Double Chin? New Treatment Could Help You Without Surgery
A newly approved injectable product called Kybella dissolves chin fat in some people. A plastic surgeon discusses how it works, the risks involved and the odds of it working for you.
It’s amazing to consider that it’s now possible to use injections to dissolve a double chin. In April 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new injectable agent especially for eliminating chin fat, which medical professionals call submental fat. It has become available for use, but it’s important to know all the facts first. The treatment is not without risks and may not be the best choice for everyone.
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Deoxycholic acid is a naturally occurring substance and cholesterol byproduct that helps the body liquefy fat. It is being manufactured synthetically under the name Kybella® and represents the first agent approved by the FDA for treating what most people refer to as a double chin.
James Zins, MD, Cleveland Clinic’s Plastic Surgery Department Chair, says the product actually dissolves fat — any fat — but is only FDA approved for treating fullness under the chin. “A good way to think about this is that it’s a noninvasive alternative to liposuction. What happens is that, when injected, it actually bursts the cell membrane, liquefying the fat, which then gets absorbed by the body,” he says.
If you have a bothersome double chin and want to use Kybella to get rid of it, you’ll need 12 to 20 or more injections in the area per visit. It typically takes anywhere from three to a maximum of six visits to get the best results with at least a month between each visit.
Before approving the product, the FDA looked at two clinical trials involving more than 1,000 patients. Eighty percent of those patients using Kybella noticed a change. “Of course, this means 20 percent didn’t see a difference,” Dr. Zins says.
Chin fat can result from weight gain, aging and genetics. If your double chin is a result of weight gain, diet and exercise may reduce the appearance of chin fat as you shed pounds.
But what about those whose double chin results from genetics? While exercise can certainly slim these people down and keep their hearts healthy, it’s unlikely to significantly impact the appearance of genetically imposed chin fat. Those who have tried diet and exercise and still can’t eliminate the bothersome under-chin fat may get results from Kybella.
But it’s important to remember that just like liposuction, the injections only treat fat. They won’t treat excess skin, so the skin in the area must have enough elasticity to contract after the fat dissolves.
“Before undergoing treatments with Kybella, the physician should assess and determine that one, fat is the problem, and two, that loose skin or muscle is not the problem. You cannot treat those with loose skin and muscle with Kybella because the skin will not contract if it has lost its elasticity,” Dr. Zins says.
Kybella is now available, but only healthcare professionals have access to it. “It’s not exactly clear what type of healthcare professionals can get it. My suggestion is to seek out a plastic surgeon, dermatologist, facial plastic surgeon, or oculoplastic surgeon and not a non-core physician if you have an interest in having Kybella treatments,” Dr. Zins says.
He notes that, if administered incorrectly, this substance can cause damage. It dissolves fat, but will also dissolve other tissues if it’s injected too superficially. It can hurt the skin, bone or muscle when injected improperly. If it’s injected into a nerve, it can cause nerve injury.
So, the procedure does come with some risk, especially if administered by a physician who lacks extensive knowledge of cosmetic and plastic surgery and who has not also undergone specific training with the product.