Smart Self-Tanning, Exercise, and Other Ways to Get Slimmer-Looking Upper Arms

Whether you want to get ready for sleeveless season or your fully-loaded grocery bags are giving you a run for your money, there are plenty of reasons to want to slim down your upper arms — and they’re all valid. Wriggly upper arms can be hard to avoid; they often result from a combination of age, genetics, and a sedentary lifestyle. And, sure, while regularly hitting the gym to lose fat can certainly help, it’s not the only way to slim your upper arms. Proof: We asked a personal trainer, self-tan pro, a dermatologist, and a plastic surgeon for their advice on getting upper arms worthy of showing off.

The Personal Trainer Says…

Exercise is undoubtedly the most straightforward way to sculpt and slim the upper arms. “Even though you cannot spot-reduce fat loss, you can certainly strengthen the underlying muscle [to make your upper arms look thinner],” says Caty Nolan, a certified personal trainer and founder of Fit Positivelysm. Here, two exercises you can do using dumbbells, full water bottles, or even cans of food from the pantry. For the best results, do them on three non-consecutive days a week:

Arm Circles
Stand upright and hold your arms out to each side, forming a T-shape with your body. Begin making small circles with your hands while keeping your arms straight. Your arms should make a cone shape while doing this, with your shoulder being the point and your hands being the widest circle part. Do 10 circles in one direction, and 10 circles in the reverse direction. That’s one set. Complete three sets, then rest.

Lateral Raises
Stand upright with your arms down by your sides. Raise up your arms straight out to either side of you, forming a T-shape with your body. Once you get to the top, which is when your arms are at shoulder-height, slowly lower them back down. That’s one rep. Do three sets of 10 reps, then rest.

Honorable Mention: Push-Ups
You probably know how this one goes — and if the thought alone makes you sweat, consider building up to a push-up gradually. Start off by doing your push-ups “against a wall, then on a couch, then on the floor on your knees, and finally on your feet in a plank position,” says Nolan. Work your way up to three sets of eight reps.

The Tanning Expert Says…

Use Two Shades of Self-Tanner
The key to getting slimmer-looking upper arms is contrast — and the best way to create it is to stock up on two different shades of self-tanner. (This works best for those with light to medium skin. If your skin tone is medium to dark, skip to the next tip.) Start with a formula like Bondi Sands® Self-Tanning Foam ($24) for all-over warmth. Then, “you need a darker shade applied [strategically] with a foundation brush,” says St. Tropez® skin-finishing expert Sophie Evans. For this, she recommends St. Tropez Self-Tan Extra Dark Bronzing Mousse ($45). If you’re not into two different shades, you can also space out your applications. “Apply your base coat on one day, and then the next day, apply your contours using the same self-tan product,” she advises.

Do a Quick Contour
No time for self-tanner? You can also use a body bronzer, which is what Evans does for photoshoots. If you have fair to medium skin, apply SOLTM by Jergens® Tone Enhancing Body Bronzer ($17) all over. For those with medium to dark skin, try Patrick TaTM Major GlowTM Body Oil in A MomentTM ($52) for a glistening highlight, which can also create the illusion of thinner upper arms. Next, layer on a little more in areas you want to draw attention to using a makeup sponge. “Shade away at the triceps,” she says. “[Then], circle around the top of the arm, and shade down the arm to the wrist.” She recommends applying it with the St. Tropez Applicator Mitt ($7) for a fast, clean application.

Know Where to Contour
Subtlety is important here, lest you look like you painted stripes on your upper arms. “The main rule of arm contouring is to follow your natural muscle line,” says Evans. “If you have none, simply shade to create shadows and slim dimensions.” Using a clean foundation brush, bend your arm and blend it under the line (or where it would fall).

The Doctors Say…

Understand the Concern
Stubborn fat on the upper arms can be, well, stubborn. “Sometimes fat is resistant to diet and exercise,” says Greenwich, Connecticut-based dermatologist Lynn Haven, MD. There are also other concerns you may want to address regarding the appearance of your arms in general. In many cases, under the care of a licensed provider, you may want to treat several concerns in succession.

woman smiling lifting her upper arms


Does not imply the person featured in the photograph had any of the treatments mentioned in this article.

Tackle Upper Arm Fat
The amount of fat on the upper arms determines the best removal method. More fat? Liposuction may be your best bet, says Charlotte, North Carolina-based board-certified plastic surgeon Stephan Finical, MD. It’s a good option if you have excess fat in the upper arms but your skin elasticity is such that it’ll likely contract after treatment — for instance, you’re relatively young and don’t have much sun damage in the area.�?

For smaller pockets of resistant fat, Dr. Finical turns to CoolSculpting®, which is non-invasive and entails little to no downtime. “The patient can drive themselves to their appointment,” he says. Keep in mind, though, that whatever your mode of fat removal, you can and should ultimately exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle.


The CoolSculpting treatment is a non-invasive fat freezing treatment that effectively reduces fat in certain self-proclaimed “problem spots” in the submental and submandibular areas, thigh, abdomen, flank, and upper arm, along with bra fat, back fat, and underneath the buttocks (you know, those bulges that just won’t go away, regardless of how much you sweat it out on the treadmill). While it isn’t a weight loss solution, fat-freezing can reduce pouches of fat. As with any procedure, there are risks and side effects, so talk to a licensed provider to see if it’s right for you.

Improve Other Visible Concerns
For more cosmetic concerns, like dark spots and loose or crepey skin (both exacerbated by sun exposure), there are other options. “Sun damage or hyperpigmentation can be addressed with sunscreen, topicals, and possibly lasers to improve skin quality of the arms,” says Dr. Haven. RéViveTM Supérieur BodyTM Nightly Renewing Serum ($215) contains glycolic and lactic acids, as well as niacinamide to target uneven skin tone, while Jergens Natural Glow Wet Skin Moisturizer + Firming ($11) offers a blend of collagen and elastin.

If you have excess skin — typically caused by dramatic weight loss — an arm lift, or brachioplasty, can make a major difference. This involves cutting off the excess skin and stitching the area back up so the upper arms appear tighter and more firm. However, in this area, there “tends to be thin skin, and that’s not always the best scar,” Dr. Finical warns. For those with loose or crepey skin that isn’t too severe, radiofrequency may be an option. However, its success largely depends on the person.


As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.

One of the biggest misconceptions among patients is that plastic surgery is virtually scarless, says Dr. Finical. That’s not the case, particularly with an arm lift, which usually leaves behind a large scar on the inner arm. After every procedure, he gives his patients SkinMedica® Scar Recovery Gel With Centelline® ($44) to use once the wound heals. It softens and minimizes the appearance of red or pink scars, he explains.

Dr. Stephan Finical is a paid Allergan® consultant.

Product prices may vary from the time this article was written.

Allergan® may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this article.

SkinMedica® is an Allergan®-owned skincare line.

® is an Allergan®-owned non-invasive fat reduction treatment.

CoolSculpting® Treatment Important Information�?


The CoolSculpting® procedure is FDA-cleared for the treatment of visible fat bulges in the submental (under the chin) and submandibular (under the jawline) areas, thigh, abdomen and flank (love handles), along with bra fat, back fat, underneath the buttocks (also known as banana roll), and upper arm. It is also FDA-cleared to affect the appearance of lax tissue with submental area treatments. The CoolSculpting procedure is not a treatment for weight loss.

Important Safety Information�?

The CoolSculpting procedure is not for everyone. You should not have the CoolSculpting procedure if you suffer from cryoglobulinemia, cold agglutinin disease, or paroxysmal cold hemoglobinuria.

Tell your doctor if you have any medical conditions including recent surgery, pre-existing hernia, and any known sensitivities or allergies.

During the procedure you may experience sensations of pulling, tugging, mild pinching, intense cold, tingling, stinging, aching, and cramping at the treatment site. These sensations subside as the area becomes numb. Following the procedure, typical side effects include temporary redness, swelling, blanching, bruising, firmness, tingling, stinging, tenderness, cramping, aching, itching, or skin sensitivity, and sensation of fullness in the back of the throat after submental or submandibular area treatment.

Rare side effects may also occur. CoolSculpting may cause a visible enlargement in the treated area which may develop two to five months after treatment and requires surgical intervention for correction.

Ask your doctor if CoolSculpting is right for you. To learn more about what to expect, visit the CoolSculpting website and comprehensive Important Safety Information.