Many of us are bothered by stubborn pockets of fat that refuse to budge no matter how well we eat or how much we exercise. Sometimes known as “exercise-resistant fat pockets,” these troublesome areas are incredibly difficult to minimize naturally, and some may even be impossible. Thankfully, plastic surgeons today have quite a few options in their arsenal for destroying these pesky fat pockets. Liposuction is the gold standard and works phenomenally well in the small pockets, but many patients aren’t looking for surgery because they aren’t looking for the associated downtime. In this situation, recent advances in non-surgical options come into play in a big way.
SculpSure is an FDA-approved, non-invasive device that uses lasers to re-contour the body by permanently destroying excess fat in the treatment area. Safe, fast and effective, it can be a great option for the right patient. Dr. Sean Doherty of Boston is a board certified plastic surgeon who has worked as the Medical Director at Cynosure, the company behind SculpSure, since 2013. He discusses the benefits of SculpSure versus both liposuction and CoolSculpting, as well as who makes an ideal patient for this procedure.
What is SculpSure?
SculpSure is a laser that heats the fat cells in the targeted area to a destructive level. Over time, these “dead” cells are eliminated through the body’s lymphatic system. Extremely safe, the laser doesn’t heat nor harm the skin, only the underlying fat. The machine also uses Constant Cooling™ to ensure patient comfort. In general, each SculpSure session will remove about 20% of the fat in the targeted area. It takes anywhere from 4-6 weeks to see your results and most patients require at least 2 sessions to achieve their desired outcome.
As one of only two FDA-approved, non-invasive procedures for body contouring, SculpSure is the only one that uses heat to “melt” the fat. Currently, it is FDA-approved for the removal of fat in the abdomen, waist, back and lower extremities. Many surgeons, including Dr. Doherty, have successfully used it “off label” in other areas such as the arms, lower back and chin.
Part of Dr. Doherty’s job as Medical Director at Cynosure is as a principal investigator on SculpSure’s safety and efficacy. Using a product “off label,” which means in a way that is different than its intended purpose, does not mean that it’s not safe. In fact, it is often the genesis of new innovation.
Who is the Ideal SculpSure Patient?
SculpSure can be extremely effective, but only in the right patient. Non-surgical fat removal devices can work wonders, but they are not a magic bullet. Only in the right patients who have the right amount of excess fat in the right areas can truly see major benefits.
The ideal patient for SculpSure is someone who is already fit; who has unwanted, focused areas of fat that really bother them and who isn’t willing or doesn’t want to deal with something surgical like liposuction. Dr. Doherty has found that his patients “are quite thrilled with the results of SculpSure,” but he is very honest with them as to what they can expect. He explains that:
- they will need more than one treatment
- the treatments are spaced 6-8 weeks apart
- their final results will take time, anywhere from 4-6 weeks
Dr. Doherty’s patients know to expect a little bit of discomfort during the procedure. “I think non-invasive treatments like SculpSure are not pain-free.” But it is tolerable! The procedures are only 25 minutes long so any discomfort is short-lived. The recovery is minimal; you may be a bit achy, but there is nothing that you can not do in terms of physical activity. Best of all, you don’t need to wear a compression garment since their is only a little post-treatment swelling.
SculpSure vs. Liposuction & CoolSculpting
When patients come to speak with Dr. Doherty about body contouring, they want to know their options. Essentially, there is liposuction or a non-invasive body contouring procedure like SculpSure. The main benefit of doing something non-invasive is that there is no downtime – patients can go return to their daily lives immediately, including a return to the gym. Patients aren’t medicated so driving is just fine. The icing on the cake is not having to wear a bothersome compression garment. If you have liposuction, patients are committed to a compression garment for about 3 weeks after the procedure, and it’s important to decrease activity because there may be significant swelling.
Currently, there are two FDA approved non-surgical treatments for removing fat: SculpSure and CoolSculpting. The latter brings the temperature of the fat down to a destructive level, killing the fat cells, while the former brings the temperature of the fat up to destroy the fat cells. Both work well, but Dr. Doherty has found in his treatments that SculpSure may lead to more skin tightening than CoolSculpting, an important potential differentiator. While not every patient is going to get the skin tightening benefit that he or she may ultimately want from a non-invasive procedure, SculpSure may allow for improvement. More cases and research will ultimately decide.
“I like having SculpSure as part of the options that I offer my patients because it is extremely flexible,” explains Dr. Doherty. With the way that the device is set up, he can put the pads essentially anywhere on the body that the patient needs. It’s a short procedure that’s quite tolerable and very effective, all of the boxes that modern patients want checked. All in all, SculpSure shows promising signs as a newer, highly-effective non-surgical fat removal option.