Written by Tianna Manon for Avima.com

For some people, losing the weight is only half the battle. After major weight loss, baggy skin and extra tissue can keep them from seeing the body they want in the mirror. That’s where body contouring comes in. It’s a procedure that can be done on the arms, legs, stomach and just about anywhere where patients have extra skin.

“When you lose a lot of weight, especially if you lose it quickly, the skin doesn’t have the elasticity to snap back,” said Dr. Terry Jurgenson, a Portland, Maine-based plastic surgeon. “This is especially true for older people. Body contouring allows you to wear whatever you want more confidently.”

This is especially true for patients of a recent bariatric surgery. Excessive skin can even be a hygiene and health problem, according to a 2012 study by Dr. Devinder Singh. He found that the extra skin can harbor harmful bacteria, causing rashes. He says it also keeps them from moving about freely and can impair with daily life activities, affecting the mental health of patients. For many, the procedure is a necessary conclusion to the weight-loss journey and it’s important that candidates reach a stable weight before going into the procedure.

How does it work?

Just as the weight loss journey is personalised, so also are the procedures. Patients meet with the surgeon to understand what work can be done and the potential results. The procedure’s intensity depends on the level of work required. In most cases, to remove excess skin, surgeons make large incisions on the body part being worked on. Sometimes these can be hidden within the fold of the body part and with clothing, but Jurgenson warns it’s important to be prepared for visible scarring.

Body contouring is often done in stages. Depending on the amount of work needed contouring can take a long time to complete, sometimes even a couple years. There are several kinds of procedures: body lift, arm lift and thigh lift just to name a few. While all three remove excess skin they do so in different ways.

With the arm, for example, a long incision is made under the upper arm. A thigh lift includes incisions in the groin area. If there is a lot of work needed there, then the surgeon cuts straight down but most try to keep the legs visibly scar-free. It’s important to be prepared for scarring because depending on the amount of work you need, your surgeon may have to make longer incisions or do several.

Because patients have a wide-range of options on what parts they can get contoured and how much to do so, there isn’t really an average cost for body contouring procedures. The body part, the degree of contouring needed are just two factors considered in the cost. There is also the cost of the surgeon, which will depend on their experience, skill level and the location in which they practice. It’s important to get a board-certified plastic surgeon to ensure your surgeon is knowledgeable. There are also fees for equipment used and any medications the patient needs.

What happens afterward?

There is considerable after-care included in body contouring. Sometimes, rods are placed in the site to help with drainage. Because, the skin is still healing, some patients will be instructed to sleep in certain positions, avoid standing upright and other actions that can harm their skin after a body or thigh lift. Patients also often report pain as a side effect so some medication and rest is highly recommended.

However, it’s a procedure with long-lasting results. If patients continue to eat well and exercise often, the results simply age as the person does. So the body will lose some firmness over time but comparable to what people who have never undergone surgery experience.