How Do I Tell if I Have Excess Skin or if It's Just Fat?

Hello, I'm trying to discern where or not I have excess skin. I used to be much heavier but lost it over time naturally. I have since adopted a much healthier lifestlye, and my skin seems slightly more stretchy and typical problem areas seem that much harder to get in shape. When I pinch my skin I can feel what I believe are little balls. I believe those are fat cells, I'm not sure. What are my options. Any less invasive? Thankyou

Doctor Answers 9

A Consult Gives the Best Answer

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You wouldn't be able to feel individual fat cells, they're microscopic. It's really tough to distinguish between fat and loose skin, but loose skin typically includes some stubborn fatty tissue.

Looking at solutions for excess skin and/or fatty tissue depends on your problem areas (which you didn't really define here) and more information about what's bothering you. For example, if we're talking about the abdomen, liposuction would deal only with fatty tissues whereas a tummy tuck would deal with muscle, skin and fat. A dermatolipectmy would only deal with excess skin (not muscle or fat). 

The only way to know what your true options are would be to schedule a consultation with a board certified plastic surgeon to discuss what bothers you. The plastic surgeon will be able to map out your options and answer all of your questions, very specifically.

by Ricardo L Rodriguez

Baltimore Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 98 reviews

Differentiating Fat From Skin

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Depending upon the degree of weight loss that you've experienced, you may have loose skin, residual fat or both. There's only one way to know for sure, and that involves a physical exam. For this reason, it's appropriate to consult a board certified plastic surgeon with experience in this area. This surgeon should be able to formulate a treatment plan that addresses your anatomic deformity and achieves your aesthetic goals.

Excess skin or just fat?

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Hi MusicJunkie89, congratulations on your healthier lifestyle and weight loss! There's no simple way to tell whether it's excess skin or just fat without examining you. I recommend that you make an appointment to see a plastic surgeon who you feel comfortable with and discuss your concerns and questions with her or him.

Good luck! JT

Jill Tomlinson, MBBS, FRACS
Melbourne Plastic Surgeon

Excess Skin or Just Fat?

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Without a photo and some idea of which areas are troublesome to you, all I can suggest is a visit to a plastic surgeon for an in person evaluation.  RealSelf has listings of surgeons in your area. You should consider cross referencing the listings from the The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (plasticsurgery dot org). A listing in the ASPS website assures you that your surgeon is not only board certified,  but also is a member in good standing of the major plastic surgery organization in the U. S.

Since you describe losing a lot of weight, chances are that you skin has lost elasticity and that you have excess skin, perhaps along with excess fat. If that assumption is correct, it seems most likely that you would be a candidate for a skin reduction procedure at the site or sites in question  (tummy tuck, body lift, arm lift, etc).

Thank you for your question, best wishes.

Jourdan Gottlieb, MD
Seattle Plastic Surgeon

How Do I Tell if I Have Excess Skin or if It's Just Fat...

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The best advice I can give you is to visit a BCPS who can examine you, explain what your options are surgically that will help your reach your aesthetic goals. Best wishes.

Kenneth A. Marshall, MD, FACS
Wellesley Plastic Surgeon

Diagnosis requires examination by an experienced surgeon

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Hi there-

It will be very difficult or impossible for you to reliably tell how much of your problem is due to excess fat and how much is due to excess skin. 

Your best bet is to visit a good surgeon for a consultation and examination.

Is it Excess Skin or just Excess Fat?

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The best way to tell if you have excess skin or excess fat is to see an experienced plastic surgeon.  That is what we are here for.  There is only so much information that can be given over the internet.  People are all different.  Some patients lose massive amounts of weight and their skin recoils beautifully.  Unfortunately for others, it does not.  Some may need a tummy tuck, others might just need lipo and still others might need a body lift procedure with or without lipo.  Find a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon in your area and ask their opinion.

Excess Skin or Is It Fat?

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Dear MusicJunkier89,

Once the tissues of the skin have been stretched past a certain point, they lose the ability to retract or shrink with weight loss.  This is a very common problem for patients who have lost a great deal of weight.  Also, as we age, our skin also loses some of its ability to shrink/retract.

If this is the situation you are facing, then then best option is surgery to remove the excess tissues.  There are no non-invasive techniques that can give the results that surgery can-no matter what their marketing directors advertise.

In order to get an evaluation of your concerns, please consult with a board-certified plastic surgeon who can best direct you on which options are right for you.

Hope this helps and best of luck.

Herluf G. Lund, Jr, MD
Saint Louis Plastic Surgeon
4.7 out of 5 stars 88 reviews

How Do I Tell if I Have Excess Skin or if It's Just Fat?

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Fat cells are microscopic in size, you cant feel them. You are feeling the nodularity of the fat attached to the skin. A consult with a plastic surgeon will help you determine what surgery can accomplish vs further weight loss. When you have significant skin laxity and excess there are no techniques short of surgery to correct that.

Ronald V. DeMars, MD
Portland Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 29 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.