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Does CoolSculpting Work? Recent Research on the Body Tightening Procedure

CoolSculpting is booming in popularity as a non-invasive way to get rid of fatty bulges that are resistant to diet and exercise. The innovative technology permanently removes targeted fat cells through controlled cooling. 

You may have heard about CoolSculpting and wondered if it measures up to the talk — if a nonsurgical treatment really works to eliminate unwanted fat. We’re here to tell you that it does. Multiple studies have shown that CoolSculpting’s focused chilling, also known as cryolipolysis, is effective in reducing selected areas of body fat and, best of all, that the results are long-lasting when paired with a healthy lifestyle.

How Does CoolSculpting Work?

CoolSculpting came out of the scientific discovery that fat cells are more sensitive to cold than are skin cells and other types of tissue. When fat tissue is chilled to a specific sub-freezing temperature, it crystallizes. In the weeks after treatment, your body eliminates these damaged fat cells. Your skin may be mildly irritated by the cold of the treatment, resulting in some short-term redness, but it quickly recovers. The fat cells, on the other hand, die and then get processed out of the body, leaving the area visibly slimmer. 

Remarkably, the number of fat cells in the treated area is permanently reduced. With weight gain, the remaining fat cells may grow in size, but because there are fewer of them, the proportional change in your body’s contour will endure.

CoolSculpting involves no surgery and no needles. It is a completely noninvasive treatment. When you come in for a CoolSculpting treatment, you’ll sit in a comfortable reclining chair. A gel pad is placed on your skin to protect it while the applicator gently suctions the area of tissue to be treated and concentrates cold temperatures on the fat. The procedure is so relaxing that you can read a book or magazine, do work or watch a movie on your laptop, or just take a nap. 

CoolSculpting is fast, too. Depending on the number of areas treated, the procedure takes from 30 minutes to an hour or two, with no downtime for recovery. Your body naturally removes the treated fat cells in the weeks after treatment as you go about your normal daily activities.

How do we know it works? Because of dozens of scientific studies on hundreds of patients.

What the Research Shows About the Effectiveness of CoolSculpting

CoolSculpting was approved by the FDA in 2010 for the reduction of fat in the flanks or “love handles.” In the years since, the FDA has approved the treatment for different areas of the body, including the abdomen, thighs, back, and under the chin, and for bulges of fat under the buttocks or around the bra. Those approvals were based on clinical testing that showed the procedure to be both safe and effective. As the number of people treated has soared, additional research has confirmed the initial findings that led to those approvals and shown just how effective CoolSculpting can be.

The results of these studies have been impressive. A 2015 analysis of 19 studies, published in the medical journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, found that people lost an average of 14.7 to 28.5 percent of the fat volume in the treatment areas, as measured using calipers. Higher levels of fat loss were found in patients who had a second treatment. One of the studies analyzed the effects of multiple treatments and found an average fat loss of 19.7 percent in the hips and thighs after a single treatment and 28.5 percent after two treatments. 

One of the studies also looked at the effect of massage after treatment and found that this produced additional fat-loss results. Even two minutes of post-treatment massage more than doubled the amount of fat reduction when measured two months later. Based on these findings, massage right after cooling is now a standard part of CoolSculpting treatment. 

Because of the boom in popularity for CoolSculpting, the body of scientific evidence is large and growing. Another 2015 review of 16 studies, published in Aesthetic Surgery Journal, reported an average fat-volume reduction of 19.5 percent after four months in a total of 295 patients. A more recent research review of treatment in the chin and jawline areas, published in 2018 in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, found mean fat reductions of 20 to 33 percent after one or two treatments. The data was from four clinical trials and one case series, involving 101 patients. 

A large majority of the patients in all of the studies — 80 to 93 percent — were satisfied or very satisfied with the results of their treatment.

What the Research Shows About the Safety of CoolSculpting

Safety was a critical consideration in granting FDA approval for CoolSculpting, and that approval was granted after studying the treatment’s effects on different parts of the body. The FDA’s 2015 approval summary, for example, describes how the treatment was tested on 60 patients. No serious adverse effects were reported. Clinical follow-up on the patients found only “anticipated and transient side-effects, all of which resolved over the course of the study.” These short-term side effects included reddened or bruised skin and swelling in the treated areas, which disappeared for most patients within a week, and mild numbness, which lasted a little longer. Six weeks after treatment only 2 of the 60 patients were still experiencing numbness. At the 12-week follow up, none of the patients reported negative side effects.  

In the studies reviewed for FDA approval, and in other studies conducted since researchers looked for indications of other negative health effects and have found none. The studies showed no reduction in liver function, for example, or abnormal lipid (cholesterol) levels, and no evidence of nerve damage. In short, many studies have found no negative health effects from one-time or repeated treatment with CoolSculpting, and only mild and short-term side effects. 

Care is taken, however, in selecting patients for treatment. The FDA has approved CoolSculpting for specific types of targeted fat-reduction treatment. It is not a weight-loss remedy. It is recommended only for removing selected pockets of fat that are resistant to diet and exercise. You should not have CoolSculpting treatment if you suffer from certain rare conditions that cause your body to have abnormal reactions to cold. These include cryoglobulinemia, cold agglutinin disease, and paroxysmal cold hemoglobinuria.

Do CoolSculpting Results Last?

One of the benefits of CoolSculpting is that results are long-lasting. Once fat cells are removed through the cooling treatment, they do not return. They can grow in size with mild to moderate weight gain, but there will always be fewer of them in the treated area as long as you don’t have large amounts of weight gain. This means that, in comparison with other parts of the body, the treated areas will continue to appear slimmer. Best results are maintained when you adopt healthy lifestyle practices to avoid weight gain.

Of course, because this is a relatively new treatment, no large long-term studies have been done to look at the permanence of results. But a recent research paper in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology examined two patients who, 6 and 9 years earlier, had each chosen to have the fat-chilling procedure on their midriff areas — but on only one side of their bodies. Years later, after weight fluctuations, the treated areas were measurably slimmer than the untreated areas on the other side.

How CoolSculpting Results Have Improved with Ongoing Research

We noted that one of the research findings was that fat loss from CoolSculpting increases significantly if the area is massaged right after the cooling treatment. That step can boost the fat-reduction results of a single treatment by more than half. Once those findings were published, CoolScupting practitioners adopted massage as a standard part of the treatment, with resulting improvements in outcomes for all patients.

The research has also guided refinements in technology and its application. Based on data from patient studies, we know precisely to what temperature the fat tissue should be chilled and the optimal length of time for each cooling treatment. 

Combining these kinds of precise controls with fat-loss data from hundreds of patients in numerous research studies, doctors can better customize treatment for specific patients. They can predict fat loss of 15 to 20 percent after one treatment and a loss of another 10 to 15 percent in fat volume after a second treatment — understanding that individual results can follow a wider range. If you’re like most people, you have larger and smaller bulges of fat that you’d like to slim. You may get to your desired contour after a single treatment for some of them, while others may require two applications.

These refinements in CoolSculpting treatment over the past few years, made based on information from controlled, scientific research, have almost certainly improved fat-loss results for patients. The findings of studies from 10 years ago, the ones on which the FDA based its first approvals, likely don’t represent the greater fat-reduction outcomes of today’s patients. With massage, precise temperature and timing controls, and selective applications of repeat treatments, you can expect more noticeable — and more consistently positive — results than those experienced by earlier patients. And those earlier patients were very satisfied with their results!

Are You a Good Candidate for CoolSculpting?

If you are near your ideal weight (within 10 to 20 pounds) and are bothered by pockets of fat that persist no matter how much you exercise or how carefully you watch your diet, you’re probably a good candidate for CoolSculpting. The treatment can reduce — but not eliminate — those stubborn bulges and give you a slimmer appearance.

Don’t consider CoolSculpting to be an alternative to a healthy diet and exercise for weight loss. It’s not an overall weight-loss remedy. But it can work wonders to reduce diet- and exercise-resistant bulges of fat you want to get rid of — around your waist and on your belly, thighs, upper arms, back, and buttocks. It can also be used to shrink a double chin. 

The ideal candidate for CoolSculpting is in good health and follows a healthy lifestyle, with good eating and exercise habits. For the best long-term results, you’ll want to maintain your overall weight. Weight gain won’t erase the results — the loss of fat cells in the treated area will keep it proportionally slimmer if you add bulk — but it won’t help them, either. 

In your consultation, you’ll be asked about your medical history and examined to determine where the treatment might be helpful. This will be your chance to ask questions and get a full understanding of what to expect. It’s important to have realistic expectations going into the procedure. Neither you nor the doctor will benefit if you are disappointed with the results.

Choose a Practice with Experience and Skill

With Coolsculpting, as with any cosmetic procedure, you’ll want to find a plastic surgeon with experience and skill. Fat removal with CoolSculpting requires both precision and aesthetic judgment. Dr. Parker Velargo at the New Orleans Center for Aesthetics and Plastic Surgery is a board-certified plastic surgeon. He and his staff are trained in the expert application of CoolSculpting treatment. Call us at (504) 533-8848 or contact us today to schedule a consultation.