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If you have pockets of fat that won’t go away with traditional weight loss methods like diet and exercise, you might consider laser fat removal to smooth them out. There are many different cosmetic treatments that use laser technology to eliminate fatty bulges. Since the landscape of cosmetic procedures changes quickly, it’s helpful to get an overview of what is available before you decide which laser fat removal treatment is best for you.
Laser For Fat Removal
Different Types of Laser Fat Removal
There are a variety of cosmetic treatments that use different types of lasers to remove fat from the body. Some procedures are minimally invasive while others are non-invasive. When someone refers to “laser fat removal,” they might be talking about any of these procedures.
Laser lipo or laser-assisted liposuction is an alternative to traditional liposuction. During this minimally-invasive procedure, a physician uses laser energy to liquefy fat in a targeted area. The fat is removed through a cannula (thin tube). Local anesthesia is required (as opposed to general anesthesia which is required for traditional liposuction). The treatment usually takes 45 minutes to an hour.
According to a published review, there are different patented devices used for this procedure including SmartLipo, CoolLipo, SlimLipo, or ProLipo. Brand names for the treatment also include SonoBello, Athenix, and others.1
Side Effects: After the treatment, common side effects often include bruising and tenderness in the treated area. Scarring, infection, or irritation may also occur but are less common. It may take several days of recovery following the procedure and several weeks before you can return to strenuous activities like exercise.2
Results: After the swelling subsides, patients will see results right away because the fat has been removed entirely. According to several medical reports, patients also benefit from skin tightening in the area where the laser liposuction was performed. For some patients, this benefit makes laser-assisted liposuction more appealing than traditional liposuction which eliminates fat but not does tighten the skin.3
Costs: Typical costs may start as low as $1,000 to $1,500 for a small treatment area. Typically, however, prices for laser liposuction range from approximately $2,500 to $5,000 per treatment area. As a basis for comparison, the total cost of traditional liposuction can be as low as $1,000 or as high as $20,000, according to the American Board of Plastic Surgery.
Many factors influence the total cost of the treatment including where you live in the country and the part of the body that you want to be treated. As you compare the costs of different laser fat removal methods, keep in mind that that laser liposuction requires only one treatment. Fighting Fat With Laser Lipolysis
This laser fat removal method gained FDA approval in 2010 and quickly became popular in cosmetic and beauty circles. The treatment uses low-level laser therapy (LLLT) to target and liquefy the content of fat cells. The fat cells remain but the contents are emptied and eventually eliminated from the body.
One of the benefits of Zerona laser fat removal is comfort. Low-level laser therapy is a cold laser treatment, but it is not as cold as cryolipolysis (CoolSculpting) which some people find to be uncomfortable. And it is not as hot as other laser treatments for fat that some patients find difficult.
Another benefit of this procedure is that there is no downtime. Side effects are rare and research has shown this treatment to be one of the safest methods of laser fat removal. Most patients can return to normal activities immediately following the procedure.4
Approved treatment areas include the waist, hips, thighs, arms, chest, knees, ankles, back, or bra line. Patients undergo six 40-minute treatments over a two-week period to achieve optimal results.
After a Zerona treatment, patients are advised to follow a diet and lifestyle protocol, including increasing water intake, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and exercising every day. This regime helps to stimulate the removal of fat from the cells. Results are generally seen after the treatment protocol is complete or within two weeks following the end of treatment.
Results: So does Zerona work? Results may vary. According to a research study cited by the company, clients lost on average 3.72 inches from the circumference of their waist, hip, and thighs, whereas the placebo group only lost an average of half of an inch. However, independent studies have not shown results that dramatic.
Authors of one small study that examined Zerona stated, “There needs to be more evidence to show clinical circumferential reduction before LLLT can be recommended as an effective therapeutic option.” Another study showed that LLLT treatments did not provide a significant reduction in abdominal fat, and in fact, some patients even showed an increase in the thickness of subcutaneous fat. Lastly, a study investigating the use of Zerona on obese patients showed that treatment is most effective when combined with diet and exercise.5 6 1
Costs: Typical costs range from around $2,000 to under $4,000 for a full package (six 40-minute treatments). The results are long-lasting if you follow a good diet and exercise regime following your procedure. However, some patients report that they need follow-up treatments to maintain the result.
The FDA approved SculpSure as laser treatment to remove fat in May 2015. During a 25-minute treatment, lasers target fat cells and heat them to a temperature that damages their structure. Cooling mechanisms are employed to make sure that your skin is not damaged. While you might feel a warming sensation during the treatment, it is not generally not considered painful.
Results: Over the next three months following your procedure, the fat cells die and your body eliminates them. Unlike Zerona, SculpSure removes the fat cell entirely (rather than emptying the contents and leaving the cell structure intact). Results are usually noticeable at six weeks, with the full effect generally seen at about 12 weeks.
This thermo lipolysis laser treatment is approved to remove fat from the abdomen, flanks, back, inner thighs, outer thighs, or under the chin area. According to clinical studies cited by the company, the treatment will reduce the fat in each targeted area up to 24 percent. A study published in 2018 showed that patients were satisfied with results but flank reduction after the procedure was measured at about 2.6 millimeters.7 8
Costs: Typical costs for a single SculpSure treatment range from approximately $350 to $800 depending on the area that you treat and the number of applicators used during the procedure. Multiple treatments are generally required so it is not unusual for the total cost to fall in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. Results are usually permanent as long as you maintain healthy body weight.
There are other treatments to remove fat, such as cryolipolysis (also known as Coolsculpting—a non-surgical or non-invasive procedure), but these treatments don’t use laser technology. There are also home laser fat removal devices, but there is a lack of scientific evidence to demonstrate their effectiveness.
Laser Fat Removal Candidates
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the best candidates for these laser treatments are near their ideal weight. They are people who—despite a healthy diet and regular exercise—are unable to lose stubborn pockets of fat. The AAD also notes that there is a strong demand for these procedures.
In a published overview of lipolysis, study authors write:
“The ideal candidate for laser lipolysis is a patient who is thin, in good health, and presents with isolated pockets of removable fat. Careful assessment and patient education is crucial prior to proceeding with the procedure. Candidates with too much fat are more likely to not see dramatic results. All patients should be advised that laser lipolysis is not a substitute for healthy diet and exercise.”
It is also helpful for candidates undergoing laser fat removal to have healthy habits in place prior to the procedure. While some people use these procedures to jump-start a weight loss program, many others find that it is better for fine-tuning their body after weight loss has been achieved.9
Laser Fat Removal Results
Whether or not you are happy with your laser fat removal results will depend on your expectations going into the procedure.
Most physician providers are careful about explaining to patients that these procedures are not meant for achieving dramatic results. In fact, if you are overweight or obese, the procedures are often not recommended.
One study reviewing current non-invasive fat loss procedures determined that even though results are often achieved, the effect is usually mild to moderate. And another research paper that compared some of the most popular non-invasive fat removal procedures concluded that “there is little high-level evidence in the present literature to support the effectiveness of any of these devices (this study did not include SculpSure or laser liposuction).10
Some patients combine treatments to get more dramatic results. For example, a patient might combine liposuction with a laser fat removal procedure to lose inches in a particular area and then sculpt it with the help of lasers. Of course, this increases the cost of the total treatment. How to Get Rid of Loose Skin After Weight Loss
Non-surgical body contouring includes much more than fat reduction. Today, you have options to smooth cellulite, tighten skin, rejuvenate vaginal tissues, and remove unwanted hair. The guide below outlines your many options.
The best way to learn whether non-surgical fat reduction is suitable for your goals is to consult with an experienced cosmetic surgeon who is certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. An ABCS diplomate will be appropriately trained in both surgical and non-surgical techniques and can help you choose the right treatment option for your needs.
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Non-surgical fat reduction treatments & technologies
Outlined below are FDA cleared treatments that are generally available across the U.S.
Cryolipolysis is a noninvasive technology that uses extreme cold to dismantle fat cells and help reduce a fat pocket. A paneled or cupped device is placed on top of the skin in the treatment area, where it transmits temperatures that are just low enough to freeze fat cells, essentially destroying them. Because skin, muscle and nerve tissue freeze at a lower temperature than fat, these tissues remain unharmed. CoolSculpting is the brand name of cryolipolysis.
Fast facts about CoolSculpting
- FDA cleared for abdomen, hips, inner or outer thighs, back (“bra rolls”), upper arms, under the buttock, and under the chin
- Best for patients who wish to reduce the size of a fat bulge with little reshaping
- Studies show that up to 25% fat reduction per treatment is typical
- Treatments take 35 to 60 minutes to perform; any discomfort is typically mild and includes an intense cold feeling
- Common side effects include temporary, mild swelling, numbness, redness and tingling. Serious or lasting side effects are extremely rare
- Typical patient is satisfied after 1 to 2 treatments
- Results are noticeable within 1 month and final after 2-3 months
- Results last barring significant weight gain
Laser Treatment (SculpSure®)
Laser fat reduction works by dismantling subcutaneous fat using controlled heat. A specific laser wavelength is delivered through the skin, heating fatty tissues to the point where fat cells begin to break down. A constant cooling mechanism ensures that skin is not damaged in the process. SculpSure is the brand name of this non-invasive laser technology.
Fast facts about SculpSure
- FDA cleared for abdomen and flanks. Can be used on other areas.
- Treatment is typically painless; patients feel a warming sensation
- Treatment takes 25 minutes per area
- Results are noticeable in ~6 weeks and final in ~12 weeks
- Results should last barring significant weight gain
Injectable Deoxycholic Acid (Kybella®)
Deoxycholic acid is a naturally occurring substance in the body that helps break down fat for digestion. In injectable form, deoxycholic acid can break down fat cells on contact for isolated reduction of a fat pocket. Currently, Kybella (formerly called ATX-101) is the only FDA approved form of injectable deoxycholic acid, and can be used to effectively reduce a double chin.
Fast facts about Kybella
- FDA approved for reducing submental fullness (fat beneath the chin).
- Treatment involves multiple injections underneath the chin, using a very thin needle
- Injections take about 20 minutes to perform; local anesthetic may be used to enhance comfort
- Little to no downtime is required; most patients return to full activity within 2 days
- The typical patient requires 2 to 4 treatments, spaced 1 month apart, for optimal results
- Common side effects include temporary, mild swelling, numbness, redness, and bruising at the treatment side. Serious side effects, such as facial weakness or prolonged numbness, are rare and usually resolve on their own
- Fat cells destroyed with Kybella do not return, and results should last barring significant weight gain
Ultrasound Fat Reduction
Ultrasound fat reduction uses highly focused sonic waves to break down fat cell walls in the treatment area, thereby releasing the fat inside to be metabolized by the body and reducing the size of a fat deposit. The ultrasound energy transmits through the skin, creating rapid pressure changes that cause the fat cells to break down while leaving surrounding tissues unharmed. FDA cleared ultrasound fat reduction treatments include UltraShape, which uses a pulsed ultrasound technology, and Liposonix, which uses a high intensity focused ultrasound.
Fast facts about ultrasound fat reduction
- Treatments are intended for use on the abdomen and flanks
- Ultrasound is noninvasive and no downtime is needed
- Typical patient requires 1 to 3 treatments spaced 2 weeks apart, depending on treatment
- Results appear gradually and are typically final within 6 to 12 weeks
- Destroyed fat cells do not grow back; results can last with weight maintenance
Red Light Therapy (UltraSlim)
One of the newest technologies to be FDA approved for non-surgical fat reduction uses red light therapy to reduce the volume of subcutaneous fat cells. Instead of removing or destroying fat cells, photonic lypolysis, or “red light therapy,” delivers specific wavelengths of light through the skin using a specialized lamp. This light triggers selected fat cells to create small openings and release some of their contents, thus helping them shrink in size. FDA approved treatments that use photonic lipolysis/red light therapy include UltraSlim.
Fast facts about red light therapy fat reduction
- Red light therapy is intended to treat the abdomen, hips, or thighs; your cosmetic surgeon may use it for additional areas
- Treatment is noninvasive and no downtime is needed
- Treatments take about 30 minute to perform
- Results begin to appear within a few hours after treatment and continue to improve as the body metabolizes the fat
- Fat released by treatment is naturally eliminated as waste
- Patients typically choose to have 3 or more treatments to achieve their goals
- Results can last as long as a patient maintains a healthy lifestyle and stable weight
- Red light therapy is a very low-risk treatment with no determined side effects; however, patients who are pregnant or have reduced liver function should not undergo treatment
Choosing a Provider for Non-Surgical Fat Reduction
Because non-surgical fat reduction treatments vary widely in mechanism, they may be performed by a medical aesthetician, registered nurse, or cosmetic surgeon. In general, completely non-invasive treatments (such as CoolSculpting or SculpSure) can be safely performed by a licensed, trained aesthetician working under physician supervision. Injectable fat reduction treatments, such as Kybella, require an advanced knowledge of anatomy and should be performed only by a qualified cosmetic surgeon or provider with equivalent training and experience.
The best place to start? Find an ABCS diplomate cosmetic surgeon near you, and schedule a consultation to discuss your needs and goals, review your treatment options, and learn what results you might expect with non-surgical fat reduction.
And It Shows
A Word From Verywell
There are always new cosmetic treatments on the horizon. New devices and technologies are being developed every year to help customers achieve the results they desire. So, it’s important to find a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon to discuss all of your options. Many providers offer different techniques to remove fat so it is easier to compare. Be sure to discuss your expectations, health history, and budget before making a final decision. Was this page helpful?
Any device that promises fast fat loss without surgery sounds like something that falls into the same category as diet pills, cellulite creams, and waist trainers—interventions that rarely (if ever) live up to their bold claims. Still, if you know someone who swears by laser lipo, a laser fat-removal procedure, you might at least want to do a little digging to find out if they’re full of it.
Low-level laser or “laser lipo” therapy promises a less invasive alternative to liposuction for targeting areas of fat. Instead of going under the knife, it involves laser treatments that last about 30 minutes, typically about three times per week for a total of six to eight. Another major difference, there’s no downtime. (Related: CoolSculpting Froze Off My Belly Fat, And This Is How It Felt)
Still have questions? Here’s the full rundown on laser lipo.
Who Should Try Laser Lipo?
The ideal candidate for laser fat removal is someone who is ready to commit to a diet and exercise conducive to weight maintenance, and who doesn’t have a lot of weight to lose but is concerned about specific areas, says Peter LePort, M.D., a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Center for Obesity in California, who uses fat sculpting laser in his practice. “This is not useful for people who are looking to lose a lot of weight, but it works great for tweaking individual body parts after losing weight or having plastic surgery,” he says.
You also need to have enough time in your schedule to commit to multiple sessions each week for several weeks. The total number of sessions will vary from person to person, so you’ll get a treatment plan during an initial consultation.
Laser fat-removal therapies are not recommended for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, or for people who have pacemakers. Laser lipo also won’t address any underlying metabolic, hormonal, or other physical issues that may have caused the weight gain, so you should run it by your doctor first, Dr. LePort cautions. (Related: 7 Reasons You’re Not Losing Belly Fat)
How Does Laser Lipo Fat Removal Supposedly Work?
Laser lipo targets fat cells while sparing other tissues in the body. Every laser lipo machine (brand names include Zerona and i-Lipo) is armed with lasers specifically designed to puncture holes in your fat cells. The lasers slowly perforate the cells so that they deflate. Your body keeps all the fat cells—a good thing since removing fat cells can have unintended consequences such as the fat reappearing in other places, as seen in studies on liposuction—but they shrink. The fat is then released into your interstitial fluid and flushed out by your lymphatic system.
What Does Laser Lipo Feel Like?
Depending on where you’re aiming to reduce the fat cells, you may need to strip down to your underwear before beginning. You’ll then lie on a table, as a technician positions the lasers, aiming at the specific spots you’re trying to shrink. You stay there while the lasers work their magic, with most sessions lasting between 20 and 40 minutes. Because low-level lasers are “cold” lasers, patients don’t feel a thing, according to Lisa Bloch, director of the LifeTime Fitness Medi-spa. There is no pain, swelling, tenderness, or redness, so there is also no downtime. Unlike more invasive fat-removal treatments, you can immediately go back to work, exercising, or whatever else your day holds.
Afterward, however, you may feel something. Because the laser is causing your fat cells to release their contents into your bloodstream, you may feel a little tired, woozy, or sick afterward, particularly if you’re not drinking enough water. “The water is key to flushing the fat and toxins out of your system,” says Bloch.
Okay, But Does Laser Lipo Really Work?
The jury is still out, according to a 2016 review of research on noninvasive body contouring devices published in the International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. Some existing studies suggest low-level laser lipo therapy might help reduce unwanted fat, but “more studies are needed to prove efficacy and safety of this method,” the authors wrote.
A small clinical trial of the Zerona laser, sponsored by the manufacturer, found that patients lost an average of an inch off their waist and hips and an additional two centimeters from each leg. However, most of the patients regained at least some of the inches just two weeks after stopping the treatment. The FDA had enough faith in the treatment to approve it for general use in the U.S.
“This is definitely not a miracle cure,” says Bloch. “This is complementary medicine, not a cure-all. It’s designed to make your healthy eating and exercise more effective, especially if you’re at a point where you’ve plateaued. You still have to do the work; it just enhances your results.” She recommends that her laser fat-removal clients eat a very clean diet, work out moderately, wear compression undergarments, and drink water as if peeing were an Olympic sport. (Related: The Ultimate Plan to Lose Belly Fat)
Are Laser Lipo Reviews Accurate?
As with any weight loss treatment, there are plenty of rave reviews and before-and-after photos on the internet. Back when I first reported on laser weight loss, I decided to try the Zerona to find out how it works for myself. My body didn’t change drastically—I just lost a half-inch off each thigh—but I did feel a little firmer. In the several years since then, however, I’ve gained that back and more despite my weight remaining relatively constant and my continuing to exercise. Worse, the shape of my thighs has changed, with more fat deposits in the exact areas the Zerona targeted. All things considered, I wouldn’t do it again.