All About CoolSculpting for Fat Loss

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Most of us have at least one area where fat deposits just won't budge, no matter what we eat or how often we exercise. Rather than give up or consider an invasive procedure like liposuction, you may want to try CoolSculpting. This non-invasive procedure freezes fat to slim and tone key areas so you'll look slimmer and more shapely!

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What is CoolSculpting?

In simplest terms, CoolSculpting is a non-invasive procedure that freezes excess fat cells, causing them to die and gradually be eliminated by the body. It seems that extreme cold affects fat cells in a way that leads to improved body contours—but first a little history is in order.

The concept of cold affecting fat cells was first noticed in the 1970s, when a group of children in Russia who frequently sucked on popsicles developed fat loss in their cheeks. Doctors were at a loss as to why these young, otherwise healthy kids had lost youthful fat in their faces, until they connected the dots and realized the perpetual popsicle habit was to blame. Over the years, this odd finding was analyzed and eventually caught the attention of scientists who studied the process of cryolipolysis, which refers to freezing fat. Years of testing and research led these doctors to develop the CoolSculpting machine as a safe means of reducing minor accumulations of excess fat. We know, strange but true.

How CoolSculpting Works

CoolSculpting involves the use of a small or large (or both, depending on which areas are being treated) paddle-like applicator attached to a hose that provides the cold. Regardless of size, each device has 2 panels with 3,000 sensors per side. A gel pad to help protect your skin is placed over the area being treated, and then the CoolSculpting device is applied and powered up. Once on, the applicator securely pulls up the area being treated between the two panels where it remains for the duration of the treatment. After a few minutes, you'll begin to feel intense cold. Don't be surprised if the cold rush is accompanied by stinging, tingling, aching, or a cramping sensation. This is normal and will lessen (if not go away completely) as the area becomes numb. Your practitioner will ensure you're comfortable and help get you situated, and then leave you alone to relax as the procedure continues on its own.

When the treatment hour is up, the device is removed and the practitioner will massage the treated area for a moment or two to restore normal blood flow. Not surprisingly, this area will be tender and you may feel slight stinging or a sensation of cramping. You may also see a temporary whitening or reddening of the treated area, which may also feel stiff. Otherwise, you're free to resume normal activity immediately after the treatment.

Where Does the Fat Go?

You may be wondering, as we were, where do the frozen fat cells go? That's a great question! The manner in which CoolSculpting works specifically targets fat cells via calibrated temperatures. Contact with the cold temps causes the fat cells to crystallize. Over a period of two months, these crystallized cells die, which stimulates the immune system to send enzymes out that break down the dying fat cells so they can be easily and safely eliminated by the body.

An interesting element of CoolSculpting is that once the targeted fat cells are destroyed, they don't return. If you gain weight down the road, the excess pounds won't be deposited in the treated areas—they'll simply show up someplace else, such as your face, thighs, or backside.

Is CoolSculpting Right for Me?

Whether male or female and regardless of your age, you're considered a good candidate for CoolSculpting if:

  • You're within a few pounds of your ideal weight range and can "pinch an inch" (or two)
  • You have noticeable fat bulges in the abdominal area, such as the lower abdomen (fat that sits above the waistline) and sides (love handle area)
  • You do not suffer from the circulatory disorder known as Raynaud's syndrome
  • You're not expecting instant results (it takes two months for full results)
  • You're willing to maintain your current weight and continue with exercise and a healthy diet

Sadly, CoolSculpting does not work to improve cellulite. This stands to reason because cellulite is not so much about the accumulation of fat, but rather about how the fat gets deposited in the underlying support structure of skin on the thighs of women.

What to Expect During the Procedure

First, be sure you've set aside enough time for the procedure. Although there's no downtime, each area requires one full hour of treatment. If you're getting more than one area treated, add an hour to the procedure time—and note that this includes love handles because both sides are not treated at the same time. Other considerations:

  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and warm footwear (you will get cold)
  • Bring something to read, work on, or listen to as most of the procedure involves you staying in one (comfortable) position
  • Once the procedure is going, you'll most likely be left alone, but the practitioner should provide you with a means to contact her if you need anything.

What Results Can I Expect?

Initially, you won't see any results, but be patient. As explained above, the effects from using cold to selectively destroy fat cells takes time to work. A few weeks after the treatment, you'll notice incremental improvements as the remaining fat cells condense, which reduces the fat layer, thus making you look slimmer (and hey, that sleek pair of jeans may finally fit!). Full results should be visible after two months, at which point you and your doctor can decide if another treatment is needed. For many, a single session is enough to produce great results, provided you keep your expectations realistic. On average, most patients see 20–30% fat reduction. That may not sound like a lot, but visually it can mean the difference between a flat stomach and a paunch (remember this is about a mostly normal weight person smoothing out last traces of fat).

What Are the Risks?

Although the CoolSculpting device has received clearance by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), as with all in-office procedures, there are risks to be aware of before your treatment.

The most common side effects, all of which typically resolve within 1–3 weeks, are redness, swelling, and bruising. You may also experience reduced sensation in the treated area, but this is temporary. According to animal study data presented to the FDA, CoolSculpting does not harm skin or muscle tissue; rather, the cold temperature specifically targets fat cells and its skin and muscle side effects are fleeting.

Some people have asked if the fat cells being broken down can increase cholesterol or triglyceride levels in the bloodstream, but post-treatment blood tests haven't shown this to be the case (the patient's lipid levels remained the same as before treatment).

How Much Does CoolSculpting Cost?

Just like most cosmetic corrective procedures (think Botox, peels, and dermal fillers), CoolSculpting isn't cheap. However, based on the results possible, you may find the expense a beauty bargain—and it's definitely less expensive (and less involved) than liposuction.
Ultimately, the cost depends on where you live and, to some extent, the decision of the medical practice offering this treatment. Generally, here's what you can expect (all prices are per treatment, and you may need two treatments for maximum results):

  • Treating upper abs and area between the ribs and hip with the small applicator: $700–$800
  • Treating lower abdominal area with large applicator: $1200–$1500
  • Treating upper and lower abdominal areas, including love handles: $2500–$3000
  • Treating love handles (flanks) only: $1300–$1500

CoolSculpting is not a procedure covered by health insurance plans; however, it may be worth budgeting for if you've tried everything to lose those last, stubborn deposits of fat and not seen satisfactory results.

Does CoolSculpting Replace Liposuction?

Given the relative ease and minor, temporary discomfort associated with CoolSculpting, you may be wondering if it's an ideal alternative to liposuction. The answer depends on how much fat you have to lose, and where that fat is.

CoolSculpting is an option for reducing minor accumulations of excess fat in the abdominal area. It is not suitable for larger deposits of fat, such as from obesity, weight gain during pregnancy, or patients who are more than 20 pounds overweight. Also, unlike liposuction, which can be done almost anywhere excess fat is a problem, CoolSculpting's use is currently limited to the abdominal area.

Although the people behind CoolSculpting are excited about the possibility, at this time CoolSculpting is not an option to remove excess fat on or around the face (such as chubby cheeks or excess, "jiggle-prone" fat along the jawline). For those areas, liposuction remains the procedure of choice.

Sources for the information above: Clinical Pediatrics, July 1976, pages 619–621; Aesthetic and Plastic Surgery, June 2012, pages 666–679; Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, December 2009, pages 244–249; Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, December 2009, pages 703–708; Dermatologic Surgery, October 2009, pages 1,462–1,470; and http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/cdrh_docs/pdf12/K120023.pdf.

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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