Fast facts

About:

  • CoolSculpting and liposuction are both used to reduce fat.
  • Both procedures permanently remove fat from targeted areas.

Safety:

  • CoolSculpting is a noninvasive procedure. Side effects are usually minor.
  • You may experience short-term bruising or skin sensitivity after CoolSculpting. Side effects usually resolve within a few weeks.
  • Liposuction is an invasive surgery done with anesthesia. Side effects may include blood clots, negative reactions to anesthesia, or other serious complications.
  • You should avoid liposuction if you have heart problems or blood clotting disorders, or are a pregnant woman

Convenience:

  • CoolSculpting is done as an outpatient procedure. Each session takes about an hour, and you may need a few sessions spread out a couple weeks apart.
  • Liposuction can often be done as an outpatient surgery. The surgery takes 1 to 2 hours, and recovery may take several days. You typically only need one session.
  • You’ll begin to see results from CoolSculpting after a few weeks. Full results from liposuction may not be noticeable for a few months.

Cost:

  • CoolSculpting usually costs between $2,000 and $4,000, though prices may vary based on the size of the area and your geographic location.
  • In 2016, the average cost for liposuction was $3,2000.

Efficacy:

  • CoolSculpting can eliminate up to 25 percent of the fat cells in any given part of a person’s body.
  • You may be able to remove up to 5 litters, or about 11 pounds, of fat with liposuction. Removing more than that is generally not considered safe.
  • Both procedures permanently destroy fat cells in the treated areas, but you can still develop fat in other areas of your body.
  • One study found that one year after liposuction, participants had the same amount of body fat they had prior to the procedure, it was just redistributed to different areas.

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 non-invasive 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 trained in CoolSculpting 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. You should begin to see results within a few weeks of your treatment, and final results after a few months.

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

Liposuction procedure

Liposuction, on the other hand, is an invasive 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 does each procedure take

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, though you will start to see initial results a few weeks after your first session.

Most people see the full results of CoolSculpting three months after their last procedure.

Liposuction

Most people only need to do one liposuction procedure to see results. Surgery takes one to two hours, depending on the size of the treated area. It’s usually done as an outpatient procedure, meaning you should be able to go home the same day you have surgery.

Recovery time is usually a few days. Always follow your providers recommendations for recovery, which may include wearing a special bandage or limiting activities. You may need to wait 2 to 4 weeks before you can safely resume strenuous activity. 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. In fact, results from one study showed that one year after receiving liposuction, participants had the same amount of body fat they’d had prior to treatment. The fat was just stored in other parts of the body.

Both procedures 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.

Common side effects may include:

  • a tugging sensation at the procedure site
  • aching, pain, or stinging
  • temporary bruising, redness, skin sensitivity, and swelling

Rare side effects may include paradoxical adipose hyperplasia. This is a very rare 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. Common side effects associated with surgery 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

Rare but serious side effects may include:

  • 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

Before and after pictures

Comparison chart

CoolSculptingLiposuction
Procedure typeNo surgery requiredSurgery involved
Cost$2000-4000Average $3,200 (2016)
PainMild tugging, aching, stingingPain after surgery
Number of treatments neededA few one-hour sessions1 procedure
Expected resultsUp to 25% elimination of fat cells in a certain area Removal of up to 5 litters, or around 11 pounds, of fat from the targeted area
DisqualificationPeople with blood disorders, e.g., cryoglobulinemia, cold agglutinin disease, or paroxysmal cold hemoglobulinuriaPeople who have heart problems and pregnant women
Recovery timeNo recovery time3-5 days of recovery