CoolSculpting: Freezing away unwanted fat

CoolSculpting combines cold -- as low as -11° Celsius -- and suction to chill fat until it’s hard like refrigerated butter. (KATU Photo)

“Feel the burn!”

That’s the mantra you’d expect to hear from a personal trainer who’s trying to encourage you to keep pushing toward your fitness and weight loss goals.

But what if you’ve felt that burn, upped your fitness, and lost weight, and are still troubled by areas of stubborn fat?

More people are now dealing with those bulges by “feeling the cold” with CoolSculpting, a patented form of cryolipolysis, or breaking down fat with cold.

“As far as a non-invasive spot fat-reduction technology, it’s the most effective out there,” says Dr. Roby Hayes, a board-certified cosmetic surgeon and the Medical Director at Bridgetown Aesthetics.

CoolSculpting can have a big impact on subcutaneous fat (the fat that’s just below the skin, sometimes referred to as “pinchable fat”). It combines cold -- as low as -11 Celsius -- and suction to chill that fat until it’s hard like refrigerated butter. That crystalizes the fat cells. And with a 35-minute treatment and a two-minute massage immediately after, most patients see a big change in their appearance.

“You have about a 20-25 percent reduction in the volume of fat that you’re treating,” says Dr. Hayes. “So you can get pretty dramatic results, especially in areas where you’re retreating.”

CoolSculpting started as a specialized treatment for fit people with a BMI of 25 or less, who had stubborn tummy fat and wanted their appearance to better reflect their fitness level.

But it’s expanded in the six years since the FDA approved the treatment. Now, there are cooling “modules” that fit the neck, arms, chest, abdomen, flanks, inner and outer thigh, and back fat. And most patients under a BMI of 35 can be treated.

“In women, the most common areas are the submental or under-the-chin fat. You can treat the fat roll in the bra line. You can treat the underarm fat, the belly, flanks, inner/outer thighs,” says Dr. Hayes.

There are even treatments for a place like the knees, which can be a big deal for some people’s self-confidence.

“We’ve had some women whose fat pads in their knees absolutely drove them crazy. They didn’t feel comfortable wearing shorts or short skirts,” says Dr. Hayes. “For them it was a big enough deal that they were super happy to be able to address that problem.”

And while cosmetic procedures have long been more of a thing for women to fine-tune their appearances, a study from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons shows 8 percent of all cosmetic procedures in 2017 were for men.

And CoolSculpting is one procedure men are turning to to improve their appearances.

“In men, the most common areas are treating the fat underneath the chin,” Dr. Hayes explains.

Plus: “You can treat man boobs,” he says.

Those were the areas that Christian, who asked that we not use his last name, identified as the ones that he wanted to change. He’d hit 40 this year, and had recommitted to improving his fitness and his body.

But he says those stubborn areas weren’t responding to his intense workouts.

“You know, it’s really difficult to do chin workouts, or, you know, lift weights in your chin,” Christian smiles.

A friend had tried CoolSculpting and recommended it, so Christian decided to treat himself for his 40th birthday. He had Bridgetown Aesthetics do treatments on his chest and chin.

He described the sensation for KATU News.

“It’s very cold,” he says. “Very, very, very cold.”

Christian says the first five minutes of a 35-minute treatment is uncomfortable, cold and a little painful. Then it turns numb.

He says the worst part is the two-minute massage after the module is removed, as a certified esthetician rubs the chilled area of fat, which feels a little like a lump of cold butter, until the crystalized area disappears. That helps the body absorb the contents of those destroyed fat cells, so they can be flushed from the lymphatic system, through the liver, and out the body.

“A little Tylenol, it’s gone within about 20 minutes,” he says, "and then I didn’t have any downtime at all.”

And the results, for Christian, are just what he was hoping for.

“I’m 100 percent satisfied with the results,” he says. “CoolSculpting for me is just like a little fine-tuning. It’s definitely not a solution for weight loss. For me, it’s part of an integrated plan: diet, exercise, CoolSculpting is an added benefit.”

Dr. Hayes also stresses that CoolSculpting is not for weight loss. Fat is light and fluffy, he explains. A big reduction in a person's neck fat may only amount to a few ounces.

And he warns, an inexperienced CoolSculpting clinic is not the way to go.

“Go to someone who knows what they’re doing,” he advises,” because improperly placed, you can make someone funny-looking.”

“You put the wrong module on the inner thigh, it can look like a shark bite,” he warns.

And not everybody is a good candidate for the procedure. So Dr. Hayes says to ask lots of questions at your free consultation.

“Because we choose people as appropriate clients, and we’re honest with them about the results that can be achieved; we have a really high satisfaction rate.”

Besides tingling, swelling and some bruising, there are few side effects. But a new report in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the Journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, says some patients may experience Paradoxical Adipose Hyperplasia, where the treatment causes their body to produce more fat in the treated areas.

But Dr. Hayes says he’s had many happy patients, and he thinks more people should learn about CoolSculpting as an alternative to liposuction.

“I think it’s important that people understand that there is a technology readily available to them that’s completely non-invasive that can help them address the areas in their body that they have pinchable fat that bugs them.”

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