Fat freezing, technically known as cryolipolysis, is an FDA approved non-invasive method of freezing fat cells to get rid of “love handles,” a double chin and other unwanted bulges of fat. It promises to remove 25 percent of fat in a given area, but probably not all in a single treatment. Fat freezing works by using paddles that suction your skin into a cup in order to crystallize underlying fat cells. Each procedure can last from 35 minutes to an hour, depending on the target area. The discomfort involved is said to be minimal although the area treated will first feel very cold and then numb.
The FDA cleared the marketing of the fat freezing method CoolSculpting in 2010 based on results of a study showing that six months after the treatment of love handles in 60 patients, the targeted fat was reduced by an average of 19 percent. Since then, fat freezing has been catching on nationwide. It is offered by dermatologists and medical spas and is heavily promoted in television commercials.
If you’re considering the procedure, you should be aware of its limitations. CoolSculpting is intended to reduce the appearance of visible bulges, not as a treatment for obesity. The specific areas of fat targeted may also include thighs, upper arms, abdomen, breasts, and “banana handles” (fat under the buttocks).
Based on what I’ve read, initial results can be so subtle that patients may not notice any difference. It may take up to four months to see changes. And don’t expect any significant weight loss.
One often-distressing condition that fat freezing appears to help is the reduction of the size of men’s breasts. (Treatment for this is the fourth-most popular cosmetic surgery procedure for men.) A small study published in September 2015 found that 95 percent of 21 men treated with freezing felt their appearance had improved and 89 percent cited less embarrassment about the appearance of their chest. Each man had two 60-minute treatments followed by another two months later. All felt their quality of life improved. Results showed that the procedure is generally safe; with minimal to no downtime for patients, and that the improvements were sustained for a year following treatment. Standard treatment to reduce breast size in men is surgery under general anesthesia or liposuction or both.
Because it is a cosmetic procedure, fat freezing isn’t covered by insurance; cost averages $625 per treatment. With repeated or additional treatments, you can spend from $2,000 to $4,000.
Risks include the possibility of contour irregularities due to uneven removal of fat cells, numbness of nerves lasting weeks or months, swelling, and the chance that the fat will come back. If you decide to go ahead with fat freezing, be sure to ask your doctor about specific risks for the area being treated.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
C.D. Derrick et al, “The Safety and Efficacy of Cryolipolysis: A Systemic Review of Available Literature.” Aesthetic Surgery Journal, September 2015, doi:10.1093/asj/sjv039