Cryolipolysis (fat freezing)

Daniel Judd BSc, MBiol

What is Cryolipolysis (fat freezing)?

Cryolipolysis, sometimes called Coolsculpting or fat freezing, is one of a handful of new body sculpting techniques that tackle stubborn localised fat without needing surgery. It gets its name from freezing the fat cells beneath your skin. As with other body sculpting methods, cryolipolysis is designed to hit specific spots of fat which even diet and exercise can’t shift. Different regions of the body have different thresholds for shedding fat so sometimes a diet or exercise regime that have helped overall weight loss will still leave some areas with a unwanted bulges.

Clinical trials have shown fat freezing is suitable for targeting the thighs, flanks, stomach, back, upper arms, knees, buttocks and regions of the chest, although only the thighs, flanks and stomach have received FDA approval in the USA.

 

How does it work?

The fat people often look to lose is stored in specialised fat storing cells called adipocytes. These adipocytes are the tissue removed in surgical liposuction. With cryolipolysis, these adipocytes are killed off without actually removing them from your body. A fat freezing device will cool the fat cells just under your skin all the way down to a few degrees either side of freezing. The increased susceptibility to cold of fat cells compared to other cells in the body was first noticed in the death of fat cells in the cheeks of children who regularly ate ice lollies.

The controlled and localised freezing process triggers signals in the adipocytes that cause them to die in a process called apoptosis. Apoptosis is a neat and orderly method the body uses to recycle cells that are either damaged or not needed anymore. Triggering apoptosis benefits from less pain, less recovery time and fewer side effects when compared to more aggressive techniques like high intensity focused ultrasound which violently breaks open the fat cells, causing greater local damage and bruising.

Once this controlled cell death has been triggered, your immune system gets alerted to the dying cells and begins absorbing and recycling them. This process takes a few months to clear the adipocytes away from the treated area so localised fat loss results aren’t seen immediately. Studies have shown that by the 3-6 month mark, local fat reductions of around 20-30% are possible.

 

What is it like?

A fat freezing or Coolscuplting session lasts around 45 minutes and is usually done without any anaesthesia. The cryolipolysis device is applied to the area being targeted and it will begin to create a light suction on the skin, drawing both the skin and the fat cells below up against the device. The device then cools the area in a controlled manner until done. A quick massage of the treated area can improve the final results.

The treated area won’t look any different immediately following the treatment; results can be expected around two to three months after the session.

 

What is the recovery time?

Cryolipolysis benefits from having no significant down time or recovery period. You will be allowed to leave immediately after treatment and won’t need to take time off work or avoid strenuous activity. That said, the area treated will be inflamed for some time following the treatment as the immune system works to clear out the dead fat cells.

 

What are the side effects?

Compared to surgical procedures like liposuction, cryolipolysis has relatively few and mild side effects. Following treatment you may experience redness, tenderness, swelling and purple splotches at the treatment site. The fat freezing process can cause temporary nerve issues such as pain, numbness or other nerve dysfunctions can also occur but no evidence of permanent damage has been observed.

There have been several cases of a very rare side effect called “Paradoxical Adipose Hyperplasia” where instead of losing the built up fat over time, patients in fact gained more fat at the treated region. This is estimated to occur in 1 in every 20,000 patients.

 

How much does it cost?

Prices for cryolipolysis can vary depending on which area of the body you have treated and whether you go to a clinic or a beauty salon. Overall, prices usually range from £70 to £200 for smaller areas like under the chin but can range between £600 to £1,400 for a larger areas.

 

So is it worth it?

Cryolipolysis offers a relatively risk free way to reduce the size of stubborn fat deposits without the need for surgery and it’s associated risks such as infection. The price range is reasonable and in theory you shouldn’t need repeat treatments. That said, there is a lack of good information on the long term effects due to the relatively recent development of this technique.

It should be kept in mind that this may not be a permanent solution. Like all other fat reduction and body sculpting techniques, it needs to be accompanied by good diet and exercise or the results could disappear as the residual fat cells grow in size with weight gain.

Ideally this procedure should be performed by medical professionals. Always make sure your practitioner is trained and experienced in doing this procedure.

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4444424/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4079633/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4598345/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4171727/