How to Measure Subcutaneous Fat

Your body contains two primary types of fat, subcutaneous and visceral. Subcutaneous fat is the superficial, visible type just below the skin that you can pinch between your fingers. The deeper visceral fat is located around your internal organs and can lead to illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, gallbladder problems, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer, according to Harvard Health Publications. Subcutaneous fat can be measured to calculate your total body-fat percentage or to determine how many inches you have lost through diet and exercise.

Step 1
Choose a site to measure the thickness of your subcutaneous fat. Common areas for this measurement are along the abdomen, on the front of the thigh, the upper arm and below the shoulder blade. You can also measure at multiple sites that are easy to reach, such as the stomach and thigh.

Step 2
Select a site on your abdomen that is approximately 1 inch away and 1/2 inch below your bellybutton. Hold the caliper in your dominant hand and use the thumb and index finger of the opposite hand to grasp the skin to make a horizontal fold. You can also make a vertical fold if it is easier for you. Grasp the skin fold firmly, lift it as much as possible, and slide the caliper around the fold as close to your body as possible. Close the caliper gently so that it slightly pinches the skin fold. Note the measurement of the skin fold width on the caliper.

Step 3
Measure a second skin fold on your thigh. Determine the midline point on the front of your thigh between the top of your patella or kneecap and the inguinal crease, the natural line that forms between the thigh and hip. Grasp a vertical skin fold on your thigh with the thumb and index finger of one hand, while holding the caliper in your dominant hand. Slide the caliper around the skin fold, and gently close it to measure the width. Record the location and width of this subcutaneous fat fold.


Wash your hands and the caliper carefully before beginning if the caliper was used by someone else.
Do not measure subcutaneous fat on broken or irritated skin.
Avoid pinching the fat too tightly in the calipers, which can cause bruising or bleeding and also give you incorrect results.


  • Record the locations and measurements of your skin fold flaps and repeat in the same area once a week or every month to determine fat loss or gain.
  • Your doctor or exercise therapist may use skin fold measurements to calculate your total body-fat percentage.
  • You can also use other areas such as the back for subcutaneous fat measurements if you have someone to help you.
  • Other more accurate methods to measure subcutaneous fat include x-ray radiography and soft tissue ultrasound scans.

Things You'll Need

Body fat calipers