What is CoolSculpting, and does Fat Freezing Actually Work?

How CoolSculpting Works – The Science

CoolSculpting is a branded form of the fat reduction method known as cryolipolysis – which translates quite literally into cold (cryo) fat (lipo) destruction (lysis) – which uses freezing temperatures to break down stubborn fat cells.

Cryolipolysis finds its origin in an unusual place; the cofounders of the process originally discovered their interest in what they termed “cold-induced fat necrosis” after observing the effect an ice lolly had on the inside of a child’s mouth when unwittingly left resting on the cheek for several minutes.

Several skin samples from paediatric patients later, and they found that this exposure to cold had inflamed the fat in the cheek, but the skin over top had remained normal. The conclusion? Fat is more sensitive to cold injury than other types of tissue.

After the ice lolly discovery, cryolipolysis was tested first on that most famed of fat animals: the pig. In 2007, a cooling device was tested on pigs to see if fat cells could indeed be selectively destroyed, and the results were as promising as they were predictable – in treated areas there was a half-inch reduction in the pigs’ fat layer, with no damage to the overlying skin.

By 2010, cryolipolysis had been approved for human use and cleared as a treatment for reducing love handles. It wasn’t long before it was cleared for use on other parts of the body too, like back fat, bra fat, thighs, chin and even buttocks.

And the best part is, because it doesn’t require any incision or anaesthesia, it’s completely non-invasive.

How to Prepare for Your CoolSculpting Appointment?

There are some things you should do before the day of your treatment.

Avoid taking any medication or supplements that thin your blood, such as aspirin, fish oil or St John’s Wort, as these can make you more susceptible to bruising. It’s best to stop at least a week before treatment, but before doing so should be discussed with your doctor to ensure it’s okay. Your doctor may be able to suggest alternatives you can take during this time. 

Do your best to avoid damaging skin in the target area. CoolSculpting involves massaging and suctioning of the treatment area, so any bruises or lesions may be made worse, and may make the experience uncomfortable. 

Avoid tanning, at least in the treatment area. Tanning can make your skin more sensitive to treatment. It’s best to protect your skin from sun exposure as much as possible in the lead up to your appointment, to minimise potential discomfort. 

If you smoke, it’s recommended that you try to stop for about a week before the appointment. Smoking can impede your body’s healing faculties, which will delay results and increase recovery time. Healthy lifestyle habits in general are best, as your body will heal best when functioning at optimal level.

On the day of your appointment, wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. Gel will be applied to your skin, which may get a little messy, so you might want to consider bringing a change of clothes along, too. 

CoolSculpting treatments can take a while, depending on how many areas you’re having treated, and how big those areas are. Appointment length will be discussed beforehand, so if you know you’re in for the long-haul, feel free to bring along some form of entertainment. A book, music, or anything else to help pass the time.

We also advise you to eat a light meal or snack beforehand, to help you maintain your blood sugar, energy levels, and mood during the session.

How does Coolsculpting differ from other ‘body contouring’ treatments?

Coolsculpting is not the only procedure out there that promises to rid you of stubborn fat. Other treatments that offer similar results are Kybella, radiofrequency treatments, and of course, liposuction.

But not all body sculpting methods are created equal. There’s a few differences that should be taken into account when weighing your options:

Kybella is an injection method that uses a synthetic form of deoxycholic acid, which is a substance that is otherwise naturally produced in the body. Deoxycholic acid helps absorb fat cells, and can destroy them too. Kybella treatment is faster than CoolSculpting, but at present can only be used on the submental area, which is the area of fat under the chin. 

Radiofrequency treatments use heat and ultrasound energy, rather than cold, to target fat cells. Results appear in a similar timeframe to CoolSculpting treatments, and treatment length is around the same. However, like Kybella, radiofrequency treatments aren’t cleared for use in quite as many areas as CoolSculpting.

Liposuction is one of the most commonly performed aesthetic procedures in the world. It’s a surgical treatment to remove subcutaneous fat – a surgeon will make two small incisions, and insert a cannula that uses suction power to remove fat from the treatment area. Because it is an invasive treatment, it’s got a much longer recovery period than CoolSculpting, but it can remove larger volumes of fat in one go. Results, like with other treatments, show up after around 3 months. 

What to Expect

The CoolSculpting machine uses rounded paddles to suction up your skin and fat like a vacuum. It takes about an hour to treat each body part, and during this time you can rest, read, check emails, whatever suits you! While you wait the fat is being frozen, causing the cells to die. 

At your first treatment, a ‘before’ image will be taken, and a second photo will then be taken at your follow-up appointment, so that you can see the results of the treatment side by side. At this stage, you’re able to have a second treatment if you desire.

What are the side effects?

During the course of the CoolSculpting treatment it’s normal to experience pulling, tugging and pinching sensations from the suction on the machine, and patients can experience intense cold, tingling, aching and sometimes cramping at the treatment site. All of these sensations will abate when the area becomes numb.

Following treatment, you can expect to see some redness, swelling, bruising, blanching, and may feel tingling, stinging, aching, numbness, or general sensitivity and tenderness. These effects are only temporary, and can subside as quickly as a few days after, but generally within a few weeks. Though rare, some patients may experience freeze burn, hyperpigmentation, and vasovagal symptoms.

Very rarely, patients experience paradoxical adipose hyperplasia, which is an overgrowth of fatty tissue in the treated area. It can appear 8-24 weeks after treatment, and is when the treated area becomes hardened and visibly enlarged.

The good news is, a 2014 study found this to only occur in 0.0051% of cases, or about 1 in 20,000 treated patients. With the exception of a very few rare cases, it is a safe and reliable method for eliminating unwanted fat cells.

How much does CoolSculpting cost?

Treatment cost can depend on the areas being treated and how many cycles you’ll need, so we recommend having a consultation to get a good idea of pricing, but prices start from £600 for one cycle.

How does my body get rid of the fat after CoolSculpting?

Once the treated fat cells have been frozen, they are destroyed and naturally processed out by the body. Once they’re gone, they’re gone for good.

Are the results permanent?

Typical weight loss or gain does not increase or decrease the number of fat cells in your body, only changes how large they are. Whilst CoolSculpting destroys fat cells permanently, if you gain a significant amount of weight after treatment, there is a risk of the fat cells that remain growing in size, which will reverse your results. As such, we only recommend CoolSculpting to patients who are at a stable weight, and don’t experience large fluctuations.

How many treatments will I need?

Your CoolSculpting practitioner will help to create a customised treatment plan tailored to your specific goals, so the length and number of treatments may vary considerably from patient. It’s always best to come along for a consultation to find out what’s best for you.

Is CoolSculpting an alternative to the gym?

CoolSculpting is not a weight-loss treatment, and not a substitute for a healthy lifestyle. Patients should still endeavour to eat a balanced diet and exercise. 

Who is CoolSculpting for?

It’s important to remember that CoolSculpting is not a weight loss procedure, so it’s best suited for patients who are within 5 pounds of their ideal weight, and just have a little excess fat or a few visible fat bulges they’d like to get rid of, that won’t go with diet and exercise. 

It’s not suitable for obese individuals, or anyone who suffers from cryoglobulinaemia, cold agglutinin disease, or paroxysmal cold haemoglobinuria. If you’re unsure if you’d be a good fit, a consultation can always be arranged to discuss your individual situation and desired outcomes.

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