QUESTION

I hate the “bat wings” on my upper arms. I’ve heard there are several ways to get rid of them, including surgery. Are they safe? Do they work?

ANSWER

Jiggly upper arms—not so fondly called “bat wings”—are an inevitable fact of getting older for both men and women. Age-related fat deposits on upper arms, thinning skin and hormonal changes, such as decreased testosterone levels, are to blame. It’s a cosmetic problem rather than a health concern. But if yours bother you, treatments can help…some better than others.

WHAT WORKS SO-SO

Injectable fillers, such as Radiesse and Sculptra, used to reduce wrinkles around the elbows can also improve upper-arm appearance. These fillers stimulate collagen production to thicken “crepey” skin. However, they will not remove flab. Ultrasound, lasers and cryolipolysis—which either heat or freeze fat cells or destroy them with sound waves—are often advertised as noninvasive ways to firm up saggy upper arms, but they have not proved very effective. Liposuction, another treatment touted to do the trick, removes upper-arm fat but is not good at tightening skin. Liposuction works best on younger people who do not have loose skin on their upper arms.

SURGICAL APPROACH

The only long-lasting treatment for excess skin on the upper arms is brachioplasty. This surgical procedure eliminates bat wings by removing excess skin—leaving a long scar from armpit to elbow in the process. Recovery takes a week or two. Brachioplasty is often combined with liposuction and is frequently performed on people with sagging skin from weight loss. It is not covered by insurance and costs about $4,000 on average.

NATURAL APPROACH

Before you head to a plastic surgeon, though, why not head for the gym? While exercise doesn’t tighten excess skin, it does tone the underlying muscles—which might be all you need to feel happy going sleeveless. Try this arm-toning move that tightens muscles on the front and back of upper arms (biceps and triceps). Start with five-pound weights (or smaller weights, such as two or three pounds) and gradually work up to 10 pounds… Tone biceps: Stand with feet shoulder width or slightly wider apart, arms at your sides, holding a weight in each hand with elbows slightly bent and wrists facing forward. Slowly lift the weights, curling them up to your shoulder, and return to starting position for one rep, making sure to keep your elbows slightly bent. Tone triceps: Stand with feet shoulder width or slightly wider apart and arms raised, holding the weights above your head. While bending your elbows, slowly lower the weights toward the back of your head…then lift them back up to the starting position, again making sure to keep your elbows slightly bent when your arms are  extended. Work up to 25 repetitions of each exercise, up to three times per week.