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The Facts About Body-Contouring Surgery

When you lose 100 pounds or more, what happens to the extra skin? For many, the answer lies in body-contouring surgery.

Body Contouring: Is It For You?

Not everyone who loses a lot of weight needs body-contouring surgery. Moreover, experts say, not everyone needs it for the entire body.

"A lot depends on your age, your genetics, level of sun exposure, how evenly the weight was distributed, and, more importantly, how you feel when you look in the mirror," says Colon. "If you're not unhappy about the way you look, you shouldn't be made to feel you need body- contouring surgery."

Those least likely to want or need the procedure, he says, are usually under age 40. "The majority of the patients I see for this surgery are over 40. It's pretty hard to avoid the slackening effect of the skin after that age," says Colon.

What can also make a difference, however, is where you lose the weight. While a loss of 50 pounds that was concentrated in your midsection might leave you with a lot of loose skin in that area, a 100-pound loss that was more evenly distributed on your body may have less of an effect on skin.

If you do end up with droopy, sagging skin and think there's some other way around it, experts say, forget it.

"Short of surgery, there is really nothing that can help. Exercise won't tighten it, and skin creams and lotions won't do a thing to help," says Nolan Karp, MD, associate professor of plastic surgery at New York University Medical Center.

But body contouring doesn't come cheap. The average price of a full-body lift is around $30,000. Arm surgery runs in the range of $8,000, while inner thighs cost about $10,000 a pair. A breast lift and upper back surgery will set you back about $15,000, and a neck and face lift would add another $15,000 to the bill. (As you probably already guessed, insurance rarely covers any of it.)

When you add to this the need for four to six weeks of at-home recovery, for many, spandex can seem like the only viable option.

In an attempt to make things easier, many doctors use finance companies to help patients work out a kind of "plastic surgery mortgage" -- a payment plan that allows you to reduce the size of your midsection without paying an arm and a leg up front.

Doctors say they also help patients rationalize the expenditure, frequently comparing it to the purchase of a new car.

"Many people wouldn't hesitate to spend $30,000 for a new car. So I ask them, after all that hard work losing the weight, aren't you worth the same $30,000 to look the way you want to look?" says Karp.

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