Does non-surgical fat reduction work?

Cropped shot of a young woman's body with excess fat with marking on her belly isolated on a beige background. Overweight, flabby and sagging stomach. Liposuction, plastic surgery concept

Every year, more than 150,000 people apply for non-surgical fat removal – and not only women. Almost 30,000 of these fat reduction patients are men. Non-surgical fat removal is a less invasive alternative to “conventional” liposuction, but does it work? The answer is more complex than a simple yes or no.

How does it compare to regular liposuction?

Non-surgical fat reduction is also often referred to as “non-surgical” liposuction, but it is not liposuction at all. Traditional liposuction is a surgical procedure that involves small incisions in which a tube is inserted into the fatty area. The fat is then “sucked out” through the tube, resulting in a permanent reduction of these fat cells. Liposuction can be applied to large areas where there are significant fat deposits and can be effective after just one procedure. Since liposuction is a surgical procedure, there is some recovery time with swelling, pain, and risk of infection.

Men wearing big jeans after diet.

Non-surgical liposuction can be one of many procedures that use lasers, heat, cooling, or sound waves to “destroy” fat cells to be removed from the body as metabolic products. Non-surgical liposuction usually has a shorter recovery time than surgical liposuction, but it is not effective on large areas of fat. Its use should be limited to small, stubborn areas that remain after an adequate diet and exercise program, or to patients who cannot undergo surgery. It may take several treatments to be fully effective.

Types of non-surgical fat reduction

Non-surgical fat reduction is performed in a plastic surgeon’s clinic using one of several proprietary or “proprietary” procedures. Brand names such as Exilis, i-Lipo, Liposonix, Zeltiq, or CoolSculpting each use a different type of treatment, which may be laser or light, cryo or freeze therapy or sound via ultrasound or radio frequency. Each type works to break down the cell membranes surrounding fat cells, which can eventually “melt away” the fat.

Pros and cons of non-surgical fat reduction

Pros: There are no incisions, which means a non-invasive procedure with less recovery time, less swelling and pain, and a greatly reduced chance of post-operative complications such as infection. This usually does not require much preparation and can often be done during the day with a quick return to normal activities.

Cons: Actual fat reduction takes weeks to months and may require multiple treatments. Since non-surgical liposuction is an external treatment, it can be more difficult to target the fat in question. The surgeon may not be able to optimally affect fat in hard-to-reach areas or patients with a large amount of scar tissue. Targeting can also be difficult because the doctor cannot immediately “see” where the fat destruction has been effective and must wait for additional periods of treatment to clarify the effects. Non-surgical fat reduction does not provide immediate results and is not effective in people who need to remove large areas of fat.

Liposuction, under the guidance of an expert, is highly effective, more accurate, and can be used in various conditions. New ultrasound procedures have allowed plastic surgeons to be very precise in reducing fat with a minimum of postoperative complications. In general, liposuction is considered much more effective – but non-surgical fat reduction can be a good alternative for those who just need a little extra help for some stubborn spots – or can be the only alternative if surgery is not possible.

So yes, non-surgical fat reduction works for the right patient, but it doesn’t compare to traditional liposuction. Non-invasive fat reduction alternatives, of course, have limited results, so it’s important to discuss with your surgeon what the real body contouring changes will be, as opposed to the hyped expectations. After all, the search for the Holy Grail of non-invasive body sculpting continues!


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