Laser Fat Removal Options, Costs, and Results

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If you have areas of extra fat on your body that won't go away with weight loss methods like diet and exercise, you might consider laser fat removal. There are many different cosmetic treatments that use laser technology to help reduce excess body fat. If you've been thinking about laser fat removal, it's helpful to learn about the different options available, what results you might expect, and who makes a good candidate.

Laser Fat Removal Treatments

There are a variety of cosmetic treatments that use different types of lasers to remove body fat. Some procedures are minimally invasive, while others are non-invasive. When someone refers to "laser fat removal," they might be talking about any of these procedures.

Laser Liposuction

Laser lipo or laser-assisted liposuction, also called lipolysis, is an alternative to traditional liposuction. During this minimally invasive procedure, a physician uses laser energy to liquefy fat in a targeted area. The fat is then removed through a cannula (thin tube). Only local anesthesia is required (as opposed to general anesthesia, which is required for traditional liposuction). The treatment usually takes 45 minutes to an hour.

According to a published review, there are different patented devices used for this procedure, including SmartLipo, CoolLipo, SlimLipo, or ProLipo. Brand names for the treatment also include SonoBello, Athenix, and others.

  • Side effects: Common side effects can include bruising and tenderness in the treated area. Scarring, infection, or irritation may also occur but are less common.
  • Recovery: Recovery from laser lipo varies depending on the size of the area being treated. Most people return to light activities after 2–3 days and vigorous activities like strenuous exercise within 10 days.
  • Costs: Costs for a single treatment of laser liposuction can start at $1,000 to $1,500 for a small area of the body. But typical prices are usually higher, about $2,500 to $5,000 per treatment area. By contrast, the total cost of traditional liposuction can range from $1,000 to $20,000, according to the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Pricing varies depending on where you live and what areas you want treated. As you compare the costs of different types of laser fat removal, keep in mind that that laser liposuction requires only one treatment.
  • Results: After the initial swelling subsides, people will generally see results right away because the fat has been removed. People also benefit from skin tightening in the area where the laser liposuction was performed. For some, this benefit makes laser-assisted liposuction more appealing than traditional liposuction, which eliminates fat but does not tighten the skin.

Low-Level Laser Therapy

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) targets and liquefies the content of fat cells. The fat cells remain but the contents are emptied and eventually eliminated from the body. Zerona, an LLLT device, gained FDA approval in 2010 and approved treatment areas include the waist, hips, thighs, arms, chest, knees, ankles, back, or bra line. Patients undergo six 40-minute treatments over a two-week period to achieve optimal results.

A benefit of this treatment is comfort. Low-level laser therapy is a cold laser treatment, but it is not as cold as cryolipolysis (better known as CoolSculpting), which some people find to be uncomfortable. And it is not as hot as other laser treatments for fat that some patients find difficult.

  • Side effects: Research has shown LLLT to be one of the safest methods of laser fat removal. Side effects are rare, and most people can return to normal activities immediately following the procedure.
  • Recovery: After a Zerona treatment, people are advised to increase their water intake, avoid caffeine and alcohol, and exercise every day. This protocol helps to stimulate the removal of fat from the cells. Results are generally seen within two weeks following the end of the treatment series.
  • Costs: Typical costs range from around $2,000 to $4,000 for a full package (six 40-minute treatments). The results are long-lasting if you follow a lower calorie eating pattern and exercise regime after your procedure. But some people report they need follow-up treatments to maintain their results.
  • Results: Outcomes may vary. According to a research study cited by Zerona, people lost 3.72 inches from the circumference of their waist, hip, and thighs on average, whereas the placebo group only lost an average of half of an inch. However, independent studies have not shown significant results.

Authors of one small study that examined Zerona stated, "There needs to be more evidence to show clinical circumferential reduction before LLLT can be recommended as an effective therapeutic option."

Another study showed that LLLT treatments did not provide a significant reduction in abdominal fat, and in fact, some patients even showed an increase in the thickness of subcutaneous fat. Lastly, a study investigating the use of Zerona on people with obesity showed that treatment is most effective when combined with diet and exercise, which on their own can cause weight loss.

Thermo Lipolysis

Thermo lipolysis, also called ultrasound therapy, uses heat to destroy fat cells. In May 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved SculpSure to remove body fat with this technique. During a 25-minute treatment, lasers target fat cells and heat them to a temperature that damages their structure. Cooling mechanisms are employed to make sure that the skin is not damaged in the process.

Unlike Zerona, SculpSure removes the fat cell entirely (rather than emptying the contents and leaving the cell structure intact). Results are usually noticeable at six weeks post-procedure, with the full effect generally seen at about 12 weeks. Over the three months following your procedure, the fat cells die and your body eliminates them.

  • Side effects: While you might feel a warming sensation during the treatment, it is generally not considered painful. Following the procedure, mild side effects such as soreness and bruising may occur. Serious side effects are rare, though research on SculpSure is still somewhat limited.
  • Recovery: SculpSure procedures are relatively quick, and there is usually no recovery time following the treatment.
  • Costs: Typical costs for a single SculpSure treatment range from approximately $350 to $800 depending on the area that you treat and the number of applicators used during the procedure. Multiple treatments are generally required, so it is not unusual for the total cost to fall in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. Results are usually permanent as long as you maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Results: This treatment is approved to remove fat from the abdomen, flanks, back, inner thighs, outer thighs, and under the chin area. According to clinical studies cited by the company, the treatment will reduce the fat in each targeted area by up to 24%. A study published in 2018 showed that patients were satisfied with the results, but flank reduction after the procedure was measured at about 2.6 millimeters.

Other Non-Invasive Procedures

There are other non-surgical treatments to remove body fat, such as cryolipolysis (also known as CoolSculpting), but these treatments don't use laser technology. There are also home laser fat removal devices, but there is a lack of scientific evidence to demonstrate their effectiveness.

Who Can Get Laser Fat Removal?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the best candidates for laser fat removal treatments are near a normal weight for their height, according to BMI. They are people who—despite a healthy diet and regular exercise routine—are unable to lose stubborn pockets of body fat.

In an overview of laser lipolysis published in 2011, study authors write:

"The ideal candidate for laser lipolysis is a patient who is thin, in good health, and presents with isolated pockets of removable fat. Careful assessment and patient education are crucial prior to proceeding with the procedure. Candidates with too much fat are more likely to not see dramatic results. All patients should be advised that laser lipolysis is not a substitute for healthy diet and exercise."

In addition, it can be helpful for candidates undergoing laser fat removal to have healthy habits in place prior to the procedure. While some people use these procedures to jump-start a weight loss program, many others find that it is better for helping achieve their goals after initial weight loss.

Does Laser Fat Removal Work?

Whether or not you are happy with your laser fat removal results will depend on your expectations going into the procedure. Most medical providers are careful about explaining to patients that these procedures are not meant for achieving dramatic results.

One study reviewing current non-invasive fat loss procedures determined that even though results are often achieved, the effect is usually mild to moderate. And another research paper that compared some of the most popular non-invasive fat removal procedures concluded that there is "little high-level evidence in the present literature to support the effectiveness of any of these devices" (It's important to note, however, that this study did not include SculpSure or laser liposuction).

Some people combine treatments to get more dramatic results. For example, a person might combine liposuction with a laser fat removal procedure to lose inches in a particular area and then sculpt it with the help of lasers. Of course, this approach increases the cost of the total treatment.

A Word From Verywell

There are always new cosmetic treatments being developed to help people achieve the results they desire. So, it's important to find a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon to discuss your options. Many providers offer different techniques to remove body fat making it easier to compare. Be sure to discuss your expectations, health history, and budget before making a final decision.

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