What is body sculpting?
Body sculpting these days covers a number of different procedures ranging from the traditional liposuction to newer methods involving ultrasound or radio frequency, high powered water jets or lasers.
These treatments fall under the banner of liposuction and may also be called liposculpture, a lipectomy or just lipo. Liposuction is a surgical procedure where fat is selectively removed from under the skin. The treatment is used to target areas of ‘stubborn’ fat – such as on stomachs, thighs and arms – which cannot be shifted by weight loss through diet and exercise.
Body sculpting is an extremely popular treatment and was the most commonly requested cosmetic procedure in the UK in 2012.
How does it work?
As a traditional technique, liposuction involves removing fat through a cannula – a fine, hollow metal or plastic tube – inserted into the skin. A high-powered vacuum is applied through the cannula, which sucks out the unwanted fat. The treatment was first piloted in the 1920s, developed in the 1960s and ’70s and modern technologies were initiated in the 1980s.
Technology has now evolved and modern treatments are designed with extra features to make fat removal more efficient, accurate and less painful than earlier procedures.
In addition, there are several different methods of body sculpting now available and it is worth researching to see which is right for your needs and body type before signing up for a treatment. Each different body sculpting technique uses a different method to loosen and liquefy the fat cells so they can be removed. These include traditional surgical liposuction, as well as technologies which use sound energy (such as VASER), radio frequency (such as Body Tite), a high powered liquid solution (such as Body Jet or AquaLipo) and lasers (such as SmartLipo).
What is it like?
Body sculpting is normally carried out under general anaesthetic but can also be done using local anaesthetic with sedation. Tiny incisions are made to insert the cannulas – usually in the folds of the skin so they leave no visible scarring. Once the cannulas are in place, treatment begins and the fat is removed by vacuum suctioning. After the treatment is finished, the surgeon will stitch the incisions.
The whole procedure takes around one or two hours, depending on the size of the area and volume of fat to be removed. You can be in and out of the hospital in a day, or may have to stay overnight. You will normally have to return around two weeks later for your stitches to be checked and taken out if they are not dissolvable.
What is the recovery time?
It is normal for swelling, bruising and soreness to take about two to three weeks to settle down. It is likely you will experience some pain – your doctor should advise you on what pain relief to take.
You may also be told by your doctor to wear an elastic body stocking for up to six weeks to maximise results. As you will be inactive for around ten days after the procedure, you may also need to wear lower leg stockings to prevent DVT (deep vein thrombosis).
Results of body sculpting will be better if you are in good health and are already doing what you can to keep weight down through diet and exercise. Muscle definition will be clearer after liposuction if you already have good muscle tone underneath the fat layer.
It is important to remember that skin has to reshape once fat is removed, so elastic skin will show the best results while people with looser skin may experience some sagging.
What are the risks and side effects?
Liposuction of any type is a surgical procedure which brings associated risks. These can be anything from a mild irritation, like short-term pain, to potentially life-threatening incidents, like clots or organ damage.
Cosmetic risks include lumpy or dimpled skin, which may be permanent. Medical risks include infection, persistent swelling, numbness or increased sensitivity of the skin, burns (from technologies which heat the fat), and a reaction to anaesthetic.
Possible serious risks include:
– Embolism: If loosened fat cells enter the blood they can get trapped, causing a clot. If these travel into the lungs or brain they can cause disability or even be fatal.
– Internal puncture wounds (visceral perforations): In some cases, the cannula may pierce an internal organ, such as the intestines. Damage can require further surgery and, in some cases, be fatal.
– Fluid imbalance – if large amounts of liquid are used in liposuction this can upset the body’s fluid balance, which can develop into a serious problem affecting the heart, lungs or kidneys if not carefully monitored.
Research into deaths through liposuction shows conflicting results. Some studies show the death rate is just three in every 100,000 liposuction procedures, but others show it is between 20 and 100 deaths every 100,000 surgeries. This means your risk of dying is somewhere between 0.003 and 0.1 per cent.
How much does it cost?
The cost of body sculpting ranges from £1,250 for a small area of treatment for a day patient to around £6,000 for a large treatment area using the latest technology with an overnight stay. Prices you are quoted should include all your pre- and post- operative care and any pre-planned overnight stays.
The British Association of Body Sculpting (BABS) lists surgeons who have passed a minimum standard of experience. It is worth researching the qualifications and experience of the practitioner before choosing where to have the treatment – don’t take a risk skin by opting for a cheaper option if you fear it is too good to be true.
So, is it worth it?
Body sculpting can have clear results almost immediately and, once removed, the fat often takes a very long time to return. However, it is a surgical procedure which from which it can take several weeks to return to normal activity.
It is important to consider the risks. The American medical licencing body, the FDA, says: “Most patients are pleased with the outcome of their liposuction surgery. However, like any other medical procedure, there are risks involved… Try to avoid being influenced by friends that have had the procedure or doctors encouraging you to do so. Decide for yourself whether you are willing to take the risks involved in liposuction.”