CoolSculpting vs. Liposuction: Know the Difference

Medically reviewed by Catherine Hannan, MD on May 25, 2017Written by Erica Cirino on May 25, 2017

Overview

CoolSculpting and liposuction are both medical procedures that reduce fat. But some key differences exist between the two. Keep reading to learn more.

Comparing CoolSculpting and liposuction

CoolSculpting procedure

CoolSculpting is a medical procedure that’s also known as cryolipolysis. It helps remove extra fat cells from underneath your skin without surgery.

During a CoolSculpting session, a plastic surgeon or other physician will use a special tool that clamps down and cools a roll of fat to freezing temperature. In the weeks after the treatment, your body naturally eliminates the frozen, dead fat cells through your liver.

CoolSculpting is a nonsurgical procedure, meaning there is no cutting, stitching, anesthetizing, or recovery time necessary.

Liposuction procedure

Liposuction, on the other hand, is a surgical procedure that involves cutting, stitching, and anesthetizing. The surgical team may use local anesthesia (such as lidocaine), or you’ll be sedated with general anesthesia. A plastic surgeon makes a small incision and uses a long, narrow suction tool called a cannula to vacuum fat out of a specific area of your body.

How long each procedure takes

CoolSculpting

There is no recovery time necessary for CoolSculpting. One session takes about an hour. You’ll need a few sessions spread out over several weeks to achieve the best results.

Most people see the full results of CoolSculpting three months after their last procedure, but you may see results in just a few weeks.

Liposuction

Most people only need to do one liposuction procedure to see results. Recovery time is usually a few days. Surgery takes one to two hours, depending on the size of the treated area. It may take several months for the full results to be seen as swelling goes down.

Keep reading: The 10 most common plastic surgery complications »

Comparing results

The results of CoolSculpting and liposuction are very similar. Both procedures are used to permanently remove excess fat from specific body parts such as the belly, thighs, arms and chin, although neither is intended for weight loss. Both are comparably effective when it comes to removing fat. Neither procedure can improve the appearance of cellulite or loose skin.

CoolSculpting

A 2009 study found that CoolSculpting can freeze and eliminate up to 25 percent of the fat cells in any given part of a person’s body.

Learn more: Does CoolSculpting work? »

Liposuction

During the first few weeks after surgery, people who’ve had liposuction will experience swelling. This means that results aren’t immediately apparent, but you can generally see the final results within one to three months after your surgery.

Liposuction Q&A

Q:

How much fat can be removed in one liposuction procedure?

A:

The amount of fat that can safely be removed on an outpatient basis, or in and out surgery, is recommended to be less than 5 liters.

If more volume than that is removed, the person undergoing the procedure must spend the night in the hospital for monitoring and possible transfusion. Removing a high volume of fluid from the body can cause complications such as low blood pressure and fluid shifts into the lungs that can compromise breathing.

To prevent this, the surgeon usually places a fluid called tumescent in the area to be suctioned. It’s intended to replace volume lost in suction and contains a local anesthetic such as lidocaine or marcaine for pain control, as well as epinephrine to control bleeding and bruising.

Catherine Hannan, MDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Who is a good candidate

Who is CoolSculpting right for?

CoolSculpting is safe for most people. However, those who have the blood disorders cryoglobulinemia, cold agglutinin disease, or paroxysmal cold hemoglobulinuria should avoid CoolSculpting because it could trigger serious complications.

Who is liposuction right for?

Both men and women can improve their body’s appearance with liposuction.

People with heart problems or blood clotting disorders and pregnant women should avoid liposuction because it could cause serious complications.

Comparing cost

Both CoolSculpting and liposuction are cosmetic procedures. This means your insurance plan is unlikely to cover them, so you’ll have to pay out of pocket.

CoolSculpting cost

CoolSculpting varies based on which and how many body parts you choose to have treated. Usually it costs between $2,000 and $4,000.

Liposuction cost

Because it’s a surgical procedure, liposuction can sometimes be a little more expensive than CoolSculpting. But, as with CoolSculpting, the costs of liposuction vary depending on which part or parts of your body you choose to have treated. The average cost for a liposuction procedure in 2016 was $3,200.

Comparing the side effects

CoolSculpting side effects

Because CoolSculpting is a nonsurgical procedure, it comes with no surgical risks. However, the procedure does have some side effects to consider. These include:

  • a tugging sensation at the procedure site
  • aching, pain, or stinging
  • temporary bruising, redness, skin sensitivity, and swelling
  • paradoxical adipose hyperplasia, a condition that causes fat cells to expand rather than be eliminated as a result of treatment, and is more common in men than women

Learn more about the risks of CoolSculpting »

Liposuction side effects

Liposuction is riskier than CoolSculpting because it’s a surgical procedure. Side effects may include:

  • irregularities in skin shape such as lumps or divots
  • skin discoloration
  • accumulation of fluid that may need to be drained
  • temporary or permanent numbness
  • skin infection
  • internal puncture wounds
  • fat embolism, a medical emergency that releases a clot of fat into your bloodstream, lungs, or brain
  • kidney or heart problems caused by changes in body fluid levels during the procedure
  • complications related to anesthesia, if administered
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