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Body Contouring

The Skinny on These Latest Procedures

New noninvasive “body-contouring” procedures might appeal to those who want to tighten saggy skin or blast away pockets of fat. However, these expensive treatments provide only a temporary solution to minor problems and by no means should be considered an alternative to liposuction. 

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If you’d like to ditch the love handles or “muffin top” that spills over your otherwise hot-looking jeans, you might be tempted to try a so-called body-contouring procedure. These new nonsurgical cosmetic procedures are designed to help you to shape up, just as long as you have at least $1,000 to spare.

According to dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons who provide these new treatments, all that you need to look better, aside from money, is a leisurely lunch hour. Depending on the treatment, you might need several leisurely lunch hours, because most of these procedures require multiple sessions to deliver the best results. And because the results are temporary, you’ll need to go back for another round of treatments in as little as 6 months in some cases.

The upside, proponents say, is that unlike with traditional liposuction, these new procedures don’t require anesthesia and don’t involve sticking a small tube under your skin to suck out fat, because they are performed on the surface of the skin rather than under it. In general, these procedures are performed by using a device that might apply heat, cold, lasers or massage to the area of the body that is being targeted. Most sessions take an hour or two, but some require less than 1 hour. What’s more, there’s little or no downtime and no need for sedation or to take time off from work. Even the terms that are used for these procedures, such as CoolSculpting and SmoothShapes, make them sound like a walk in the park. Who wouldn’t want to try them out if it meant that he/she easily could shed a bit of fat or tighten some saggy skin?

The truth is that not everyone is a candidate for one of these new treatments, because the procedures are designed only for relatively healthy people who don’t have a weight problem so much as an isolated shape problem. Even those who are good candidates need to be realistic about the likely results. And some of the body-contouring devices are being used by doctors for treatments that haven’t been approved by Food and Drug Administration.

There’s no question that many patients who have undergone body-contouring procedures have bellies that are flatter and thighs that jiggle less than they did before. But even the best of these treatments are no substitute for traditional liposuction, because they are not designed to remove the amount of fat that liposuction does, according to medical experts whom we interviewed. In short, there are limits as to how much body-contouring procedures can reduce fat, tighten skin or erase the effects of cellulite (the cottage cheese-like dimpled skin that can form around the thighs and buttocks). And in some cases, there appears to be a seemingly endless list of variables that can affect the price and how long the results last.

Body Language

Body Language

SHIFTING SHAPES. Obviously, there’s plenty to learn about body-contouring treatments, given that none of them existed in the United States before 2006. The procedures come under one of three treatment categories: tightening the skin, improving the appearance of cellulite or reducing fat. None of the devices has been approved by FDA to address all three of these treatment issues. (See “Body Language.")

The two procedures that are approved by FDA to tighten skin are Accent Your Body (often used on the stomach, thighs and upper arms) and Body by Thermage (often used on the stomach, knees, elbows and arms). The devices that are used for both procedures apply radio frequency to heat the skin’s deepest layers. This triggers collagen production and helps to tighten skin in the area of the body that’s being treated.

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