Medically reviewed by Dr. John Rosdeutscher – Written by Sine Thieme
What is the Difference Between a Tummy Tuck and Liposuction?
The Tummy Tuck has long been the gold standard for tightening excess abdominal skin. Or more precisely, a tummy tuck doesn’t merely tighten the skin – it removes the excess skin altogether. But there are other, less-invasive options for tightening abdominal skin. Liposuction is one of those.
Below we discuss how you can flatten your tummy using a tummy tuck or liposuction. We’ve highlighted the pros and cons of each procedure to help you decide which one might work best in your situation.
Tummy Tuck Surgery
Tummy tuck surgery is a great remedy for both women and men whose tummy is flabby and who want to get their youthful figure back. Even if you’ve been dieting and exercising to lose the extra fat, your skin may not shrink all the way back to make a flat abdomen.
Women often struggle with this after pregnancy and childbirth, especially after several children, each one of them stretching your skin a little bit more. And as your body ages, your skin loses its ability to shrink back.
A tummy tuck often also includes repairing underlying muscles that split during pregnancy and childbirth. As an added bonus, you can opt for a designer belly button while your’e undergoing surgery. Depending on the severity of muscle damage and excess skin, a mini tummy tuck may be sufficient, meaning a lower and shorter scar.
Pros of a Tummy Tuck
- the results are immediate
- the excess skin is completely removed
- visceral fat can be removed
- split abdominal muscles are repaired
- works for candidates with BMI between 30 and 35
A tummy tuck is a foolproof way to make your midsection look flat and tight again. So why would you hesitate to have one?
There is a simple reason you might skip the tummy tuck: It requires surgery, and it leaves a scar. Don’t get us wrong: Tummy tuck surgery has come a long way over the years. It’s an outpatient procedure, it can be done under IV sedation without general anesthesia, and a good plastic surgeon can place to scar in such a way that it is completely hidden under your bikini line. Even recovery times have improved so that you may return to your daily actives as early as a week post-surgery.
However, there are some people, and perhaps you’re one of them, who simply do not want to undergo surgery. And that is totally understandable. Some don’t want the downtime. Some don’t want the risk that comes with surgery, even if it’s small. And some don’t want to end up with a visible scar, no matter how well it’s hidden.
Cons of a Tummy Tuck
- IV sedation is required
- the recovery takes several weeks
- it requires stitches resulting in a scar
It seems that liposuction has been around even longer than tummy tucks. There is a reason for its longevity: It does an amazing job to remove fat, and it’s only minimally-invasive. This means that you do not have to worry about scarring and that your recovery lasts just a few days at most. Many patients are able to get back to work or their regular activities with just a day of rest.
But what can liposuction do to tighten the skin once the fat is removed?
While water-assisted aka tumescent liposuction does an excellent job of removing fat cells from under your skin, it is not the ideal method to also tighten the skin. Skin tightening is better accomplished with the application of temperature-controlled thermal energy. Laser liposuction (among others the brands SmartLipo and SlimLipo) is one such method that has been around for a while.
But newer methods have supplanted Laser Lipo as the go to method for skin tightening. Radio Frequency Assisted Lipolysis (among others the brands BodyTite and Renuvion) is an even more powerful and proven method to tighten loose skin. The radio frequency energy generates bursts of highly targeted heat that contract or “coagulate” the tissues under the skin. This makes the treated area look firmer and more toned.
Pros of Liposuction
- the downtime is minimal
- the trauma to surrounding tissues is minor
- does not require stitches and leaves no scar
- easily combined with skin tightening
- the recovery is only 1-2 days
- works for candidates with BMIs under 30
Cons of Liposuction
- does not remove all excess skin
- less immediate or drastic results
- does not remove visceral fat
- less effective for BMIs over 30
Is a Tummy Tuck Better than Liposuction?
No doubt a tummy tuck is the most effective solution for fat removal. It is also the more invasive one. It’s a tradeoff between stunning, immediate results, and the longer recovery and scar. With a tummy tuck, you are almost guaranteed a flat stomach; with liposuction, even when you combine it with skin tightening, you may not get quite the same results. While a good plastic surgeon can strategically place the tummy tuck scar under the bikini line, it still leaves you with a scar. You’ll have to stop all exercise for 2 weeks while you recover, and wait 4 or more weeks before going back to your full exercise regime.
Whether you prefer liposuction or a tummy tuck also depends which procedure you’re a better candidate for. If you’re younger and/or haven’t gone through pregnancy and childbirth, your skin tends to be more elastic. It will shrink back after the liposuction and give your tummy a flat, tight appearance. But if you’re older or have lost substantial weight, your skin will lose its elasticity. It won’t shrink back after the fat is suctioned off. You’ll be left with excess skin that can only be surgically removed.
Combining a Tummy Tuck With Lipo
Some patients, instead of choosing between the two, simply have both a tummy tuck and liposuction together in one procedure. You could have a tummy tuck to improve the appearance of your abdomen, and use liposuction to surrounding areas like bra bulges, flanks, backs, or arms to achieve a slimmer look.
This works equally well with skin tightening. The surgeon first surgically removes fat from your abdomen and then applies a skin tightening session such as BodyTite or Renuvion to adjacent areas to make sure the skin is tightened everywhere.
Prescreen Yourself: The BMI Calculator
A quick way to know whether a tummy tuck or liposuction may be more suitable for you is to calculate your BMI. Once you have your BMI, choose an option below:
BMI over 35: Lose Weight First
With a BMI over 35, we strongly advise a weight loss program to reach your target weight. Otherwise you simply won’t see the results, and the surgery will also carry higher risks. If your BMI is between 30 and 40, you are a good candidate for the Orbera Weight-Loss Balloon.
BMI 30 – 35: A Tummy Tuck is Ideal
With a BMI between 30 and 35 your results will be best with a tummy tuck. Liposuction in this BMI range will do a decent job to remove your fat but will leave you with too much sagging skin that only a tummy tuck can address.
BMI under 30: Liposuction Will Achieve Great Results
In this BMI range you can address those fat pockets resistant to diet and exercise with liposuction and see good results. Adding skin tightening will achieve even better skin contraction than lipo alone.
Please also read our extensive Guide To Using BMI to Select the Best Cosmetic Surgery.
We hope that we’ve shown you how to choose between a tummy tuck and liposuction. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any other questions.
If you are ready to get started, use the pink button to schedule a consultation with our board-certified plastic surgeon in Nashville or Memphis.