Chill Out: The Benefits and Limitations of Cryolipolysis

Dr. Christopher McGowan
October 7, 2021

Anyone who has ever struggled with a few bits of extra body fat that don’t seem to go away no matter how much you exercise or how well you eat has probably wished for a way to just make fat vanish magically. 

If you believe the marketing, cryolipolysis, often known by the FDA approved, branded procedure CoolSculpting, can do just that, but as is the case with any marketing claim, there is a more complicated truth to be found behind the headlines. 

What is Cryolipolysis?

Though they may seem stubbornly resistant to attempts to exercise them away, fat cells are not as durable as other tissues in your body. Bringing fat cells to a low enough temperature will bring about necrosis, or cellular death. Since other tissues in the body do not experience necrosis until they reach lower temperatures, cryolipolysis relies on exposing an area of the body to a particular range of cold temperatures for just long enough to kill fat cells without damaging other tissues. 

After a fat freezing procedure, the damaged fat cells are processed out through your body’s natural systems for processing cellular waste. When performed correctly on a stubborn fat deposit, cryolipolysis can indeed reduce the amount of fat cells in a given area of the body, though there are some limitations to how much fat you will lose. 

Fat freezing only works on subcutaneous fat, or the fat found underneath the skin. The visceral fat stored elsewhere in your body cannot be treated with a cryolipolysis procedure, which is the main reason this procedure is considered cosmetic rather than a weight loss treatment. 

How Effective is Cryolipolysis?

When measured with a caliper, fat deposits treated with CoolSculpting generally result in an average fat reduction of 20%. While this may not seem like much to someone wanting fat to vanish instantly, compared to the efficacy of current treatment paradigms, this outcome measures up favorably. This reduction can take several weeks or months to achieve as your body slowly processes out the fat from the treated area. 

For all the limitations of CoolSculpting procedures, there are some other advantages over other plastic surgeries. Perhaps the first is the fact that infection, always a risk with any invasive procedure or surgery such as liposuction, is not a factor in cryolipolysis. As a non-invasive procedure, the applicator used in a fat freezing procedure does not break the skin. This means the risks associated with the procedure are significantly lowered. Other non-surgical fat reduction techniques such as radiofrequency fat removal share this particular benefit. 

Cryolipolysis is also preferred by some plastic surgeons due to the high levels of patient satisfaction. With very little recovery time and none of the complications of procedures like liposuction, CoolSculpting makes for a low risk, relatively low cost option for patients trying to get rid of the last few stubborn fat bulges such as love handles or fat deposits under the chin. 

For many patients, properly treating an area of the body may take several individual cryolipolysis treatment sessions. Since several weeks are required for the body to process out the fat cells removed during a treatment session, your plastic surgeon will not know how effective a particular treatment session has been for some time. Since the treated area also needs time to recover, a full treatment regimen can take several months. 

Is Cryolipolysis Permanent?

Cryolipolysis treatment permanently destroys the cells in the fat layer under the skin of the treated area, and once those cells are processed out of your body, they do not return. This is not to say you can’t still gain weight after a sculpting procedure. Anyone who has undergone a sculpting or body contouring procedure needs to still maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle down the road to prevent additional fat deposits from forming. If you consistently feed your body more calories than it uses, your body will need to store it somewhere, and weight gain will eventually result. 

The Limitations of Cryolipolysis

For patients considering cryolipolysis for fat reduction, it is important to keep in mind the limitations and potential side effects non-invasive body contouring can carry. Perhaps the most significant limitation is the raw amount of fat that can be treated at any one time. With a relatively small treatment area such as under the chin, the amount of fat you may lose is quite small. 

Though the main side effects associated with other body sculpting procedures are not a concern with CoolSculpting, there are still potential downsides. In some rare cases, a condition known as paradoxical adipose hyperplasia can cause other fat cells in the body to swell in size, creating fat bulges that were not previously visible. This reaction is more common in men, and particularly so in individuals of Hispanic descent.

Cryolipolysis is not a good fit for all patients. Individuals with any of the following conditions are not considered good candidates for fat freezing:

  • varicose veins
  • skin lesions
  • dermatitis
  • cold urticaria
  • type 2 diabetes
  • skin lesions
  • paroxysmal cold hemoglobinuria
  • inflammatory skin disorders
  • pregnancy or breastfeeding
  • eczema
  • Psoriasis

Many of the conditions that might make an individual a bad fit for cryolipolysis are related to the health of your skin, vascular, and nervous tissue. While the procedure is designed to only introduce necrosis in fat cells in healthy patients, there is a chance other tissues could be damaged if you have another underlying condition. 

Side effects are possible after a cryolipolysis treatment, mostly involving the treatment area itself. Numbness, tingling, redness, and temporary swelling are all possible for a short time after a sculpting procedure. Some skin discoloration and bruising is also possible due to the breakdown of the fat cells destroyed during the treatment. Any bruising should disappear within a few days after a procedure. 

Fat reduction treatments such as CoolSculpting are not designed to treat obesity, and do not produce the same results. Fat loss from non-invasive fat freezing or other cosmetic procedures can effectively change the appearance of small areas of the body, but if you need to lose a significant amount of weight, you will need to do it through diet exercise, and possibly other weight loss procedures.

Weight Loss Procedures Vs. Body Contouring

Many people might lump body contouring and weight loss procedures together, but they have very different goals and the reasons to seek one kind of treatment or the other are distinct. Body contouring such as CoolSculpting are designed to change the appearance of a specific part of the body if stubborn fat deposits remain after you have lost weight through diet and exercise. These procedures are cosmetic in nature, and are not designed to treat obesity or help you lose a significant amount of excess body fat. 

Weight loss procedures, on the other hand, are specifically intended to help people who are living with the challenges of a significant amount of excess body fat. For those individuals who feel they are losing the battle against excess body weight, weight loss procedures such as endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty can help bring about a change in lifestyle and body composition that can provide lasting freedom from excess body weight. 

Going under the knife is not the only way to lose large amounts of body weight. For some people, having a helping hand to guide them through the complicated world of weight loss can provide dramatic results. If you find yourself in this position, medical nutrition therapy can be an option to getting the results you need without some of the challenges or dangers of other procedures. 

If it is time for you to take the next step in finding freedom from excess body fat, request a consultation with True You Weight Loss today. 

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan

Dr. Christopher McGowan, MD, a leader in endobariatrics, specializes in non-surgical obesity treatments and is triple-board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Obesity Medicine. Renowned for pioneering endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) with over 2,000 procedures, his global influence and research contributions define him as a top expert.

Get Monthly Updates About Nutrition and Advancements in Weight Loss

You might also be interested in:

Learn more about our non-surgical weight loss solutions with a quick consultation.

0% interest financing available.
Discover which solution is right for you.
Go over pricing & payment options.

Fill out the short form to learn more!

Request a Free Consultation

Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive insights, success stories, and expert tips on non-surgical weight loss. Join our community and stay informed on the latest advancements in endobariatric procedures.
 True You Weight Loss | All rights reserved