With requests for arm lift surgery having increased by 252% last year we ask, is plastic surgery truly the only solution? From arm workouts to liposuction, we asked the experts to weigh in and provide their best bingo wing busting tips
Do you really need to go under the knife to wave goodbye to your bingo wings for good? For some, it’s a physical (and financial) risk they are willing to take.
According to recent stats, enquiries for arm lift surgery have increased by a whopping 252% since last year and the procedure’s popularity is only set to rise with it being touted as one of 2016’s top plastic surgery trends. Commenting on the data trends, Emily Ross, Director of WhatClinic.com , said: “The cosmetic surgery and medical aesthetic industries continue to thrive and 2015 saw a massive increase in enquiries for procedures in the UK.”
However should surgery be the only or last port of call? We asked Personal Trainer and That Girl co-founder Christina Howells , dermatologist Dr Emma Wedgeworth and plastic surgeon and member of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) Mr Stephen Hamilton for their expert opinions.
The personal trainer’s view...
While bingo wings are typically defined as folds of loose flesh or skin on the undersides of the upper arms, their characteristic ‘wobble’ can often also be attributed to excess fat located in these particular areas too. If so, it seems that gearing your workouts more towards time-efficient cardio (in order to increase overall fat loss) as well as incorporating the right types of toning exercises could help provide the most effective of combinations for targeting light to moderate cases of bingo wings, and indeed prevent many from developing them in the first place later on. “In my opinion you can get rid of your bingo wings without surgery,” says personal trainer Christina Howells. “It is a careful blend of resistance training, whether that be with weights or bodyweight and reducing overall body fat ideally through HIIT (high intensity interval training).”
She adds, “Body mass is an important factor. If you’re carrying too much body fat then you’re going to need to address this if you want toned arms, otherwise no one is going to see the muscle under a layer of fat. I prefer HIIT to help reduce body fat as it preserves muscle tone and is effective for revving up one’s metabolism even after the workout.”
Age often plays a vital role in the development of bingo wings, with adjustments to your workout required to help your body better adapt to the changes it goes through as it gets older. “One of the keys to toned arms and of course a lean body is weight training and bodyweight training - as a rule, muscle mass declines around the age of 35 to 40 by a rate of 1% a year, which results in less firmness and a likelihood of more fat beneath the skin,” explains Christina. “This natural decline is a result of changes in hormones and usually a more sedentary lifestyle, but this expectation of age does not have to be this way. I, myself in my forties agree you need to work a little harder and certainly more efficiently, but it is a known fact that one can prevent muscle loss and gain muscle with the right type of exercise. When a female client wants to improve her arms, I still work the body as a whole, but with a focus on upper body resistance training and bodyweight exercises, which are both highly effective.”
While the right workout regime that works for you is a great starting point, if it isn’t coupled with the right food, results will be limited. “Diet is essential,” cautions Christina. “You can never out train or even out plastic surgery a bad diet.” One such way is to up your protein intake, but not just by eating any protein. “Make your protein count,” says Christina. “If you want to increase your muscle tone and strength, then you need to make sure you’re eating enough high quality protein in your diet - grass fed steak, organic white meat, fish and seafood, cottage cheese, eggs etc. I also love Sun Warrior Protein Blend , £25.95, which is plant-based and natural.”
Christina’s 3 best arm workouts for bingo wings
Exercise 1: Arm Climbers
Model: Sophie Grace Homes wearing Charli Cohen.
Works your core and arms.
Equipment A low step.
“Come into full plank position on your hands and feet to the right side of your prop. Your shoulders are in line with your wrists and feet hip width apart. Your body forms a straight line from head to feet. Abdominals are engaged.”
“Staying in the plank, step your right hand midway onto the step followed by your left. Return the hands back to the floor to complete one rep. Repeat 15 sets each side.”
“Be mindful to keep your abdominals engaged throughout the exercise and avoid slumping your back in the plank position.”
Exercise 2: Arm Sliders
Model: Sophie Grace Homes wearing Charli Cohen.
Works your core, shoulders and arms.
Equipment: Paper plates/serviettes/hand towels.
“Come into full plank position with your hands placed firmly on the paper plates/serviettes or hand towels (sliders). Shoulders are in line with your hands.”
“You are going to walk your body across the floor maintaining the plank position. Your hands walk on your sliders while you take mini steps with your feet until you have crossed the floor. Reverse the movement to return. Repeat for 45 – 60 seconds.”
“You want to minimise the wiggle as you move, keeping your core strong.”
Exercise 3: Two Chicks Press Up
Works the chest and triceps and acts as a great starting point for performing a full press-up.
“Lie on your front on the floor with the lower legs crossed in the air. One hand is slightly forwards and the other slightly back.”
“Engage your abdominals and push down through your hands to straighten the arms so your chest and pelvis lift from the floor and you’re balancing on your knees and hands. Lower yourself all the way back to the floor and stagger the opposite arms to repeat on the other side. Aim for 16 – 20 reps (right and left = 1 rep).”
“Make sure you engage your abdominals throughout this move. You can also do the exercise in full press up position lying flat.”
Repeat all three exercises 2/3 times.
The dermatologist’s view...
All bingo wings aren’t created equal – as explained earlier, a distinction should be made between cases involving excess fat and those involving excess skin in terms of devising a plan that’s best suits your individual needs. Regarding the latter category, dermatologist Dr Emma Wedgeworth comments that surgery shouldn’t be everyone’s first go-to plan of action.
“Exercise and weight management are key,” she explains. “Bingo wings can often respond very well to general toning of the muscles around the area, so exercise. Maintain a healthy weight (BMI) to avoid excessive deposition of fat in this area and make sure that your diet is healthy; low in sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods. Only after optimising these issues would I think about any invasive treatments, because the real risk is that if you resort to surgery or other techniques, without addressing the underlying causes, the problem will reoccur. If have optimised your diet, weight and exercise regime and are still struggling, then a plastic surgeon will be able to discuss your options further.”
Do creams work?
With all manner of lotions and potions on the market claiming to “tone and firm” your skin to that of a supermodel’s, can they actually make a tangible difference when it comes to improving its elasticity and firmness? Not necessarily, explains Dr Wedgeworth. “I'm not convinced that skincare alone can change the tone of the upper arm area, but we can certainly improve the appearance of the upper arms. Even simply hydrating the skin can improve the appearance. Dehydrated skin is much more likely to highlight imperfections, so use a non-irritating wash and a daily fragrance-free moisturiser.”
Small but effective changes to your skincare regime when used in conjunction with a good workout routine and healthy diet could cumulatively make a noticeable difference – although also keep an eye out for more specific skin problems which might not be able to be solved by rehydration alone. “Keratosis pilaris is the term for the rough bumpy, chicken-skin appearance that affects many people, predominantly on the upper arms and thighs,” explains Dr Wedgeworth. “Over 40% of the population have this and there is a strong genetic component. Use gentle exfoliation in the shower and a glycolic acid containing moisturiser by a brand such as Neostrata or Mene & Moy Advanced C Body Lotion , £48.”
Can you reduce the likelihood of developing bingo wings later on in life?
Is there anything we can do help safeguard our skin in order to prevent slackening as we get older? Fortunately yes – it all boils down to smart product selection and lifestyle choices earlier on rather than reparative ones in the future. “1 - Sun protection!” exclaims Dr Wedgeworth. “We know that skin loses its elasticity and collagen support structure over time and these changes are accelerated by sun exposure. So keep your skin well protected, avoid burning and sun seeking activities and your skin is more likely to retain its elasticity and volume.”
“2 – a healthy lifestyle,” says Emma. “A good diet and avoid smoking (which affects skin's blood supply).”
“3 - care for your skin,” comments Emma. “Don't leave your skin dry and irritated and choose your products carefully.”
The plastic surgeon’s view...
As detailed above, in rare cases where excess skin on the underarms has been caused by extreme weight loss for example, surgery offers a more radical option for those who wish to remove it. “’Bingo wings’ are generally a combination of fatty excess and skin laxity. In patients with reasonably good quality skin, weight loss may reduce the fullness and the skin may retract. If the skin has lost its elasticity though, then this may produce more in the way of skin laxity,” explains BAAPS member Mr Stephen Hamilton. “Muscle ‘toning’ is not likely to help (other than as exercise aiding weight loss) as the muscles are usually not the problem.”
The sliding scale of surgical options
With surgery often proving to be a last resort in many people’s opinion in the past, why in Mr Hamilton’s experience has the number of requests for arm lifts so significantly increased in the last couple of years? “De-stigmatisation of surgery combined with increased body consciousness,” he surmises. “People realise that there are affordable solutions that can be psychologically beneficial.”
Do less invasive options though offer effective alternatives? Depending on the severity and going on a case by case basis, they could fall short of providing the results you’re looking for according to Mr Hamilton. “Non-surgical treatments e.g. skin tightening, cold treatment etc. may produce modest changes, though these can often be disappointing,” comments Mr Hamilton. “If the problem is skin laxity (e.g. in massive weight loss) then the excess skin is removed surgically. If the excess is mostly fatty, liposuction can be effective. Sometimes a combination of the two can be required. Liposuction involves small (almost imperceptible) scars. Formal skin excision usually involves scars running down the inside of the upper arm. The risks are those of any surgical procedure which, in the majority of patients, are straightforward. Risks include healing problems, asymmetry and irregularity, though these can usually be avoided with good surgical technique and careful patient selection.”
A much more drastic option that requires a good amount of thought and consideration beforehand, these measures shouldn’t be seen as a quick fix with the risks involved. As pointed out by Emily Ross, Director of WhatClinic.com: “Demand is high, but in some cases, so is the risk. That’s why it’s so important for patients to have realistic expectations, and to not be swayed by offers or deals.”
With the increased interest, comes the increased availability of somewhat questionable bargains which, although more appealing in price in the short term, could prove costlier to your health in the long run. “These procedures are real surgical interventions and carry risks,” explains Mr Hamilton. “It’s important to get an honest, expert opinion on suitability and advisability of surgery. Make sure you see a surgeon on the plastic surgery specialist register of the General Medical Council (GMC) and who is a member of a well-established professional association like BAAPS.”
When it comes to the subject of bingo wings and plastic surgery, it appears there is a wider choice of options available than previously thought depending on the severity and underlying causes. The decision of surgery should never be taken lightly, especially considering the risks involved, but the advice from Christina and Dr Wedgeworth suggests that with the right exercises, nutrition and skincare savvy, significant strides with regards to prevention (most significantly) as well as treatment can be achieved for light to moderate cases. The only difficulty though arises with regards to excess skin caused by extreme weight loss. Exercise, diet and skincare products are unlikely to really do much in terms of reducing it and in those cases, surgery may have found its place provided it’s performed by a qualified and an accredited professional.
However, the other alternative (curveball alert), is that we take the increased demand for bingo wing busting surgical treatments as a sign of how common they actually are and well, choose to do nothing at all. Bingo wings may actually be the norm, not the exception and while there are options available should you want to get rid of them, there are equally options also available for embracing your arms just the way they are too. Whichever route you choose, ultimately make sure you do what’s right for you.
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All gifs created by Nina Shaw.