Increasingly consumers are being exposed to a new facet of cosmetic surgery: non-invasive fat removal. Multiple medical companies have devised advanced technology that work to eliminate fat without patients having to go to the operating room. CoolSculpting, Liposonix, and Vanquish are three devices that operate in different ways, but towards the same goal: offering an option for patients to have some fat removed without surgery.
The first question is obvious: “Do they really work?” The Plastic Surgery Channel doctors sat down to answer that question and discuss how important this technology is to patients and physicians alike.
Liposuction remains the king of fat removal
The science, techniques, and equipment for liposuction continually improve, showing no signs that a superior procedure will take over any time soon. “Liposuction is still the gold standard, I think we can all agree with that,” admits Dr. Richard Baxter of Seattle. “But, there’s been a great interest in developing these non-surgical approaches because liposuction is surgery.”
Even considering that liposuction is an incredible procedure, many patients simply do not want to undergo surgery. In comes the new devices, ready to offer a large population of people something that has never been offered before: fat removal without surgery. Whether the fat is frozen, heated, or zapped, the cells slowly pass away through the body, leaving a reduction of fat in the treated areas. The devices really do work, although removing fat is only part of the story.
Fat Removal vs. Sculpting Fat Removal
For the lay person, liposuction simply means fat removal. Surgeons take a device and suck out fat, end of story. What many people and even patients don’t realize is the ability liposuction gives surgeons to sculpt the fat into contours. The ability to sculpt is lost on the non-invasive devices.“These devices do work, but you don’t want to confuse that with sculpting,” describes Dr. Brad Calobrace of Louisville. “In surgery, I’m going to sculpt the area, instead of just focusing on a small region alone.”
Manufacturers of these newer technologies recognize this and are working to improve the machines in order to give surgeons the ability to do some sculpting without surgery. “Some of the new applicators with the CoolSculpting device that we’re seeing are getting closer to sculpting,” says Dr. Bruce Van Natta. “I think they really hold some promise, and are definitely getting better.”
Will Non-surgical options ever measure up to Liposuction?
Dr. Shaun Parson of Scottsdale asks his fellow surgeons an important question, “Are we able to quantify if liposuction is at a certain level, and are the other non-surgical modalities at a different level?”
“The amount of fat you an remove with the non-surgical options is less than that which you can remove surgically,” says Calobrace. “As we look at a patient, we have to understand what they’re after and how much we need to do. Sometimes it’s more cost-advantageous to do surgery as opposed to multiple treatments with a non-surgical technique.”
Never Forget: Diet and Exercise are always key to a great result
Dr. Robert Grant of New York City reminds the panel of the best non-invasive fat removal tool that’s been tried and tested: diet and exercise. “Stepping back for a second, we already have a great non-surgical way of removing fat: it’s called diet and exercise!” says Grant.
“Patients need to understand that without diet and exercise, the results of any of these techniques aren’t going to make a huge difference. We want to maintain the results, so in that case, the non-invasive tools are a great way to maintain results.”
Bottom line? The new devices are working well, but don’t accomplish as much as surgical liposuction. Maybe for the patient with just a small pocket of fat non-surgical options might be used instead of liposuction. In the patient who has contour-irregularities and larger, more stubborn fat pockets, liposuction would not only achieve more but be more cost-effective, even though it’s surgery.
“We have non-surgical means of getting rid of some fat,” concludes Van Natta. “It may not be as good as liposuction, but it’s achieving results, and could very well be the right option for patients who aren’t ready for surgery.”