Medically reviewed by Dr. John Rosdeutscher – Written by Sine Thieme
Is CoolSculpting or Liposuction Better?
Belly fat removal continues to be one of the most sought-after cosmetic procedures in the United States. This has led to the emergence of new services, such as CoolSculpting. The idea is simple: freeze the unwanted fat and let the body flush it out over time. No surgery needed. But how does it compare to older, more established fat removal methods like liposuction? Not so well, it turns out. We’ve looked at the research to give you some answers.
The Basics: Liposuction vs Fat Freezing
Liposuction is a one-time, minimally-invasive procedure to remove unwanted fat. Many patients opt to target several areas like abdomen, thighs, bra bulges, or arm flab in one session. Most surgeons combine different lipo techniques for best results.
Water liposuction uses a liquid solution to break up and flush out the fat cells from under the skin. Laser and radio frequency assisted lipo use heat to destroy fat cells and tighten the skin. You will typically receive a local anesthetic and/or light IV sedation to eliminate discomfort during the procedure.
Fat freezing, aka cryolipolysis, targets fat cells with the external application of freezing temperatures. A technician passes a wand over your stomach to freeze the fat underneath. These treatments are considered non-invasive because the wand does not penetrate the skin and no anesthesia is necessary.
Over the following weeks, the dead fat cells are eliminated from your body through your regular bodily functions. You return for several more rounds of fat freezing until the desired results are visible.
Pros and Cons of Liposuction vs CoolSculpting
To compare liposuction and fat freezing, we focused on several key areas: Results, comfort level, length of overall treatment, possible side effects, and cost.
Most patients prefer great results over any other factor. This is where liposuction shines when compared to fat freezing. It is a big deal for our patients when they see the volume of fat we’ve just removed from their body (we are going to spare you the view, but trust us, patients do like to see it). You can also target a large variety of areas, even small ones, with liposuction.
With fat freezing you don’t get to see the results until much later. It relies on your body doing the hard work of flushing it out over time, which isn’t nearly as dramatic or satisfying. Even in the long term, liposuction simply gets better results – look at the before and after pictures and you’ll agree.
2) Comfort Level
The biggest selling point for fat freezing is its non-invasive nature. You go in for your session, you lay down and let the wand do its work. No needles, incisions, or anesthesia.
Liposuction, on the other hand, has some invasiveness. It’s one step above a non-invasive procedure. Minimally-Invasive procedures like liposuction aren’t surgery as they require no stitches, but they do penetrate the skin with a tiny cannula to reach the fat cells underneath.
But herein lies the crux for some patients: Yes, fat freezing is only external, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. If you’ve ever applied an ice pack to a sore foot or arm, you’ll agree that the cold starts hurting pretty fast. Patients have reported the same with CoolSculpting. Without the anesthesia, you avoid the needle, but you’re not pain-free. It’s a matter of choice.
3) Length of Treatment
As we’ve mentioned above, liposuction is a one-time procedure. It takes about 2 hours with an additional downtime of 1-2 days. Most patients return to regular activities the next day, with perhaps 2-3 days before resuming more strenuous exercise. The most drastic results are visible within a week of treatment and continue to improve over the next six weeks.
CoolSculpting and other cryolipolysis methods require no downtime. Each session takes about 35-60 minutes. However, most patients need several repeat treatments up to a total of three. Factor in the time it takes to visit your doctor on three separate occasions, and your total downtime is comparable to one liposuction procedure. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) you’ll see full results after 4-6 months.
4) Side Effects
The ASPS lists bruising, swelling, possible damage to tissue and nerves, and the risks associated with anesthesia as the main side effects you should be aware of with liposuction. For fat freezing, the side effects include pain and numbness. In addition, recent studies have shown a relatively rare (but three times more common in men) side effect of fat freezing: some patients have experienced a form of hyperplasia that results in additional fat accumulation rather than reduction.
Both procedures can leave you with an excess of skin after the underlying fat has been shrunk away. This may require follow-up treatments to tighten or remove the skin like BodyTite or a tummy tuck. The benefit of liposuction, which is typically performed by a plastic surgeon, is that skin tightening and liposuction can be administered in one procedure.
Because liposuction has been around much longer and the most common side effects of bruising and swelling are well-known, we are giving the edge to liposuction.
The average cost of liposuction, according to the ASPS, is $3,500. Your actual cost will vary with the number of areas you want to treat. At NuBody Concepts, your abdomen is considered one area, both arms are one area, both thighs, etc.
According to Healthline, the average cost of one CoolSculpting treatment was $1,500 in 2017. Smaller areas, such as arms, cost less, $650 per arm on average. For a fair comparison, you’ll have to take into account the total number of treatments needed to achieve permanent results. If you assume 3 fat freezing treatments, removing stomach fat with CoolSculpting costs about $4,500.
Leave the building and leave your fat cells behind
In the end, which procedure is best for you will depend on your preferences. In our experience, patients love to see their results immediately, and they want to be done rather sooner than later. At NuBody Concepts, you will get the most effective forms of liposuction to remove your fat and tighten the skin. The procedure is performed by a board-certified plastic surgeon in a medical practice – not by an aesthetician or nurse in a Med Spa.
We will leave the last word to our patient Carolyn, who has had CoolSculpting from a different provider, and liposuction at NuBody Concepts in Nashville:
- American Society of Plastic Surgeons: Non-Surgical Fat Reduction
- Healthline: How Much Does CoolSclupting Cost?
- Jama Network: Paradoxical Adipose Hyperplasia After Cryolipolysis