Let's be clear: It's perfectly normal to have areas of excess body fat. But there are some areas, especially for women, that can be particularly stubborn. Women are more inclined to store fat than men, for example, especially as we age, and we also tend to carry more fat in our hips and thighs as our bodies prepare for childbirth.
So while a certain percentage of body fat is totally healthy and normal, it can be particularly frustrating for women who are trying to displace any excess. Diet and exercise can only do so much, and for a long time, the only real solution for getting rid of excess fat was surgical—that is, until a very buzzy noninvasive procedure called CoolSculpting emerged on the scene. By literally freezing away the tissue, it promises to effectively stimulate fat loss—with absolutely no downtime. Intrigued by the idea of "lunchtime lipo," we pressed plastic surgeon David Rapaport, MD, for all of the details.
Keep reading for more about the procedure, and find out what CoolScupting costs, below.
What Is CoolSculpting?
CoolSculpting is not your standard body-contouring procedure. Most cosmetic procedures to remove fat require lasers or surgery, which can leave the surrounding healthy tissue damaged, causing bruising or bleeding. The results are great, but traditional procedures have considerable drawbacks. So naturally, a team of scientists came up with a new solution for fat elimination. "CoolSculpting is a technique that permanently reduces unwanted fatty bulges through a biologic process called cryolipolysis, which basically kills fat cells through cold," says Rapaport.
As Rapaport explains, the technology was discovered by a Harvard researcher examining old scientific literature detailing pediatric patients who had recently eaten popsicles. "Essentially, the extreme cold was killing fat cells but not killing skin cells," explains Rapaport.
Following a CoolSculpting treatment, tiny crystals form within the fat cells, eventually dying off after being eaten by other cells. This process continues over the next several weeks, while the dead fat cells are broken down, dissolved by your body, and eliminated through the lymph system, all of which occurs unbeknownst to the recipient, without any diet or exercise changes. How exactly does all that happen without you feeling a thing? Science. It works because fat cells freeze at a higher temperature than other types of cells.
You'll start to see changes in your figure within four to eight weeks, with full results by week 12. If it's determined that you need a second treatment, you can come back in as early as eight weeks. "It's extremely frequent for people to do more than one session," says Rapaport, adding that the typical female will usually undergo two or three rounds of treatment.
How CoolSculpting Works
During a CoolSculpting procedure, a variety of shapes and sizes of applicators are placed over a gel pad (which protects the skin from being frozen and damaged) for specific amounts of time, at specific temperatures. Studies have shown that the procedure can result in a 25 percent reduction in fat cells.
"The ideal candidate is somebody who’s not far away from a good body weight," notes Rapaport, "and someone with reasonably good-quality skin—in terms of elasticity. Most importantly, the fat needs to be pinchable. If you can pinch it, we can probably freeze it."
Rapaport says there's no downtime involved, so after your lunch-hour fat-freezing session, you can go right back to work. If you're doing multiple areas, it could take more than an hour, but Rapaport often utilizes multiple machines simultaneously on his patients, so you could treat both thighs—plus your abdomen and arms—in the same one-hour session. "Most treatments last around 35 minutes," he says. "The applicator that goes under your chin is a shallower cup and requires 45 minutes. Outer thighs require an hour and 15 minutes, but both can be done at the same time."
The device feels cool on your skin for the first few moments when it's activated, but after a few minutes, you won't feel anything. Once the machine has done its job, the practitioner will massage the treated areas to break up the crystallized fat cells. At first, you'll be able to see where the device was working because that area will be raised, but after the massage, you won't see a thing.
CoolSculpting Cost vs. Other Procedures
For decades, the only way to quickly get rid of excess fat on the body (aside from diet and exercise) was liposuction. According to 2020 statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the surgical procedure averages $3,637, making it roughly equivalent to CoolSculpting, which averages between $2,000 and $4,000 per treatment plan, according to the official CoolSculpting site. However, both prices are highly dependent on what areas are being treated and how many sessions are needed. Liposuction is much more invasive, though, requiring weeks of recovery time and often an overnight stay in a hospital. But it does remain the gold standard in fat reduction. "Lipo allows for direct sculpting and the surgeon to have total control," says Rapaport. "But the non-invasive gold standard is CoolSculpting."
Another FDA-approved treatment to destroy fat cells, the injectable Kybella, costs roughly the same price as CoolSculpting but isn't as successful, according to Rapaport. "Unlike CoolSculpting, which specifically kills fat cells, Kybella kills whatever it touches," he says. "If injected along the jawline, you could temporarily or permanently injure the nerve that moves your mouth with Kybella. It doesn't allow for surgeons to really sculpt an area the way other procedures do."
How to Prepare for CoolSculpting
Rapaport advises patients to avoid taking anti-inflammatories such as aspirin before a CoolSculpting procedure (which may help reduce bruising). He adds that it's not a requirement but not a bad idea to limit beverages and caffeine before a procedure.
Swelling, bruising, and skin sensitivity at the treatment site are common side effects of CoolSculpting. According to Rapaport, "The areas treated will feel tingly for two to four weeks. At about four weeks, you start to see less fat."
The procedure does freeze fat, though there's no risk of frostbite. One very serious, but rare side effect is paradoxical adipose hyperplasia. According to a study published in the journal JAMA, this can cause a gradual enlargement of the treatment area (in other words, the fat in the treatment area becomes hardened rather than dissolving over time).
The Final Takeaway
Rapaport says CoolSculpting is ideal for adults with stubborn pockets of fat that have been resistant to a healthy diet and exercise. While it may be cheaper than the other permanent solution—liposuction—the costs can add up, depending on the number of areas treated.
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