Since the 1980s, liposuction has been a fashionable fat-removal procedure. But with a lengthy recovery period of up to six weeks and a typically hefty price tag, an alternative called minimally invasive fat reduction has soared in popularity in recent years. Also known as non-surgical fat reduction or body contouring, this procedure eliminates unwanted pockets of fat that are stubbornly hard to lose. Patients interested in minimally invasive fat reduction are often targeting what can be problematic areas like the stomach, love handles, thighs, upper arms, and the neck. While there are a variety of options available, they mainly involve either heat, cold, or injected medication that used to shrink or remove fat cells
Who is a good candidate for minimally invasive fat reduction?
Determining whether you’re a good candidate for minimally invasive fat reduction depends on the type of procedure you want to have. Because of the variations in methods, some work better for certain body types or desires than others. In general, minimally invasive fat reduction is not the best solution for someone with a high body mass index (BMI) or those looking to shed a considerable amount of weight. In some cases, your doctor may also ask you to:
- Stick to a strict diet before and after treatment
- Get within 30 pounds of your goal weight
- Improve your overall health prior to the procedure
We do know that the American Society of Plastic Surgeons recommends that any patients who are pregnant or breastfeeding not take part in minimally invasive fat reduction1. Those with preexisting conditions that cold or hot temperatures could negatively impact should be sure to speak with their doctor about options that are best for them.
What types of minimally invasive fat reduction are available?
While you may find that these approaches to minimally invasive fat reduction have many specific brand terms for commercial use, the methods behind each generally fall under one of these categories1:
- Cryolipolysis – This procedure breaks down your fat through the application of cold temperatures. One of the most common commercially known brands that utilizes cryolipolysis is CoolSculpting, which you can find in many plastic surgery offices and med spas. This particular brand has received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for a variety of uses and problem areas2. The goal with cryolipolysis is to free and kill fat cells, which break down naturally and filter from your body as waste3.
- Injection lipolysis – By injecting a chemical called deoxycholic acid into the body, this procedure destroys adjacent fat cells, often in the abdomen or under the chin. Kybella is the name of a popular brand that bills itself as a way for patients to improve the appearance and profile of the fat below the chin, commonly known as a double chin. The FDA has approved Kybella for reducing fat below the chin4.
- Radiofrequency lipolysis – This minimally invasive fat reduction technique is unique in that the instrument it uses never even touches the skin of the patient. Rather, it heats fat cells through radio frequency, with the applicator heating fat cells from about one centimeter above the skin. You may have heard of the brand Vanquish, which uses radiofrequency lipolysis to reduce fat cells in the abdomen. Like other patient-facing minimally invasive fat reduction brands, Vanquish has also received FDA approval for its efforts5.
- Laser lipolysis – Just like the name implies, this procedure utilizes laser energy to heat and disrupt fat cells, particularly for patients with localized fat bulges in the midsection. With FDA approval to treat the abdomen, flanks, back, thighs, and beneath the neck, SculpSure is a trendy pick in this space.
In most cases, minimally invasive fat reduction is well-tolerated by patients. You most likely will not require anesthesia and should only feel minor sensations or irritation related to the temperature of the applicator. However, your doctor may use local anesthesia with injection lipolysis to help alleviate any pain.
What to expect during recovery from minimally invasive fat reduction?
One of the most significant advantages to minimally invasive fat reduction, especially when compared to liposuction, is the relatively easy and short recovery. Doctors typically won’t establish any activity restrictions, but you should know that you may feel sore or experience mild redness of the skin in the area of treatment.
It’s also critical that you realize minimally invasive fat reduction is rarely a one-and-done procedure. While the duration of a treatment is usually just a matter of minutes, multiple treatments will be necessary to achieve the best results. That means you must accept that you could feel sore in the treatment area on several different occasions. Regardless, your doctor will likely clear you to resume normal activities immediately after treatment and any soreness should quickly subside.
What are the risks or side effects of minimally invasive fat reduction?
Because minimally invasive fat reduction does not involve cutting like a traditional surgery, there’s no real concern of excessive blood loss or infection. And since you can normally avoid anesthesia with a minimally invasive approach, there’s no risk of an adverse reaction to that medication.
In addition to soreness and redness, you may also experience these short-term side effects6:
• Sensitive skin
What does minimally invasive fat reduction cost?
Costs can vary widely for minimally invasive fat reduction, depending on the type and number of treatments you have, the experience of the provider, and the location of the office. Some estimates provided by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons suggest an average cost for injections of just over $1,000 and about $1,400 for the other methods7. As mentioned, those costs can fluctuate based on many factors, while prescriptions, surgeon fees, and facility fees can all increase your out-of-pocket spend.
How effective is minimally invasive fat reduction?
If you’re considering one of these techniques to remove some unwanted fat, you should be prepared to commit to a nutritious diet and regular exercise. The success of minimally invasive fat reduction is often dependent on the patient’s ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle following the procedure.
A study from 2010 found that 80% of 609 body sculpting patients analyzed were satisfied with their overall fat loss and weight loss maintenance8. Still, the same study concluded that 35% gained weight, which underscores the importance of keeping a clean bill of health.
How to find someone to perform your minimally invasive fat reduction
Though it’s true that you won’t have anyone cutting into your body, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t research potential providers as if they were. Do your due diligence and spend time looking for a board-certified plastic surgeon who can show you before-and-after photos of their patients. You should also take the time to read online reviews about the provider.
1. Doherty, Sean, and Lee Daniel. “Nonsurgical Fat Reduction.” American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Accessed September 17, 2019. https://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/nonsurgical-fat-reduction.
2. Bido, Tatiana. “CoolSculpting Gets FDA Approval for Use on the Back, Bra Bulge and Under-Buttock Area.” NewBeauty. NewBeauty Magazine, August 2, 2017. https://www.newbeauty.com/hottopic/blogpost/9317-coolsculpting-gets-fda-approval-for-use-on-the-back-bra-bulge-and-under-buttock-area/.
3. “Non-Surgical Fat Reduction: American Board of Cosmetic Surgery: CoolSculpting, Kybella, SculpSure, UltraShape.” American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, June 1, 2017.
4. “BTL Vanquish by BTL Industries Receives FDA Clearance for Non-Surgical Circumferential Reduction of the Abdomen.” BTL Vanquish by BTL Industries Receives FDA Clearance for Non-Surgical Circumferential Reduction of the Abdomen | Business Wire, June 17, 2015.