Interest in plastic surgery is at an all-time high, but stigma and misinformation still surround the industry and patients. Welcome to Life in Plastic, a series by Allure that aims to explain cosmetic procedures and provide all the information you’ll need to make the decision that is right for your body — no judgment, just the facts. Here, we’re covering everything you need to know about the tummy tuck.
Partly, that may be because do-it-on-your-lunch-break options don’t offer the same level of results as a traditional surgical procedure, like a tummy tuck, which is still an incredibly popular surgery even in the age of body-contouring procedures like CoolSculpting. “A tummy tuck is designed to restore a youthful, toned appearance to the abdomen,” says Darren Smith, a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City, of a cosmetic goal that has stood the test of time.
We asked the experts to break down everything you’ve ever wanted to know about a tummy tuck, including whether a noninvasive option can give you the results you’re looking for.
What Is a Tummy Tuck?
A “tummy tuck,” aka an abdominoplasty, targets two main issues: excess skin and a separation between the abdominal muscles. As a bonus, it also takes care of excess fat. “It doesn’t really matter how much fat you have,” Alan Matarasso, a board-certified plastic surgeon and current president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, tells Allure. “What really matters for this procedure is the skin and the muscle.”
While also removing excess fat via liposuction (more on that later), the first differentiating factor of a tummy tuck is that it can help target the excess skin or stretch marks from pregnancy or a significant weight loss. In fact, experts say a tummy tuck may be the only way to get rid of loose, sagging skin. Matarasso likens it to stretched-out elastic. “Once the elastic gets too loose, you can put a safety pin in it, but by and large,” he says, “the elastic is shot.”
Then there’s the muscle issue. “We’re all born with a little separation between both sides of the rectus muscle, [aka your ‘six pack’] — maybe a half an inch or so. But with age, certain lifestyle factors, and definitely pregnancy, that muscle separates further,” Matarasso explains. The result is like the loosening of a corset. Unfortunately, once these muscles spread, the only true way to “bring them back” is via surgery. “A tummy tuck brings the muscle edges together, which acts like an internal corset, pulling your belly in,” Matarasso says.
The Steps of a Tummy Tuck
First, a surgeon “will make an incision, which stretches across your bikini line,” Melissa Doft, a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City, tells Allure. “Through this incision, your surgeon will not only be able to remove skin but will also be able to tighten your abdominal muscles,” she explains. “The surgeon will lift your skin away from the underlying muscles and then stitch the muscles together, restoring the tightness.”
Next, the surgeon will address the skin, pulling it tight and removing any excess. To picture this, think of your stomach as a football field running from your chest to the top of your pubic hair — “Your belly button is the middle of it, at the 50-yard line,” Matarasso says. In a full tummy tuck, “the skin that’s above the belly button gets pulled down and does double duty to cover the upper and lower abdomen. So if you have a mole above your belly button before the operation, it’s going to be below it after.”