to the excess subcutaneous body fat that sits right under the skin across your body.

You'll notice that the loose skin can be easily pinched and pulled, whereas fat isn't as moveable. Another key difference lies in the fact that with exercise, loose skin cannot be reduced but subcutaneous fat can.

Why can fat be a risk for health?

While fat is necessary for your both to survive, excess fat can be a major health risk, especially when it comes to excess abdominal fat.

Stubborn fat deposits can lead to health issues like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnoea, psychological issues, musculoskeletal conditions and even cancer. As the excess weight increases, so does the risk for each of these diseases [4].

How to approach sustainable weight loss

Loose skin pops up when a massive weight loss occurs quickly, so in a bid to avoid sagging skin, you'll want to try and lose weight sustainably. To avoid loose skin, you can try the following tips:

  • Focus on eating healthy, wholesome foods: Forget calories and strict diets. To lose weight sustainably, you'll want to change the way you look at food and focus on eating fresh, whole foods. You might want to consider exploring meal replacement shakes if you want a helping hand to kickstart your weight loss.
  • Beware of sugar: Unhealthy sugars are one of the major contributors to excess weight and in turn, sagging skin, so avoiding sugars (especially when it comes to processed foods) is a great step in the right direction.
  • Get moving: Movement is one of the best ways to gradually and sustainably lose weight. A great first step to adding movement is to start small and add bouts of it into your day-to-day life. Incidental exercise is also a great way to get moving and can be as easy as parking a little further away from work or getting off the bus a stop earlier than usual to increase your daily steps.

Another way to approach weight loss sustainably is with Pilot's Metabolic Reset Program. Our program includes clinically-proven treatments — which works to decrease your appetite and keep you feeling fuller for longer — with community support from our medical team and health coaches, while also connecting you with a supportive community of like-minded men to help keep you motivated and accountable to your weight loss goals.

While weight loss can feel out of reach, it doesn't have to be. And, we're here to help when you're ready.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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