Inspired by the toned arms of celebrities such as Michelle Obama, Kelly Ripa, and Jennifer Aniston, upper arm lift procedures have exploded in popularity among women who want to bare their arms but have been held back by the dreaded "batwings" common to weight loss, aging or genetically loose skin, says Elan B. Singer, M.D., of Advanced Dermatology P.C. Known as brachioplasty, upper arm lifts are a surgical procedure sometimes incorporating liposuction and have increased by more than 4,378 percent since 2000, with more than 15,000 women undergoing arm lift procedures in 2012, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).
In addition, a 2013 ASPS poll indicated the trend is fueled in part by heightened attention on strong-armed celebrities that also include actresses Jessica Biel and Demi Moore. "But you don't need to be famous to want to confidently wear short-sleeved and sleeveless fashions, especially in the summer heat, and an upper arm lift can help people achieve this ideal," says Singer, whose practice has a particular emphasis on surgery of the breast and body. Advanced Dermatology P.C was awarded best plastic surgery practice on Long Island in 2013 and receives many clients looking for arm procedures. Adds Joshua Fox, M.D., medical director, "More people are becoming aware of the benefits of arm lift surgery and are seeking us out. They want to look and feel great and realize their options for doing so have expanded."
What arm lift surgery entails
In a nutshell, upper arm lift surgery reshapes the upper arm from the underarm region to the elbow by trimming loose skin and fat from the area. The procedure may also incorporate liposuction to help remove additional fat. It's an outpatient surgery that generally takes between 90 minutes and 2 hours to complete.
According to Singer, optimal candidates are:
- At or near their desired weight
- With loose upper arm skin that hasn't responded to diet or exercise
- Who lost large amounts of weight, often 80 pounds or more
- Who are otherwise healthy and don't smoke
Complications minimal, benefits huge
Recovery from arm lift surgery occurs over days and weeks, and most patients will need to wear compression garments on their arms to minimize swelling and maximize the chances for a smooth, contoured result, Singer says. Most can return to work within a couple of weeks and will be able to exercise and lift heavier objects again four to six weeks after surgery. The length of each incision required for arm lift surgery varies depending on the patient, but the procedure will leave a scar - albeit one on the underside of the arm that may prove barely noticeable six months or more afterward. "While exercise can improve the upper arm's muscle tone, it can't effectively take care of excess skin that has lost its firmness due to age or weight loss, along with localized fat deposits that may be genetically programmed into an individual," says Singer. "People dealing with these factors may want to consider an upper arm lift as their solution."
While complications from arm lift surgery are possible, as with any surgery, a study in the journal Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery found that 95 percent of all complications are classified as minor, such as bruising and swelling. Patients can also help boost healing by keeping arms elevated while sleeping, limiting strenuous activities in the first weeks after surgery."It's a trade-off: You have a scar, but you lose the loose skin," says Singer. "Most patients consider the trade-off well worth it. The benefits aren't merely cosmetic, they're psychological as well. It's great to feel self-assured in your own skin."
For the people who do not want a linear scar but usually with less improvement, we have several non-invasive options: Thermage, Ulthera, Liposonix, all offer no downtime with mild swelling. For a semi-invasive technique with no stitches the device is entered through a tiny hole, we have Smart-Lipo and ThermiRF, performed by Singer. These last two devices not only melt the fat, but they can tighten the arms.
Elan Singer, M.D., is board certified and his practice has a particular emphasis on surgery of the breast and body. Joshua Fox, M.D., is board certified and specializes in dermatology at Advanced Dermatology P.C. (multiple locations NJ, NY).