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Using Lasers To Lose Those Last Stubborn Pounds

These non-surgical procedures were designed to contour problematic areas of fat that do not yield with traditional dieting or exercise…

The pressure to look picture-perfect is on, and more people than ever are seeking out ways to improve their appearance. One of the most sought-out, non-surgical treatments? A quick-fix solution to tame belly fat, decrease waistlines and get rid of those pesky love handles.

For years,liposuction was seemingly the magical answer when diet and exercise had been exhausted (or seemed like too much trouble). But then came the advent of non-invasive fat-reducing procedures, such as CoolSculpting and SculpSure. Both of these fat-zapping options have dramatically increased in popularity since they were approved south of the border by the FDA in 2010. Statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons show that between 2016 and 2017 there was a seven per cent increase in non-invasive fat reduction procedures that promise to zap away fat. In fact, fat-reducing procedures are now in the top five non-invasive procedures performed.

“Stubborn belly fat that won’t disappear with diet and exercise has always been a concern for some of my clients,” says Dr. Stephen Mulholland, a plastic surgeon and owner of SpaMedica in Toronto. “Thankfully, there are so many effective non-invasive body contouring treatments available now.”

When it comes to CoolSculpting and SculpSure, here’s what the hype is about and what you need to know if you’re considering a non-invasive fat-reduction procedure in the near future.

CoolSculpting: Freezing away the fat cells

This uber-popular fat-freezing technique, also known as cryolipolysis, gives both men and women an alternative to surgery. Marketed as a non-invasive way to eliminate stubborn fat cells, the FDA-approved treatments take a couple of hours (depending on the number of treatment areas) with zero downtime. Unlike liposuction, you do not need anesthesia, a long hospital stay or weeks of recovery.

“It’s a non-surgical treatment designed to kill fat dead,” says Dr. Mulholland. “There are no real risks and the results are pleasantly predictable.”

CoolSculpting uses controlled cooling to target and eliminate localized fat cells. A vacuum-sucking apparatus is placed on a small pocket of fat on the body – think your lower or upper abdomen, flanks, back, underarms and other areas of the body – about the size of a stick of butter; it then clamps down and cools that section of skin and fat. It’s a clunky process that involves Sharpies to mark the exact spots and gel pads to protect the surface of the skin that gets sucked up into the mouthpiece, but it’s surprisingly painless. Each treatment area takes about an hour, and throughout that hour your fat cells are targeted, cooled and crystallized, essentially killing them.An hour later, when the treated area is frozen and the applicator is removed, a therapist will massage the frozen lump of skin, which is uncomfortable for most patients, but not unbearable. There are no needles or surgical tools, and there are no long recovery times. Over the months that follow, the body naturally rids itself of these dead fat cells, and the excess flab slowly disappears.

You can go back to your normal schedule following your treatment, although areas may feel slightly numb or tingly for a few days. Dr. Mulholland advises patients to lay off the gym for a day or so, and drink plenty of water.

SculpSure: Heating away the fat cells

SculpSure essentially aims for the same end result as CoolSculpting, but with the exact opposite approach. Meaning? Instead of freezing fat cells, targeted heat is used to kill the fat cells.

“SculpSure uses an external laser to target localized areas of diet- and exercise-resisted fat,” says Dr. Mulholland. “It can be used on all skin types, all ages, all fat and body type distributions, and even tanned patients.”

With SculpSure treatments, applicators are placed over the treatment areas (essentially the same areas targeted that can be targeted with CoolSculpting) your lower or upper abdomen, flanks, back, thighs, and double chin) and then a laser heats the fat in those areas to the point of irreversible damage. The applicators can be used on small or larger localized areas that are being targeted. Once damaged the fat cells are slowly eliminated from the body by the lymphatic system. After your treatment is over you can go back to your normal day. As with CoolSculpting, it takes a few months to see full results.

Like CoolSculpting, there’s no needles or surgical tools, no local or topical anesthesia, and no long recovery times. The big difference is time – with SculpSure, each treatment area takes about 25 minutes.

“Where some patients may spend as much as four hours or more treating CoolSculpt zones, most SculpSure patients can achieve the same or better results in less than one hour,” says Dr. Mulholland.

Of course, SculpSure, like CoolSculpting is not a weight-loss procedure. It is only meant for stubborn pockets of fat that have not responded to diet or exercise.

And both treatments can be combined with other body-sculpting and firming treatments.

“Most clinics that offer non-invasive fat destruction and body-sculpting treatments will deploy other, synergistic technologies, in addition, to improve and increase the amount of localized fat destruction,” says Dr. Mulholland. These treatments can include BodyFx, UltraShape, and popular, bulk-heating skin-tightening RF (radiofrequency) treatments such as the Venus Freeze, Forma and Excilis.

Which one should I get?

One of the biggest perks associated with both procedures is that there’s no real downtime and the risks are minimal. You might expect some light bruising, swelling or soreness after your treatment, but there is absolutely no scarring of the skin or damaged nerves.

Both CoolSculpting and SculpSure are approved to treat almost all the same areas where stubborn fat is common. However, there are still a few things to consider when choosing between fat-zapping treatments.

CoolSculpting’s cooling action has a numbing effect, while SculpSure must reach a fairly high temperature to be effective. Both treatments are designed to be safe for the skin, but it’s safe to say that different people have different preferences (hot vs. cold) and different pain thresholds.

Time can also be a factor. SculpSure is three times faster than other technologies, allowing treatment of virtually every multiple, unwanted area of the body within an hour.

Neither treatment is intended for the seriously overweight. Dr. Mulholland advises that the ideal candidates are women or men who are already reasonably fit and who exercise regularly, eat sensibly and just want to target those pesky problem areas.

“If you are trying to lose a considerable amount of weight, these treatments are not for you,” says Mulholland. “These are effective solutions to help improve those stubborn pockets of fat.

CHRISTOPHER TURNER acted as guest editor for this issue of IN magazine. He is a Toronto-based writer, editor and lifelong fashionisto with a passion for pop culture and sneakers. Follow him on social media at @Turnstylin.

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