Body Contouring Treatments That Don't Involve Surgery

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
For many women struggling to maintain their weight and stay fit, it seems that no amount of exercise or healthy eating gets them exactly where they want to be. And yet, plastic surgery options — liposuction and tummy tucks — are less than desirable. Thanks to many technological advances, non-surgical body contouring is a potential solution for people interested in going beyond the results of lifestyle changes. Here's a rundown of what's out there.

Non-invasive body contouring refers to treatments that aim to reduce fat without cutting the skin. Keep in mind that liposuction is still considered the gold standard for fat reduction, but the right candidate can achieve great results with a non-surgical treatment. These treatments are intended for someone who is generally in shape but has small stubborn areas of fat that they're unhappy with and are ready to embrace technological advances that don't require surgery.
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These treatments utilize a variety of technologies and can be divided into two broad categories: those that destroy fat cells and those that shrink fat cells.

In order to be destroyed, fat cells either need to be heated up or frozen — with the energy delivered by the heating or freezing device reaching the fat below the skin. Specifically targeting subcutaneous fat, which is directly below the skin, and not the deeper visceral fat, these treatments use a variety of energy sources including radiofrequency (truSculpt, Vanquish), ultrasound (Liposonix, Ultrashape), and cryolipolysis (Coolsculpting by Zeltiq).
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Once the energy has been delivered and the fat cells are destroyed, they are naturally eliminated from the body over weeks or sometimes, months. By triggering the body's inflammatory and healing responses, the destroyed fat cells instigate specialized immune cells, called macrophages, that eat up the dead fat cell and cell debris. This material is transported through the lymphatic system, the liver and kidneys, and the ultimately excreted naturally.

Treatments that shrink fat cells typically utilize low-level laser technology (cold laser) to stimulate the fat cells to release their contents so they decrease in size. Unlike the treatments that actually reduce the number of fat cells, these "shrinking" treatments do not alter the number of fat cells — only their size. This means that the results may not be as long-lasting. Since the fat cells aren't actually eliminated in shrinking treatments, they may expand back to their pre-treatment size.
And yet, because some treatments destroy only a portion of the fat cells and not the whole thing, the shrunken cells may expand in size and eventually return to the size they were before treatment.

This is why the treatments that remove the actual cells have the potential for longer-lasting results. How long the results last depends on the individual and how committed they are to maintaining lifestyle changes.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
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Lasers and radio-frequency devices that freeze or heat fat aren't the only non-invasive procedure out there though, and there are now injectables on the market which dissolve or kill the fat cells. Kybella is an injectable deoyxcholic acid treatment recently approved by the FDA to reduce submental (the area below the chin) fat, or the “double chin.” It destroys the fat cells, which are then naturally eliminated through the body. Another injectable treatment that's in the pipeline is Lipo-202. This treatment trims the tummy by stimulating fat cells to burn and shrink in size. Lastly, a new hyperthermic laser treatment called SculpSure just received FDA clearance to be marketed as a treatment for non-invasive lipolysis, making it the world’s first heat laser-based treatment for fat reduction.
The world of fat-blasting treatments is continually expanding as we learn more about non-invasive fat reduction. And, if you're anti-plastic surgery, it's good to know what else is out there. Remember, none of these body-contouring treatments (fat cell-destroying and fat-cell shrinking) mean you're off the hook when it comes to eating well and exercising regularly. The results will not be maintained if you do not commit to lifestyle changes.
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