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Can you really freeze away fat?

CoolSculpting vs. Liposuction

The technical term for freezing fat is “cryolipolysis.” It literally uses extreme cold to freeze an area of underlying fat through the skin’s surface, leaving the dead fat cells to be eliminated by the body naturally. The company leader in the industry is Zeltiq, makers of a device called Coolsculpt. You have likely seen the TV commercials for this device, which is FDA-cleared for modest fat reduction of the abdomen, thighs, flanks and double chin.

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The procedure, done while you are completely awake, takes around an hour per area, and is somewhat uncomfortable for most patients. The machine is put in place and does all of the work, though staff technicians may come in to check on you periodically. Afterwards the area may be squishy, numb, sore and bruised for a while. The main advantage to this procedure is that you can drive yourself to and from the treatments and resume normal activities almost immediately (though you will probably have to skip that evening’s spinning class). The downside is that you never actually “see” the fat being eliminated, which is expected to be an overall reduction of around 20%-25% of the fat in the treated area. No results are guaranteed of course, and you have to wait several months to see the final effect. It usually takes multiple treatments over time at a cost range of $1500-$4000 or more.

Traditional tumescent liposuction should be done by a board-certified plastic surgeon, and generally includes light IV sedation for overall patient comfort. A solution is infiltrated into the area to liquefy the fat making it easier to withdraw. A thin cannula is used to suction out the liquefied tissue through small incisions. Afterwards, the patient will experience swelling, bruising, tenderness and drainage for a brief time. With this technique, larger amounts of fat can be removed at one time from one or more areas. The fat removed is often photographed and weighed so you know exactly where you stand. As an added bonus, the removed tissue can then be re-grafted to areas where more fullness may be desired, such as buttocks, breasts and facial contours for curves in all the right places. The final results gradually become evident as the swelling subsides, and the cost is typically $3000-$6000, depending on the size and number of areas to be treated.