Loving the New Skin You're In

Experts offer solutions to dieting-related skin problems

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson, MD

You've finally made the commitment -- you're on a weight loss program. And you're starting to see some results.

But if you're like many dieters, you may also see something you weren't expecting: skin problems! While switching to a lower-fat, lower-calorie eating plan is good for your body, don't be surprised if your skin doesn't think so -- at least for the first few weeks.

"In the beginning, even a healthy diet can stress your system, and there is no question that it's stressful enough to impact your skin," says David Goldberg, MD, director of Skin Laser and Surgery Specialists of New York/New Jersey and a clinical professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York.

'Dieter's Acne'

One of the most common problems is a condition loosely defined as "dieter's acne" ­ either breakouts that occur for the first time, or an acne condition that worsens when you begin a new eating plan.

"Part of it has to do with the overall change in the kinds of foods you are eating, which can stress the system initially," Goldberg says. "But I also think it's related to the whole process of dieting, which can be very stressful. ... And there's no getting around it, your skin will show how you feel."

When we're stressed, a cascade of hormonal activity takes place, some of which can influence our skin. For those who have never had skin problems, this activity may be enough to initiate a breakout. If you start your diet with an oily complexion and occasional breakouts, Goldberg says, dieting can make it seem worse -- at least at first.

The good news: It's only temporary.

Once your body adjusts to your new, healthier food intake, and you emotionally accept dieting as a positive force in your life, Goldberg says, stress levels generally go down and your skin will calm down as well.

"The important thing is not to get stressed about your skin, which can only make the breakouts last longer," says Goldberg.

In the meantime, he recommends keeping skin clean, wear as little makeup as possible, and try an over-the-counter drying solution containing either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.

When Dieting Ages Skin

Acne may be a problem you face at the start of your diet. But if you stick with your weight loss plan long enough, you may notice more lines and wrinkles, particularly on your face and neck.

Fat helps keep skin taut. And as we begin to lose that underlying support, our skin may react by looking looser and, possibly more wrinkled. This is particularly true if you're over 35 when you start to lose weight.

"As we age, we don't make as much collagen, and what we do make isn't quite as good as what our body produced when we were younger," says esthetician Susie Galvaz, owner of Face Works Day Spa in Richmond, Va. With less fat to support the skin from underneath, and less collagen to hold moisture and water, Galvaz warns, lines and creases can follow.

"It's not uncommon for women to lose weight and gain years on their face, particularly if they lose weight quickly, or if they don't take care of their skin while dieting," says derma-surgeon Rhoda Narins, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center in New York.

But a slimmer body doesn't have to mean a more lined face, Galvaz says.

First, make sure you lose weight slowly. This gives your skin time to adjust to the loss, and that may reduce some of the droops and drops. Galvaz also believes that firming creams are a must. And, she says, don't wait until lines and wrinkles appear to start using them.

"As soon as you begin your diet, begin using firming creams on your face, and keep on using them while you're losing weight and you will definitely see a positive result," says Galvaz, a dieter who has lost 120 pounds herself.

Dermatologist Amy Newburger, MD, says the two best skin firming ingredients to look for are vitamin C and copper peptides.

"Both have been shown to stimulate collagen production," says Newburger, director of Dermatology Consultants of Westchester, N.Y. "But, make sure you select not only the L-ascorbic form of vitamin C, but that it's stabilized and offers a delivery system that can drive it down into the skin."

One of the most effective delivery systems is liposomes. These are tiny spheres that are used to encapsulate ingredients (like vitamin C) that on their own are too large to get into the deepest layers of the skin. Because liposomes can penetrate skin layers, they enable the vitamin C to reach the cells where collagen is produced.

And no, you don't have to spend a lot for these products. Newburger recommends products from the Neutrogena Visibly Firm Copper Serum line and Avon's Clearly C Vitamin C serum ­ which you can get for under $20.