Does Fat Freezing and Non-Surgical Body Sculpting Work?

What you need to know about the latest options

It’s frustrating. You spend hours at the gym each week and eat a clean diet, yet those stubborn areas of fat aren’t responding to all your hard work. You might be curious about non-surgical body contouring treatments that target and destroy fat cells without surgery like CoolSculpting®, SculpSure®, UltraShape®, truSculpt® and Vanquish®.

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Some of these options work by freezing fat cells while others employ heat through the use of ultrasound or radiofrequency energy. They offer a targeted way to reshape areas such as your abdomen, love handles, thighs and upper arms.

But are they safe? Are the changes permanent? How quickly will you see results?

Dermatologist Shilpi Khetarpal, MD, answers common questions about these minimally invasive body-shaping solutions.

Is non-surgical body sculpting safe? Are results permanent?

These are minimally invasive treatments and side effects are mild. Some treatments have no downtime, either. However, it’s a good idea to review your health history when you talk with your practitioner about which treatment is best for you.

All types of body contouring devices work best for those who have a normal body mass index (between 18.5 and 24.9). They do permanently destroy fat cells.

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How does non-surgical body sculpting compare with liposuction?

It depends on which area you want to focus on. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons recommends liposuction for those who want to treat excess fat over a larger area of the body. Non-surgical treatments gives you a less dramatic change and destroy the amount of fat you can pinch, called cutaneous fat. 

“Non-surgical techniques won’t offer the same results as you would from a surgical procedure,” says Dr. Khetarpal. “Liposuction gets rid of about 10​ times the amount of fat, compared to these noninvasive treatments body sculpting.”

How does non-surgical body sculpting work?

The procedures all work essentially the same way: They target and destroy fat, which your body’s lymphatic system then filters away over time, generally within a few months.

Here are details on each technique:

  1. Cold treatments (CoolSculpting). These employ temperatures cold enough to kill fat cells but not damage your skin. A device pulls portions of skin in by suction, then cools it to destroy the fat underneath for a set amount of time. You can use this procedure on many body parts including the chin, arms, abdomen, love handles and thighs. It’s safe for most patients. However, those who have a vascular condition that makes them extra sensitive to cold temperatures like Raynaud’s syndrome, for instance, should not use this treatment.
  2. Heat treatments (SculpSure). This laser is FDA-approved for fat reduction. The device uses laser energy to damage the structure of fat cells and the body then eliminates the dead cells. This device uses a flat applicator, so it doesn’t work well on body areas with curves. Heat treatments work best for the stomach and thighs.
  3. Ultrasound energy (UltraShape). This type of treatment uses ultrasound energy to break down fat. It’s the most time-intensive of the four types, taking approximately one hour per treatment session. Instead of hooking you up to a machine, a technician will move the device around manually. It uses a mechanical vibration to break down and destroy fat. This works on the abdomen and isn’t meant for other areas and there is no discomfort.
  4. Radiofrequency energy (truSculpt, Vanquish). Radiofrequency devices deliver energy to create heat and destroy fat cells. They target water in the cells, so it’s important to hydrate your body well beforehand since the treatment is not as effective if you’re dehydrated. You might feel a warm sensation during this procedure. This treatment has no downtime.

What can you expect after these treatments?

All the treatments get rid of fat in stubborn areas. Here are some other general facts:

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  • They don’t require anesthesia or downtime.
  • They take anywhere from 25 minutes to one hour in a doctor’s office.
  • You can plan on two to four sessions overall, depending on which treatment you choose and which area you’re treating.
  • It takes about 12 to 16 weeks for the body to process and dispose of the fat. That’s when you’ll see the full effect of each treatment.
  • Any pain from these treatments is generally minimal.
  • Afterward, you may experience some redness, swelling, bruising and tenderness in the treatment area for a few days.

How do you find a good provider?

It’s crucial to do your homework and choose a provider carefully because a trained physician is your best bet for good results. Just because you find a great deal online doesn’t mean that you’re going to get top-notch results. Be sure to look at the physician’s previous work and always ask questions. 

“The treatments are safe and effective, but things can go wrong if the provider doesn’t operate the equipment correctly,” she says. “You get what you pay for, so do your research.”

Most importantly, make sure the provider you choose is open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Remember to wear a mask to, from and during your appointment and practice social distancing before and after your procedure.​

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