When it comes to non-invasive fat reduction, there are a couple of terms we often see to describe fat cell death including apoptosis and lipolysis. But do these terms mean the same thing?

What Is Apoptosis?

Apoptosis is a natural process in the body where there are molecular changes to cells that signal a programmed death to unwanted or unneeded cells. Apoptosis can happen in one of two ways. First, it can happen intrinsically, meaning that when the cells sense stress, they simply die off. Apoptosis can also happen extrinsically when cells kill themselves based on signals from other cells that the cells in question aren’t needed.

What Is Lipolysis?

Lipolysis is the bodily process where fats are broken down in the adipose tissue that lines the body and organs with water, enzymes, or hydrolysis. Fats are considered to be “stored energy” by the body and this energy can be tapped into when glucose levels are low or in between meals. Lipolysis is a life-sustaining biological process that translates to fat cell death.

How Are These Terms Similar?

Both apoptosis and lipolysis are medical terms that describe inherent biological processes in humans where fat cells are either reduced or killed off. However, the terms have recently taken on new meaning in the cosmetic industry and refer to a way to reduce or destroy fat cells with either cold, heat, lasers, or other energy-based devices, like radiofrequency, and even injections.

The overall category of non-surgical body contouring is referred to as lipolysis. As stated above, there are several technologies currently used to eliminate stubborn fat without having to go under the knife including cryolipolysis, laser lipolysis, injection lipolysis, and radiofrequency lipolysis. These non-invasive technologies use different mechanisms to achieve the same objective, which is to rupture the fat cells by either exposing them to controlled cooling or heat while other treatments use radiofrequency or ultrasonic injury to damage the fat cells to initiate apoptosis. Once apoptosis occurs, it creates an inflammatory response that takes 8-12 weeks for the body to excrete the dead fat cells from the body with the help of the lymphatic system. Results may be permanent as long as a healthy diet and exercise program are maintained.

Bottom Line

Non-invasive technologies have revolutionized the cosmetic industry—especially options for non-surgical fat reduction, which have never been more plentiful, easier, or safer, particularly when compared to invasive options like liposuction that comes with its own set of risks. While there are a variety of technologies currently available, they all initiate cell death whether it is apoptosis or lipolysis. Controlled thermal changes in subcutaneous tissue have been clinically proven to trigger apoptosis, other mechanisms like electromagnetic stress have also shown to be effective at initiating apoptosis.

While the terms apoptosis and lipolysis are slightly different and may not be completely accurate when used interchangeably, they are both forms of cell death with different mechanisms that cause them.