CoolSculpting for Fat Loss

No matter how much some of us diet or exercise, certain areas of fat just don’t change. CoolSculpting is a non-invasive fat-reducing procedure that works from the outside in to freeze and dissolve fat cells. Here’s what to expect!

What is CoolSculpting?

CoolSculpting is a unique medical device and treatment that uses trademarked applicators to deliver freezing temperatures to body fat without damaging skin, muscles, or nerves. We know, strange but true! This process is medically known as cryolipolysis.

CoolSculpting’s targeted action dissolves fat cells in a period of months. As long as you keep your expectations realistic and are aware of the pros and cons, CoolSculpting is a body contouring procedure you may want to consider.

Once frozen, fat cells are dissolved and gradually eliminated by the body without affecting lipid levels (meaning the fat cells move out of your system without clogging arteries or raising cholesterol levels).

A large volume of research has shown that carefully calibrated exposure to extreme cold affects fat cells in a way that leads to improved body contours. Surprisingly, there’s minimal to no downtime and, for the squeamish, no needles or high heat, as with liposuction or fat-eliminating lasers.

CoolSculpting has a high rate of patient satisfaction (about 78% in comparison to 64% for liposuction) and has been performed over 4 million times. Results aren’t immediate and not everyone responds well, but most patients do end up satisfied.

Which Areas Can Be Treated?

CoolSculpting has limitations because it can’t be used just anywhere—you’re limited to the size and shape of the cooling machine’s attachments and how those fit over your areas of concern.

It also isn’t the best procedure if you’re more than 20 pounds overweight because most of the applicators have to be able to draw up and hold select areas of fat in order for the procedure to work. If an area has too much fat, CoolSculpting isn’t the right fit, quite literally.

One possible detraction to consider is that it can also hasten skin sagging. Once the fat is gone, not everyone’s skin will retract and look smooth. You might want to weigh the pros and cons of less fat but more sagging skin, and discuss that with your doctor.

  • Chin and neck
  • Upper arms, inner portion
  • Upper thighs, both inner and outer
  • Abdomen
  • Flanks (love handles, muffin top)
  • So-called bra fat under the arms
  • Knees
  • Ankles (cankles)

CoolSculpting cannot be used to dissolve excess fat on the buttocks, mid-face, or upper back. It also cannot be used to improve cellulite. For these areas, you would want to consider other procedures such as liposuction or non-invasive high-heat laser procedures like Vanquish or SculpSure to eliminate excess fat.

How CoolSculpting Works

CoolSculpting involves the use of applicators sized to fit the targeted area(s). Larger areas like love handles involve the use of paddles. Each device is attached to a hose connected to the machine which provides a controlled dose of cold for a set period of time, ranging from 35 minutes to an hour, sometimes longer.

A gel pad to help protect your skin is placed over the area being treated, and then the CoolSculpting procedure begins. At this point, the applicator securely sucks up or “pinches” the area where it securely remains for the duration of the treatment—no need to move it around yourself or have a technician move it for you.

After a few minutes, you’ll begin to feel intense cold. The cold rush may be accompanied by stinging, tingling, aching, or a cramping sensation. This is normal and will lessen (or go away completely) as the area becomes numb. Once you’re comfortable, your practitioner will leave you alone to relax as the timed procedure continues automatically.

When the time is up, the practitioner removes the device and massages the treated area for several minutes to restore normal blood flow. Once again, you may feel slight stinging or a sensation of cramping, particularly if the abdominal area was sculpted. These post-procedure effects should lessen quickly.

You may also see a temporary whitening or reddening of the treated area, which may also feel stiff. Still, in most cases you’re free to resume normal activity immediately after the treatment.

Where Does the Fat Go?

The frozen fat cells become crystallized. Over several weeks, these crystallized cells die, stimulating the immune system to release enzymes that break down the dying fat cells so they can easily and safely be eliminated by the body over a period of three months. Once the targeted fat cells are destroyed, they don’t return. If you gain weight later, the excess pounds won’t be deposited in the treated areas—they’ll simply show up someplace else. Talk about strong motivation to maintain your ideal weight!

Is CoolSculpting Right for Me?

You’re considered a good candidate for CoolSculpting if:

  • You’re within a few pounds of your ideal weight range but can still “pinch an inch” (or two).
  • You have noticeable fat bulges in the areas CoolSculpting and its various attachments can be used.
  • You have a double chin or neck fat not due to age-related sagging.
  • You do not suffer from the circulatory disorder known as Raynaud’s syndrome.
  • You don’t have varicose veins on areas you want treated.
  • You’re not expecting instant results (it takes 4-6 months for full results).
  • You’re willing to maintain a healthy weight, exercise, and eat a nutritious diet.

What Results Can I Expect?

Initially, you won’t see any results; as explained above, 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. This reduces the fat layer, thus making you look slimmer (and hey, that favorite pair of jeans may finally fit!).

After 4-6 months, you and your doctor can decide if another treatment is needed. For many, a single session is enough to produce satisfactory results, provided you keep your expectations realistic. Further treatments to the same area can remove more fat, but research has shown results from second treatments aren’t as dramatic as the first.

On average, most people see a 15–25% fat reduction. That may not sound like a lot, but visually it’s the difference between a flat stomach and a pouch that keeps your pants from fitting.

What Are the Risks?

Although the CoolSculpting device has received clearance by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), there are risks you should know about before you have it done.

The most common side effects, all of which typically resolve within 1–3 weeks, are redness, swelling, localized pain, and bruising. You may also experience reduced sensation in the treated area, but this is also temporary.

A word of caution: Beware of off-branded fat-freezing devices and do not have this type of procedure done outside of a doctor’s office. This isn’t the time to bargain shop; there are many reports of non-CoolSculpting machines causing damage to skin akin to frostbite—and this damage can be permanent. It’s critically important to see a medical professional well-versed in this procedure—not a salon employee or anyone who overpromises what’s possible from this procedure. Make sure the technician is using a machine labeled “CoolSculpting”—not a variation of that brand name—and is certified in the procedure by Zeltiq, the company that makes CoolSculpting machines.

How Much Does CoolSculpting Cost?

CoolSculpting isn’t cheap; however, single treatments are usually less expensive (and certainly less involved) than liposuction.

Generally, treating one small area (like a double chin) costs $1,000; larger areas (such as the abdomen) cost $2,000; treating multiple areas of concern can run up to $4,000 or more.

CoolSculpting isn’t 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 have not seen satisfactory results.

Does Freezing Fat Replace Liposuction?

The answer depends on how much fat you have to lose, and where that fat is. If you have multiple areas to treat, CoolSculpting may not cost less than liposuction.

Freezing fat is ideal for reducing minor accumulations of excess fat in common areas of concern. It’s not suitable for larger deposits of fat, such as those from obesity, weight gain during pregnancy, or for patients who are more than 20 pounds overweight.

CoolSculpting is currently not an option to remove excess fat on the face (such as chubby cheeks). For those areas, liposuction remains the procedure of choice, and has a longer known track record for safety, despite being a surgical procedure.

References for this information:

Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, January 2017, pages 63-68; May 2017, page 2, and January 2016, pages 3-13
Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, November 2016, ePublication
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, June 2015, pages 1,581-1,590
Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, June 2014, pages 201-205
Aesthetic and Plastic Surgery, June 2012, pages 666679
Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, December 2009, pages 244249
Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, December 2009, pages 703708
Dermatologic Surgery, October 2009, pages 1,4621,470