Despite our best efforts with diet and exercise, achieving a firm, toned body can be a challenge. While age certainly does play a factor, loss of muscle tone and stubborn fat pockets can happen at any stage in life and can be affected by lifestyle choices and genetics. Whether you are a beauty business owner, or a beauty consumer looking at the various options to tighten the muscles and rid yourself of unwanted fat, there are now a variety of technologies available. I decided to try out Emsculpt Neo, the latest technology from BTL that builds muscle and reduces fat permanently (and that’s taking over Instagram) to see if it was worth the hype.

To get a better understanding of why muscles lose tone, I turned to Dr. Clara Hurst, co-founder of my new staple skincare brand, The Secret, and owner of aesthetic medical clinic, Blanc located in Australia (where she offers BTL treatments), for some clarity on why this happens—especially as we age.

“Natural levels of collagen and elastin begin to slowly decline, resulting in skin that is prone to sagging. We also tend to lose subcutaneous fat (the fat stored just under your skin) and experience some degree of bone loss, which can contribute to a loosening of the skin,” Hurst tells me. Hormones also play a part in making it more challenging to build and maintain muscle as we age. “That’s why it’s so important to work your muscles regularly, particularly as you age—if you don’t use it, you lose it!”

Of course, not all individuals who are aging suffer from this problem. But apparently, in addition to hormones, sun exposure, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, smoking, pollution, and fluctuations in weight can also contribute to skin looking saggy.

“Genetic factors also play a big role,” continues Hurst. “As we get older, people who are very thin may experience more skin sagging compared to others around their age. This can be due to having a lower body fat percentage, as more fat under the skin serves to make it look more smooth and supple!” Men also have an advantage due to having higher levels of testosterone, which can create thicker looking skin that can make it appear firmer. “A loss of skin elasticity can be more pronounced in women due to the fact our skin is thinner and more prone to fine lines.”

Emsculpt NEO is the first FDA-cleared device on the market to patent and combine electromagnetic energy with radiofrequency heat that synergistically produces more muscle while reducing fat. The treatment is getting a lot of attention. You may have come across ads and influencers touting the benefits on social media in addition to seeing buses with before and after pictures from real patients. One of the drivers for me to try this technology out was the amount of peer-reviewed data and clinical studies involving MRI, CT scans, and histological data supporting its benefits.

While I have had several energy-based aesthetic treatments through the years, I was unfamiliar with BTL as a brand. The company launched in the Czech Republic 27 years ago and became available in the United States about ten years ago. “Emsculpt Neo launched in April 2019 at the American Society of Laser and Surgical medicine—the big science show that highlights recent innovations. All of the genius brains go for scientific technology. We attended and showcased the Emsculpt Neo and introduced it with 5 published papers,” shares John Ferris, VP of Marketing at BTL.

Emsculpt has a few iterations as technology has advanced through the years. The older version, Emsculpt Muscle, simply had the HIFEM that simulates roughly 20,000 supramaximal muscle contractions in the 30-minute treatment session. Studies have found results yield a 16% increase in muscle mass and a 19% reduction in fat which delivers a leaner and firmer treatment area.

The Emsculpt Neo version was built with the premise to build muscle and burn fat simultaneously. “It’s the first time the two technologies were combined,” explains Ferris. The platform utilizes radio frequency (RF) technology with BTL’s branded HIFEM (high-intensity focused electromagnetic) energy. “It’s the pulse change and configurations with the addition of RF synchronized. It provides unrivaled results. There are irrefutable studies using MRI, Ultrasound, and CT scans that proved that this machine was producing more muscle and less fat.”

I decided to have my stomach and inner thighs treated. The treatment sessions are 30-minutes each once a week for four weeks. The most popular treatment areas are the abdomen and buttocks. With four treatments, men and women are seeing less overlying fat and more clearly defined muscles. The abdomen is slimmer, and the core is visibly stronger. The gluteal muscles are lifted, and the outward extension is enhanced. In addition to the abdomen and buttocks, Emsculpt Neo recently received FDA clearance to treat the inner and outer thigh and arms.

Having the stomach area treated was a breeze. It feels a little odd at first, but it is mimicking around 20,000 sit-ups so I expected to feel something. My results were a visibly slimmer and more toned abdominal region. While the results for the inner thigh were visible, that treatment area was a lot more sensitive, and the results were not as impressive. I had a series of 3 treatments in both regions of my body. What’s interesting is that even after the last treatment, it takes an additional 5-6 weeks to see the full effects. “It’s the apoptotic effect,” explains Ferris. “Systemically it takes that much time to see maximum results in fat reduction and up to 12 weeks for muscle growth.”

So, what is my verdict? I am quite pleased with my results for my stomach. While I saw some change in my inner thigh, the paddles used to administer the energy-based technologies are too large for someone of my size. Perhaps they will make smaller handpieces for smaller (and larger) individuals in the future. Would I have it again? Sure. But I would focus on my abs rather than my legs. I am still on the hunt for the magic bullet for my thighs.