Freezing fat cells: Noninvasive fat reduction procedures gaining in popularity

The majority of cosmetic procedures performed in the United States last year — more than 15.7 million of the overall 17.5 million — were considered minimally invasive and did not require major surgery, according to a new report from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

The most common surgeries were breast augmentation, liposuction and nose reshaping.

The most common minimally invasive procedures were botulinum injections (7.2 million), tissue fillers (2.7 million) and chemical peels (1.4 million), according to the ASPS.

In 2017, there were about 350,000 noninvasive fat reduction procedures, also known as “body sculpting” or “body contouring.”

These are FDA-approved techniques to target unwanted fat on a person’s stomach, hips and thighs.

A woman undergoes cryolipolysis in this undated stock photo.

One “body-sculpting” technique is cryolipolysis. This process involves freezing fat cells close to the surface of the skin until the cells die and shrink away.

It is meant to be a less-invasive alternative to procedures like liposuction.

Side effects are typically temporary redness, bruising and numbness, according to a 2013 study from the German group Rosenpark Research in conjunction with Weill Cornell Medical College and Louisiana State University.

Cryolipolysis is not necessarily a new idea, although its popularity has been growing since its development in 2009.

Noninvasive fat reduction procedures, as a whole, increased 7 percent in the past year, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Other techniques use laser or ultrasound to heat and destroy fat cells.

Dr. Darren Smith, a board-certified plastic surgeon, has performed multiple different types of “body contouring,” and finds that cryolipolysis is a “much better-tolerated procedure.”

Instead of heating the cells, which is painful, cooling the cells makes them numb, Smith said.

As with most cosmetic procedures, there is little to no reimbursement from insurance companies for cryolipolysis.

According to Smith, prices for this procedure vary based on a person’s size and the area they want to treat.

Smith says most people usually spend $1,000 to $3,000 on a cryolipolysis treatment.

PHOTO: A girl receives liposuction at a health spa in this undated stock image. Getty Images
A girl receives liposuction at a health spa in this undated stock image.

It’s hard to study the effects of such a treatment when the results are so subjective.

After all, how do you measure a love handle? While one can technically measure the thickness of a fat pad, these numbers are likely inaccurate and may or may not actually reflect how a person feels about the size of their muffin top.

The good news is that the cryolipolysis study conducted in 2013 showed a 73 percent patient satisfaction rate after cryolipolysis therapy.

Dr. Smith states that most people are happy after one treatment, however, some people opt to have a second round.

Overall, physicians believe that a person has the best results when they’re already near their goal weight range, exercising and eating well.

Laura Shopp, MD, is a third-year pediatrics resident affiliated with Indiana University, works in the ABC News Medical Unit.