Body contouring without surgery: a quick guide

Heather Stephen

Are you confused by the number of non-invasive body sculpting options of offer? Heather Stephen has compiled a quick guide to some of the options currently available.  

Are you a gym bunny but just can’t shift that pesky little pad of tummy fat? Do you eat all the right things but still have a muffin top bulge that refuses to budge?

Not that long ago your only option would have been lipo or a tummy tuck but in recent years a clutch of non-invasive treatments have sprung up to give you your dream body minus the surgery. So here’s a quick guide to some of the many options that are currently on offer in terms of body sculpting or contouring.

1. Cryolipolysis (CoolSculpting)

This was one of the first non-surgical treatment for body sculpting and has the most research behind it.

The treatment kills fat cells without affecting surrounding tissue and studies have shown fat reduction of up to 25% after one treatment.

Give me the pros?

Satisfaction rate is high at 73% and side effects are minor: redness, bruising and numbness that usually resolves within 14 days.

You won’t need to take any time off work or avoid strenuous activity. And as the treatment kills fat cells for good you shouldn’t have to repeat the treatment but it is important to maintain a good diet and exercise or the residual fat cells will increase in size again.

What are the cons?

Results are not immediate but studies have shown fat reductions of 20-30% by the 3-6 month mark.

Some patients, up to 10% may find it painful and stop the treatment before its finished.

And one in every 20,000 patients develops Paradoxical Adipose Hyperplasia where more fat develops in the treated area.

How much does it cost?

Very small areas like under the chin may be around around £100-200, slightly bigger areas can be between £600 to £800 while you may pay as much as £1,400 for a larger area.

Is it right for me?

According to the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, CoolSculpting is a good match for people close to their target weight who want to reduce small areas of fat on their hips or abdomen.

But studies have shown it is not so effective for thighs, knees and buttocks.

The treatment is safe for everyone in general good health but it is not recommended during pregnancy.


2. Ultrasound (LipoSonix)

Ultrasound (LipoSonix) destroys fat cells by increasing temperature in the area being treated to above 56 degrees celsius.

Give me the pros?

Studies have shown a 1-4cm reduction in waist circumference between 12 weeks after one treatment.

Between 47 and 86% of patients are satisfied with the treatment. Side effects are minor: tenderness, hard lumps, swelling and bruising.

What are the cons?

It is not considered to be a painless procedure and it can lead to redness, swelling and bruising. While results are usually seen within a couple of months it can take up to six months.

How much does it cost?

Prices vary but the average cost for one area is around £2,000.

Is it right for me?

It is intended to treat small areas of stubborn fat in the thigh, buttock, abdomen and back. It is not suitable for people with a BMI of more then 30.

You should not have this if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, are using anticoagulants, have a pacemaker, a hernia, cancer or have had previous liposuction or a tummy tuck.


3. Radiofrequency Therapy (truSculpt/Thermage/Vanquish)

Clinical studies have shown that radiofrequency can be used to selectively kill off fat just below the skin surface while sparing surrounding tissue.

Give me the pros?

Patient satisfaction rate is between 71 to 97%. Side effects are only temporary swelling and bruising, and it also  has an advantage of tightening the skin.

What are the cons?

The sensation of the treatment has been compared to ‘snapping elastic bands against the skin’ which some people describe as painful.

Two to six treatments are needed, depending on the area or system being used.

Although radiofrequency treatments have a proven track record in wrinkle reduction and a  high satisfaction rate, one study says more research is needed to show how they are effective in fat reduction.

How much does it cost?

The price ranges depending on the body area being treated can start from around £1300 and go up as high as £3,500.

Is it right for me?

This treatment targets fat cells on the hips, thighs, buttocks and abdomen and most patients need one or two treatments to see best results.

You are not a candidate if you have a pacemaker, defibrillator or an aneurysm.


3. Low Level Laser Therapy (Zerona)

Low level laser therapy (LLLT) or Cold laser sends energy into fat cells which are ‘melted’ or broken down and their contents absorbed into the body.

Give me the pros?

The procedure is regarded as painless.

What are the cons?

Six to nine sessions are needed for best results. Outcomes may be temporary and variable. One study showed a fat reduction on three treated areas including 2.66cm from the waist after treatment, but two weeks later there was a 7.8mm increase in the treated areas of the body.

The same review of body contouring published in the International Journal of Endocrinology Metabolism in 2016 said, although this treatment was effective combined with liposuction, there was not enough evidence to promote it as a standalone treatment for fat reduction.

How much does it cost?

Zerona can cost between £1,000 to £2,500 a treatment.

Is it right for me?

The most recent review of body contouring treatments says that, although some studies have promoted LLLT as an effective method for fat removal more studies are needed to prove its benefits as a standalone treatment.

Zerona is not safe for use if you are pregnant, have a pacemaker, or if you are classified as medically obese.


Take home message

So which should you choose?  It’s really down to your personal preferences and expectations. It should be remembered that all these treatments aim to help shift small amounts or hard to shift fat. If you are seriously overweight these treatments aren’t for you.

Also, they are no substitute for a healthy lifestyle including diet and regular exercise and without those you run the risk of putting the weight back on. But if you are looking to shift those few stubborn patches of fat that spoiling your silhouette they could be suitable.

And, all these treatments should be administered by a doctor or surgeon who is qualified and accredited to use the equipment.