Smoothing, shaping, and fat-busting procedures aren’t going anywhere, so here’s your guide to which treatment is right for you.
As noninvasive cosmetic treatments become more advanced and more accessible, the demand for fat-reduction procedures has crescendoed from a whisper to a yell. In fact, there are more than a dozen noninvasive body procedures using several diverse technologies on the market today and more are set to launch in 2020, with some in the works for later this year. So it’s unsurprising that the American Society of Plastic Surgeryannounced 2018 as the “Year of the Body.”
“Desire drives the market,” says board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman. “We’re just getting better and better at finding easier ways to address physical things that don’t please us.”
Don’t believe us? International research company GlobalData predicts noninvasive and minimally invasive fat-reduction procedures to be a $1.1 billion industry by 2022, as patients are prioritizing in-office treatments with minimal downtime over surgical solutions. That said, read on to learn more about the current body-contouring treatments available on the market.
How to Find the Right Treatment for You
Not all treatments are made equal and not all procedures are right for every issue. “Body contouring is such a giant subject,” says board-certified dermatologic surgeon Anne Chapas. “We tend to lump cellulite treatments, skin tightening, fat reduction, and muscle tightening all into body contouring now. I can’t tell you how many times someone comes into my office and says they need a cellulite treatment and what they actually need is skin tightening.”
The catch is that most treatments aren’t a light-switch solution. Most procedures take at least six weeks to show changes with one or more sessions and full results materialize in two to three months, so a little planning is essential. And some treatments work for tough-to-reach body parts better than others, while some are more effective for specific areas. We recommend a consultation with a board-certified physician who performs more than one of the below treatments and can advise on which is best for you based on a variety of physical and lifestyle factors.
That said, technology is constantly evolving in the body-contouring arena, so “the best treatment” is a moving target, but here are the most effective, doctor-recommended and Food and Drug Administration-approved body treatments currently on the market, whether you want to debulk or refine, from neck to ankle.
1. Temperature-Based Fat-Reduction Treatments
One of the first noninvasive, fat-eliminating treatments to hit the market was CoolSculpting, an FDA-approved device that uses controlled cooling to permanently freeze fat cells that are resistant to diet and exercise, like on the inner thighs, upper arms, and stomach. The final results materialize after about three months as the frozen cells die and the body eliminates them naturally, but a huge bonus of this treatment is that new cells aren’t able to take their place, making it a fairly permanent solution. The downside is that you’re literally freezing your buns off and patients often report intense discomfort as well as next-day bruising.
On the other end of the spectrum is SculpSure, a quick, 25-minute, fat-dissolving procedure that shocks the body in a similar way to CoolSculpt, except this time with laser heat. During the procedure, the device is strapped onto trouble areas, most often the stomach, love handles, and thighs and alternates between intense heat, which is absorbed by the body’s fatty tissue, and brief cool-downs. Patients usually only need one treatment, with visible results appearing in 6 to 12 weeks.
Let’s not forget the latest fat-busting FDA-approved treatment to launch, Vanquish, which Engelman considers one of the most effective. The thin, three-paneled applicator creates a half-moon shape to treat the abdomen and flanks simultaneously by radiating magnetic waves without ever touching the skin. “It’s like a warm electric blanket,” says Engelman. “It doesn’t hurt and it’s a smooth applicator.”
2. Skin-Tightening Treatments
As we age, our bodies lose skin laxity, producing a droopy look, most commonly manifesting in a jowl-like neck, above-the-knees sagging, and loose upper arms. But thanks to breakthroughs in radio frequency and ultrasound technologies, which build collagen by engaging the skin’s deeper layers, patients are watching the clock roll back.
According to Engelman, the two original pioneering skin-tightening devices, Thermage and Ulthera, have been replaced by a new powerhouse procedure, Exilis, which harnesses both of their modalities (radio frequency, and ultrasound, respectively) to tighten skin and build collagen.
“What you see is a significant improvement not only in skin contour but in tightening, and you do get a little bit of fat reduction as well in the arms, thighs, buttocks, abdomen, wherever you use it,” says Engelman. “For people who’ve had a lot of weight loss or stretch marks or laxity of their skin from pregnancy, they want to go with this treatment.”
3. Muscle-Enhancement Treatments
To target your abs, there’s Emsculpt, the revolutionary muscle-building procedure that Engelman calls “the new frontier of body contouring.” It uses electromagnetic energy to contract muscles, just like you would at the gym. A quick, but moderately uncomfortable, 20-minute session is equivalent to literally tens of thousands of sit-ups and can be used to strengthen both ab and butt muscles.
“You’re getting abs not only from eliminating the fat overlying the abdominal muscles, but it’s truly increasing the muscle density,” says Engelman. “We’re going to see more and more of these types of devices hit the market.”
4. On the Horizon: Injectables for Cellulite
As common as cellulite is (almost everyone has it), there isn’t a super effective fix…yet. “If we could figure out cellulite, that would be a home run,” says Engelman. “You’re never really curing it.”
Once you stop spot-treating the dimples with semi-effective solutions like lasers and creams, the cellulite appearance returns. But all that will change with the launch of a new cellulite injectable, likely set to launch next year. “It’s definitely a field that’s growing,” says Chapas. “There’s going to be more muscle-directed treatments and more cellulite-directed treatments this year.”
5. When to Opt for Liposuction
Despite all the leaps in technology, fat-reduction procedures are not magic, fat-zapping unicorns. They are intended as a refinement for people within 10 pounds of their goal weight, not as a weight-loss method. Liposuction still reigns supreme when it comes to medical intervention for fat elimination. And according to the ASPS report, it is not going anywhere, with the surgery up 5 percent from 2017 and more than 250,000 procedures completed in 2018.
“With body procedures, the biggest source of disappointment is that the non-surgical treatment didn’t do enough, or was uncomfortable,” says ASPS president Alan Matarasso. “The reality is when a plastic surgeon does liposuction, it’s not hit or miss. You’re seeing it come out of a tube and you usually get a lot more done in one sitting than you would with a non-surgical option.”
And the surgery has come a long way in the past 20 years with shorter recovery times and improved doctor techniques to reduce bruising and swelling. It’s not uncommon for a patient to have liposuction on one specific area (most commonly the thighs, stomach or butt) in the afternoon and go back to work the next day, says Matarasso.
Large-volume liposuctions, which are characterized as five liters of fat removal or more, require a longer recovery period, typically about a month. “Liposuction is the ultimate minimally invasive procedure,” says Matarasso. “Small scars, fast recovery, low risk.”