What It Is Zeltiq has created a new non-invasive patented cooling technology, called Coolsculpting, that also claims to remove localized pockets of fat in the abdomen, back, and waist (those pesky “love handles”). These areas of fat often are stubborn to respond to diet and exercise.
The scientific research behind this new technology was pioneered at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Medical School in Boston. As more is learned about cryolipolysis, other areas of unwanted body fat may also become targets of the treatment.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved the device for fat reduction, although the procedure has been cleared by the FDA for cooling the skin during other types of skin treatments. However, it is being used in Europe to reduce fat, having received a CE mark (the equivalent of FDA approval) for that clinical purpose in September 2009.
How It WorksResearch has shown that fat cells are biologically vulnerable to low temperatures. The Coolsculpting procedure cools the treated area to just above freezing, at which point the fat turns from a liquid to a solid (similar to what happens when butter is refrigerated). This process promotes a process called apoptosis, which causes the targeted fat cells to shrink, while leaving surrounding skin and other tissue unharmed.
After treatment, over the course of a few weeks, the damaged fat cells slowly and safely leave the body through a natural metabolic process. (You won’t notice this happening.) As the cells leave, the circumference of the treated area shrinks. Studies conducted by the developer of the technology, Zeltiq Aesthetics, have found that the procedure may reduce fat layers by up to 1 centimeter in a single treatment. Further studies are needed to confirm this.
What Coolsculpting Feels Like The procedure is performed in a doctor’s office, usually under the supervision of a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. The treated area is marked and covered with a gel pad to protect the skin. No anesthesia or pain medications are required.
The area being targeted for treatment is then gently drawn (using a special vacuum applicator) between two cooling pads. You’ll feel a sensation of cold, which should gradually go away as the area becomes numb. (The sensation is similar to what you feel when you put an ice pack on your skin.)
The cooling pads are left in place for about an hour.
Potential Side Effects After treatment, you can return immediately to your normal activities. Your skin may be red for several hours; if redness lasts longer than that, be sure to let your doctor know. Many people also experience some minor numbness in the treated area for a week or two. Again, if this side effect persists beyond that time frame, contact your doctor.
Other possible—and temporary—side effects include bruising, tingling, tenderness, and cramping.
What to ExpectResults develop gradually. It will probably be one to two months before you notice any reduction of fat in the treated area. In one study (published in the July 2009 issue of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery), 10 patients were given the Zeltiq treatments on one side of their “love handles.” Using precise ultrasound measurements, the patients were found to experience at least an 11.5% reduction in fat at two months and a 10.7% reduction at six months after a single treatment. The reduction in the treated side (as compared with the untreated side) was also clearly visible in photographs.
If this procedure receives FDA approval, be sure to seek care from an experienced clinician who’s been specially trained in how to most effectively and safely use the device to remove unwanted fat.