Cryolipolysis is a non-invasive cosmetic procedure used for localized fat reduction. Commonly referred to as “fat freezing”, the idea in part came about from observing young children temporarily lose fat in their cheeks after sucking on a popsicle—a phenomenon known as cold-panniculitis. The first cryolipolysis machine was introduced in 2007 and is now used as a non-surgical means to remove fat and contour the body. It offers an alternative treatment solution to liposuction and tummy tucks. One example of such a device is the well-known brand, CoolSculpting.

But, how do cryolipolysis devices work for body slimming?

How Does Cryolipolysis Work?

Cryolipolysis works by utilizing a precise (around 39 degrees Fahrenheit) cooling of the fat cells that destroys fat cells while minimizing the damage to the surrounding skin, vessels, nerves, and muscles. The reason for this is that fat-containing tissue in the body is more vulnerable to injury from cold temperatures when compared to the water-rich tissue that surrounds the fat cells.

The biological process where the cells undergo death from the cooling is called apoptosis, which causes the release of cytokines around the treatment area. This is the body’s way of cleaning up dead debris. Two-four months following the treatment the body processes the dead cells through the lymphatic system to eventually be excreted. Results from the treatment include a reduction in the thickness of the fat layer.

Who Is A Good Candidate For Cryolipolysis?

An ideal candidate for cryolipolysis is someone who is relatively fit but has stubborn pockets of localized fat that diet and exercise have been unsuccessful at reducing. It is not meant for major fat removal as in the case with liposuction. Another factor to consider is that Cryolipolysis requires pinchable fat. If an individual has firm, thick tissue the results may not be as dramatic. This is because the paddles used to administer the cooling temperature have to be able to access the fat to successfully treat it.

Where On The Body Can Cryolipolysis Be Used?

The FDA cleared CoolSculpting for body contouring for individuals who have a BMI of 30 or less to reduce visible fat bulges under the chin, abdomen, flanks, and underneath the buttocks. Other areas of the body that practitioners have treated include lower back, hips, inner thighs, knees, arms, and ankles. Some practitioners use cryolipolysis for off-label cellulite reduction. However, there isn’t enough clinical evidence to support its efficacy for that application—at least not yet.

What Does The Treatment Feel Like?

The cryolipolysis device has a cooling applicator that is attached to the treatment area and is connected to a machine that generates the energy needed for the cooling process. During the treatment, the individual receiving the treatments should typically feel a gentle suctioning and cooling sensation in the treatment area. For larger treatment areas, like the stomach, multiple applicators may be used simultaneously to sufficiently cover the area. Once the cooling treatment is done, which is around 35 minutes per area, the practitioner will perform a massage while the skin is being rewarmed. This part of the treatment can be uncomfortable and even painful for some. Some practitioners may ask that the treatment area be massaged at home for up to 4 months to further enhance lymphatic drainage and fat reduction.

What Kind Of Results Does Cryolipolysis Deliver?

As we mentioned earlier, the full results will take some time to see especially since the dead fat cells need to work their way through the body’s lymphatic system. Results for some can be seen in as little as three weeks with the maximum results being visible at approximately three months. The average reduction in fat ranges from 10%-25% per round of treatment. Some individuals may need additional treatments to get the desired results.

Are The Results Permanent?

The results from cryolipolysis are permanent, but only if the treated individual maintains their weight. So it is important for individuals who want to maintain the results they achieved to have a balanced diet and to regularly exercise.

Are There Side Effects From Cryolipolysis?

Cryolipolysis is considered a relatively safe treatment with minimal pain and downtime. Common side effects include redness, bruising, swelling, tingling, numbness, or darkening of the treatment area. However, most of these will resolve on their own in the following months after the treatment. There have been instances, especially in young women who have cryolipolysis performed on their abdomen who experience post-treatment pain, which resolves on its own in 3-11 days with no long-term side effects. One rare side effect from cryolipolysis is paradoxical fat hyperplasia, where the number of fat cells in the treatment area go up instead of down. While the exact incidence of this side effect is unknown, it appears to occur less than 1% of the time.

The Skinny On Fat Freezing

Fat freezing offers a non-surgical option for those who are relatively fit but have localized trouble spots of fat that they no longer want to have. While it isn’t a magic bullet, and weight loss will not occur, it offers relatively painless and safe treatment modality for those who want to contour their body without having to go under the knife.