Different Ways to Freeze Fat

At-Home Treatments vs. Doctor's Office

Woman sitting with ice pack on knee

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If you have stubborn bulges that are resistant to diet and exercise, you may be able to freeze your fat to slim down. FDA-cleared medical procedures are widely available to reduce fat pockets with cooling methods. In fact, some dieters and exercisers are trying fat freezing at home to avoid the high price of in-office procedures. But can you really freeze your fat off yourself?

Before you invest any money into a fat-freezing garment, device, or medical procedure, compare the science behind fat freezing to make sure you get what you pay for.

CoolSculpting to Freeze Fat

One of the most popular methods to eliminate stubborn fat bulges is a method called CoolSculpting.

What Is CoolSculpting?

This FDA-cleared procedure (called cryolipolysis) is comfortable for most people, doesn't require surgery, and it is performed in a doctor's office under close supervision.

CoolSculpting uses controlled cooling to freeze belly fat (abdomen), fat on the flanks (often called "love handles," or a "muffin top"), inner thighs, outer thighs (sometimes referred to as "saddlebags"), and the upper arms. CoolSculpting can also reduce the size of a double chin.

How Does CoolSculpting Work

Each procedure lasts approximately 30 to 45 minutes, although your actual time in-office may be longer than an hour because your clinician will need to prep your body for the procedure. Specific fat bulges will then be identified and targeted by your physician. The fat will then be gently pulled into cooling panels and heat is then removed from the cells. This causes the fat cells to die over a period of a few weeks. Most patients begin to see results in three weeks, but it may take up to two months to see the full effects of the procedure.

Side Effects of CoolSculpting

CoolSculpting is not painful, but some patients have reported minor discomfort from the fat freezing sensation. There are some rare side effects that your doctor will discuss with you before beginning treatment. After the procedure is complete, you can resume your normal activities, including work or exercise. You may experience some bruising or soreness in the area, but it generally resolves within a week or two.

Cost of CoolSculpting

The cost of CoolSculpting depends on the number of area(s) that need to be treated, the size of each area, and the number of treatments required. A single treatment for a single area may cost $500 to $800. But multiple treatments are generally required. And if you are treating the arms or the legs, each arm or leg may be charged separately. Physicians estimate that the total cost of a CoolSculpting treatment plan ranges from $2,000 to $4,000.

Effectiveness of CoolSculpting

So, are these fat freezing procedures worth it? Part of the answer depends on your expectations. CoolSculpting is not an effective weight-loss solution and isn't ideal for people who are obese. But clinical studies have shown the method is effective at reducing fat in trouble spots that are resistant to diet and exercise.

A review of clinical studies published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal concluded that cryolipolysis appears to reliably decrease fatty deposits on the body with few complications. The review included short-term studies that evaluated the procedure. A long-term case study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology demonstrated that at two and five years, patients showed lasting fat loss results despite natural fluctuations in overall weight.

While CoolSculpting can be effective for permanently reducing some fat in certain targeted areas, your results will not be as dramatic as fat loss from a surgical procedure such as liposuction. To determine if CoolSculpting is right for you, consult with a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon.

CoolSculpting + Emsculpt

Freezing your fat with CoolSculpting can be an effective way to trim certain trouble spots, but the treatment cannot give shape to your physique. For that reason, some practitioners are pairing the fat freezing method with Emsculpt to build muscle and give targeted areas muscle definition. The result is not only a leaner body, but a more shapely, toned body as well.

Emsculpt is an FDA-cleared treatment that helps you to build muscle and lose fat more effectively than working out at the gym. Currently, the treatment is approved for use by medical practitioners on the buttocks and abdomen.

Each Emsculpt treatment lasts about 30 minutes and feels like an intensive workout. The treatment is not painful, but the device stimulates muscles in a way that cannot be accomplished with exercise. So the sensation takes some getting used to, although it is not painful.

Four treatments are scheduled two to three days apart. Results are usually seen within two to four weeks after the last treatment. Maintenance treatments are required. The cost of Emsculpt varies but may run $1,000 per treatment for a total cost of $4,000.

So is Emsculpt or CoolSculpting a replacement for healthy living? "Nothing is one and done," says Dr. Barry DiBernardo, a board-certified plastic surgeon who practices in New Jersey. He was the first plastic surgeon in the nation able to offer the treatment to patients and has had success using the treatment solo paired with other fat loss procedures. But he says that nothing is a replacement for a nutritious diet and regular exercise.

Alternatives to Coolsculpting

If targeted fat loss is your goal, there are alternatives to CoolSculpting procedures. But none of the FDA-approved medical procedures involve freezing your fat. Most of the common alternatives involve using heat or radiofrequency to reduce fatty pockets.

If you are considering CoolSculpting or Emsculpt, talk to your physician about the different treatment modalities available. Then consider your lifestyle, your budget (including your ability to pay for any required maintenance treatments) before making a final decision.

Fat Freezing at Home

So if freezing fat works in a doctor's office, why can't you just freeze away fat at home? It may seem reasonable to assume that you can just ice away those trouble spots yourself. And there are products on the market that claim to help you do just that.

If you're an active weight loss consumer, you've likely seen personal products that use cold and ice to freeze your fat. But they may not work like you expect, and, according to a few experts, you may not get your desired result.

Contouring Shorts

One popular product, Cool Shapes contouring shorts, claims to help you freeze away fat with the use of frozen gel packs applied to your belly, back, or thighs. But the product doesn't use the same medical technology as CoolSculpting. 

"The CoolSculpt machine has an applicator that incorporates suction with it," says board-certified plastic surgeon Michael Fiorillo, who performs CoolSculpting in his New York City and New Jersey offices. "In my opinion," he says, "you wouldn't get the same result with a take-home device." 

And other experts agree. At RealSelf.com, three board-certified physicians point out that simply applying ice to your skin would be ineffective for fat loss and potentially harmful to your skin.

Brown Fat Garments

You may also see cooling garments that are either stored in your freezer or packed with ice to help you activate brown fat to lose weight. Many of the ads for these products provide extensive links to scientific research about brown fat activation. According to some research, stimulating brown fat production may provide some metabolic benefits.

But even though there have been hundreds of studies investigating the potential of using brown fat to lose weight, many of the studies have been performed on mice. Human studies conducted so far have shown inconclusive results. In a recent statement about brown fat, biomedical researcher Eric Ravussin, Ph.D., said "although there is some hope, it's not going to be the magical bullet for losing weight."

In addition to garments and other tools that you can buy, you may see articles in magazines or online that say you can freeze your fat at home by sleeping in a cooler room or even by turning down the thermostat during the day. But these fat-freezing methods are unlikely to yield noticeable results. The author of one report on brown fat science notes that "much remains to be done in order to translate basic research into clinical practice."

A Word From Verywell

Whether or not you freeze your fat at home or head to the doctor's office to eliminate your bulges is up to you. Both avenues come with pros and cons. While you're not likely to pay a high price for freezing your fat at home, you're not likely to see significant results either.

Before you decide which method is best for you, be sure to ask smart consumer questions about risks, costs, and possible refund procedures to keep your body — and your wallet — safe and healthy.

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Article Sources
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