CoolSculpting: Nonsurgical Fat Reduction

Medically reviewed by Catherine Hannan, MD on May 9, 2017Written by Lucie Wisco on May 9, 2017

Fast facts

About:

  • patented nonsurgical cooling technique used to reduce fat in targeted areas
  • based on the science of cryolipolysis
  • created to address specific areas of stubborn fat not responsive to diet and exercise
  • focuses on inner and outer thigh, abdomen, sides, upper arms, and chin

Safety:

  • cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2012
  • almost 4,000,000 procedures done around the world to date

Convenience:

  • procedure lasts one to three hours
  • minimal recovery time — normal day-to-day activities can resume almost immediately after procedure

Cost:

  • cost ranges between $2,000 and $4,000

Efficacy:

What is CoolSculpting?

CoolSculpting is a noninvasive fat reduction procedure that involves no anesthesia, needles, or incisions. It’s based on the principle of cooling subcutaneous fat to the point that the fat cells are destroyed by the cooling process and absorbed by the body. Subcutaneous fat is the layer of fat just under the skin.

How much does CoolSculpting cost?

Cost is determined by the size of treatment area, desired outcome, the size of the applicator, as well as your location. As of 2016, the average cost of a multi-area procedure was between $2,000 and $4,000. Smaller areas alone, such as the upper abdomen or the chin, require a smaller applicator and can cost less (roughly $900). Larger areas, like the lower abdominal area, require a larger applicator and can cost up to $1,500.

Procedure for CoolSculpting

A doctor or trained healthcare provider will perform the procedure using a handheld device. The device has applicators that look similar to the nozzles of a vacuum cleaner.

During the treatment, the healthcare provider will apply a gel pad and applicator to the targeted area. The applicator delivers controlled cooling to the targeted fat. The provider will then move the device over your skin while administering suction and cooling technology to the target area. Some offices have several machines that allow them to treat multiple target areas in one visit.

It’s common to experience some feelings of pulling and pinching during the process, but overall the procedure involves minimal pain. The provider typically will massage the treated areas immediately after treatment to breakup any frozen deep tissue. This will help your body begin to absorb the destroyed fat cells. Some people complain that this massage is slightly uncomfortable.

Each treatment can take anywhere between one and three hours. Patients frequently listen to music, read, or even work on the computer during the procedure.

Preparing for CoolSculpting

The CoolSculpting procedure doesn’t require much preparation. However, it’s important to make sure your body is healthy and close to your ideal weight. CoolSculpting is not a weight loss solution, and very overweight or obese people are not ideal candidates. An ideal candidate is healthy, fit, and looking for a tool to eliminate body bulges.

Although bruising from the suction of the applicator is common after CoolSculpting, it’s a good idea to avoid anti-inflammatories such as aspirin before the procedure. This will help reduce any bruising that may occur.

Your doctor or provider will likely take photos before and after the procedure to help demonstrate any improvement in treated areas.

Target areas for CoolSculpting

  • upper and lower abdomen
  • inner and outer thighs
  • flanks (or love handles)
  • arms
  • chin area (or double chin)
  • bra and back fat
  • underneath the buttocks (or banana roll)

How does CoolSculpting work?

CoolSculpting stems from the science of cryolipolysis, which uses the cellular response to cold to break down fatty tissue. By extracting energy from fat layers, the process causes the fat cells to die gradually while leaving surrounding nerves, muscle, and other tissues unaffected. During the months after treatment, the digested fat cells are sent to the lymphatic system to be filtered out as waste.

Are there any risks or side effects?

CoolSculpting was cleared by the FDA in 2012, originally for cold-assisted lipolysis of abdomen and flanks. Since then, the FDA has cleared the procedure for multiple body areas. The efficacy and safety have been confirmed by the FDA based on clinical trials. No serious adverse events were reported during the clinical trials. A 2009 study also supports that cryolipolysis doesn’t increase the levels of fat in the bloodstream and demonstrates no significant harm to the liver.

As a noninvasive procedure, CoolSculpting is relatively safe. Common side effects during the procedure include:

  • sensations of intense cold
  • tingling
  • stinging
  • pulling
  • aching
  • cramping

These should all subside once the treatment area is numb. After treatment you may experience temporary side effects that usually go away within the next few days. These side effects include:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • tenderness
  • aching
  • cramping
  • skin sensitivity

As with any other medical procedure, you should consult your doctor to see if CoolSculpting is right for you. Patients with a history of Raynaud’s disease, or severe sensitivity to cold temperatures, should be counseled about the risks and benefits of the procedure.

What to expect after CoolSculpting

There is little to no recovery time after a CoolSculpting procedure. Most patients are approved to resume normal day-to-day activity immediately after. In some cases, some minor redness or soreness may occur in the area treated, but all minor side effects typically subside within a few weeks.

Results in the treated areas may be noticeable within three weeks of the procedure. Typical results are reached after two or three months, and the fat-flushing process continues for up to six months after the initial treatment. Certain patients and areas of the body may require more than one treatment. According to CoolSculpting market research, 79 percent of patients reported a positive difference in the way their clothes fit after CoolSculpting.

CoolSculpting addresses specific areas of the body, so further treatment is usually only necessary if you want to target a different area. CoolSculpting doesn’t treat obesity and shouldn’t replace a healthy lifestyle. Continuing to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly is crucial to maintaining results.

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