This ultimate guide is intended to provide you with a complete reference to laser fat removal, its non-surgical nature as a procedure for body contouring, the methodology behind its usage, its advantages over other treatments, any potential risks, and other important factors you need to consider when deciding if it is the right treatment for you.
Note: Before we begin, it is important to acknowledge that laser fat removal has a number of other generic names. The most widely used is laser lipo, but it is also known as low-level laser (light) therapy ( or LLLT, for short), laser-guided liposuction, laser lipolysis and laser-assisted lipolysis. Additionally, you will find many treatments simply named after the technology in place, ie. SMARTLipo, Lipo Laser and ProLipo Plus.
A Brief Introduction to Laser Fat Removal
Laser fat removal is an excellent example of how technology has provided us with a range of much-improved alternatives to a more traditional treatment. Liposuction, in its traditional form, is a type of cosmetic surgery that removes fat from the human body. It is classed as a surgical procedure because of its invasive nature upon the patient, who are usually placed under general anesthesia for its duration. Regardless, traditional liposuction is still one of the most popular cosmetic surgery treatments carries out in the U.S.
However, the technological advances and the rise in popularity of laser fat removal or laser lipo in recent years has provided potential clients with an alternative that has clear advantages over its predecessor – the most notable being:
- Considered Safer: Patients undergoing this procedure do not require a general anesthetic, avoiding those inherent risks – the anesthetic is applied locally. Furthermore, far smaller instruments are required to remove the resulting fatty liquid.
- Rapid Results: The body contouring effect of the procedure can be seen far quicker, as there is minimal bruising and swelling.
- Shorter Downtime: Patients are able to recover more quickly, given the nature of the procedure, and therefore able to resume their normal daily lives and those activities much sooner.
The most important difference between laser fat removal and traditional lipo is that laser lipo is able to spare important tissues during the elimination of unwanted fat. It removes the fat cells from the fatty tissue matrix but leaves all other important tissues as they were. It does this by using a laser to deliver energy to a specific area, which turns to heat on pulsing, which subsequently melts the targeted fat. This is then carefully drawn from the patient by suction.
Laser lipo has been shown to significantly enhance the appearance of problem body areas, such as the abdomen, thighs, hips, waist, upper arms, and chin (although it is not limited to these particular areas), and thus provides patients seeking more comfortable body contouring treatments with a more viable alternative.
How Does Laser Lipo Work?
Laser lipo is a non-surgical body contouring treatment that, as the name suggests, uses laser energy to affect unwanted areas of fat on the patient’s body. Delivered through an ultra fine fiber, the laser emits energy (and therefore, heat) to the unwanted body fat, to the point where this fat melts. This melted fat (now in fatty liquid form) is then removed by suction. In addition, the procedure firms the surrounding tissue, via its coagulation, providing the patient with a slimmer and tighter appearance. This additional aspect thus makes laser lipo an even more desirable method for body contouring through fat removal.
Specific wavelengths (nm – nanometers) and wattages of power are used to target the fat cells, liquefying them while leaving other tissue relatively untouched – these may vary slightly depending upon the specific laser system used.
For example, the ProLipo PLUS laser fat removal system combines both 40 watts at 1064nm and 40 watts at 1319nm in one laser for optimum results, as each has a specific function:
- 1064nm: This wavelength is used in the deeper fat layers – it constructs the fat channels and readies the fat for lipolysis by targeting the more vascular superficial fat by heating their water content. Additionally, it is absorbed by oxyhemoglobin (oxygenated blood), resulting in superior hemostasis (the cessation of blood flow). In other words, less bruising to the patient post-treatment. Lastly, the 1064nm wavelength generates thermal heating, ruptures the fat cells and tumefaction (the swelling process) begins.
- 1319nm: The main purpose of this wavelength (used in the superficial layer just under the skin) is to restrict the generated thermal energy to just beyond the tip of the laser fiber. This is achieved due to its high absorption in water and its lower scattering in fat. Additionally, it affects collagen in fibrous septae (the dermis’s connection to its fascia), resulting in the retraction of tissue and so an clear improvement in skin laxity.
Upon completion of these two stages, the final part of the procedure is the removal of fatty oils and cell fragments – the final reduction for body contouring. If the area being treated has only thin fat layers (for example, the face or neck), this last stage is ignored, with any remaining cells or oils either absorbed or eliminated naturally.
Note: As stated, wavelengths and power used can vary slightly from system to system – the more popular laser fat removal systems are described later.
What Body Areas Can Be Treated with Laser Lipo?
Laser fat removal is effective for virtually any area of the body, with the more popular areas being the abdomen, under the chin, love handles, bra roll, saddle bags, inner and outer thighs, back, knees and ankles. The treatment is especially useful for fat pockets that are difficult to improve solely by diet and exercise.
- Lower Abdomen: Laser Lipo of the lower abdomen (known as the “muffin top”) leaves a toned, tight stomach. However, if your physician finds that elasticity in this area is poor, sagging skin may occur. In this case, it may be advisable for the patient to undergo a tummy tuck.
- Upper Abdomen: It is usual that if the lower abdomen is treated, the upper abdomen (the area between the ribs and naval) be treated also, creating a smooth blending of the two areas.
- Waist: Described as your “love handles,” these fatty areas around the waist can be difficult to improve solely by diet and exercise. This area has natural skin elasticity, which makes the waist a good candidate for laser lipo. Patients who have this treatment are more than happy with the results because it is so effective.
- Upper Arms: Excess fat and tissue in the upper arms is a common condition for many of a certain age. Laser liposuction of this area can greatly improve the toning. In fact, for some, it can bring the benefits of an arm lift without the permanent scarring associated with that procedure.
- Hips: Regarded as below the waist and toward the upper area of the buttock, this area can become a problem for women as it will gradually transition into the waist itself. This results in the loss of the “curvy” feminine silhouette most women desire.
- Flanks: This area, similar to the waist, also has great skin elasticity and is in the lower back area above the pant line. Commonly done at the same time as the waist, laser lipo gives the area an even contour, thus producing the desired “hourglass” effect.
- Inner Thighs: Most female patients wish to eliminate the appearance of their inner thighs touching when standing. This can be achieved by laser lipo in that area.
- Outer Thighs; The outer thigh is a common problem area for most women, and is more commonly known as having “saddle bags.” As this area forms such an integral part of the overall silhouette, it is important to recognize each woman’s personal body traits to achieve the right proportionate look. Additionally, laser lipo on the outer thighs can improve the natural curve of the buttocks.
- Lower Legs: The calf area can be a target for laser liposuction, but only when done in addition to the body contouring of the entire leg. Because this area has very few “deep fat” pockets, it must be done extremely carefully to avoid irregularities between the two calves.
- Chest: As men get older, they normally experience a reduction in muscle mass of the chest area. This gives a flabby and unfit-looking appearance which is not wanted. Although it is very patient-dependent, laser fat removal alone can resolve this in some cases. In the case of women, and if required, it can bring the benefits of a breast lift without a scar, with minimal invasion of the area.
- Back: The back is covered in thick and therefore, resilient skin, and is ideal for laser lipo. This is requested by patients in the case of back rolls ( also known as “bra rolls”).
- Chin: The area under the chin can become an issue for both men and women as the age. Because of laser lipo’s minimally invasive nature, it is an area that, when treated, shops immediate results
- Cheeks: Laser lipo can be used to reduce the appearance of chubby cheeks (also known as “chipmunk cheeks”). In most cases, however, many patients will still require some form of buccal fat removal to reach the look they desire.
Note: With regard to the buttock area, some clinics offering body contouring will accept patients, and some will recommend a butt lift instead, as they believe laser lipo in this area gives a flat or deflated final result.
What Makes A Suitable Laser Lipo Candidate?
It is around the age of 35 that the vast majority of people begin to lose collagen and elastin in their skin. As a result of this (and as previously mentioned), those people may not be suitable candidates for laser fat removal.
However, that does not mean that they would not benefit from this body contouring procedure – it is just that the results would certainly not be as good as someone under the age of 35. Furthermore, several skin conditions exist that can be improved with laser lip regardless of age, such as cellulite, dimpling, and scarring from other surgeries.
In addition to this age consideration, the most suitable candidates would also have either excess fat in mild to moderate amounts, or mild to moderate skin laxity, or both.
How Many Laser Fat Removal Treatments Are Needed?
This is a simple question to answer as normally only one laser fat removal procedure is needed per body area. However, in extreme cases of excess fat, a further session may be recommended. As always, you should be guided by a qualified physician.
Furthermore, and with reference to treating multiple areas during the one treatment session, this is quite possible, dependent and limited only by the amount of fat that is physically being removed. During your initial consultation with the physician, this should be discussed if required and the treatment scheduled accordingly.
What Preparation Is Required Prior To Laser Lipo?
As with all medical procedures, your physician should guide you upon appropriate preparation. For example, if you are currently taking medication, you will be advised to either continue as normal or refrain from your prescription. If you smoke, your physician should inform you of its negative effect upon the healing process, meaning your period of discomfort will last longer.
How Long Is The Recovery Period After Laser Lipo?
Because laser fat removal is a minimally-invasive liposuction procedure, the recovery time from any pain or discomfort usually lasts around two weeks or so, during which you will be advised to refrain from any strenuous cardio-like activities whatsoever. However, and this is one of the main advantages of laser lipo, you will be able to return to work, walk normally, and even do light exercise immediately after the procedure.
Furthermore, you will be provided with a special compression garment to wear over the attended area during your period of recovery. This helps immensely during the natural healing process as your skin slowly contracts over the new contour of your body.
How Soon Are The Results Visible To The Patient?
There are a number of factors at play here, such as the amount of fat removed, the number of areas treated, and the patient’s natural body shape, but the vast majority of those undergoing laser lipo should see the results immediately after the procedure itself.
With regard to the final outcome, patients should expect to see the resulting newly-contoured area fully around 3 to 4 months after the procedure, allowing for all swelling to have disappeared, the area to be fully healed, and any tumescent fluid having been either naturally absorbed or eliminated from the body.
How Does The Patient Maintain Their Newly-Contoured Body Shape?
Following laser fat removal, it is essential to lead a lifestyle where healthy nutrition and exercise are prominent. The fat removed during the procedure is gone for good, but it can be replaced easily enough if an unhealthy lifestyle is what follows. Essential fat layers will remain untreated, as that is important in maintaining a healthy body.
Following the procedure, if the patient experiences weight loss or weight gain, this will be distributed over the entire body, not solely in the area that had been treated. Furthermore, this area will continue to experience the effects of aging as normal.
Average Cost of Laser Fat Removal Treatments
The costs of laser liposuction can vary greatly, depending on a number of factors, which include:
- The body area to be treated
- The extent of fat to be removed, and
- The part of the U.S. where the treatment will take place
Clinics offering laser lipo cost their treatments either as a flat rate fee, regardless of the body area, and offering discounts as other areas are included, or by charging different rates for different body areas.
The following figures were compiled after consulting a medium-sized study group of qualified physicians offering laser fat removal – these costs are only approximate, and not definitive, and patients may find costs in their geographical area either higher or lower.
- Upper abdomen: $4,500
- Lower abdomen: $3,500
- Back fat (Women): $2,500
- Back fat (Men) $3,000
- Knees: $4,000
- Thighs: $2,500
- Buttocks: $3,000
- Facial Area, eg. Chin/Jowls: $2,500
- Hips: $2,500
The Importance Of Wavelength
The important yet basic premise of the most appropriate wavelength for laser fat removal is this:
The greater the absorption by the fat content of the heat generated by the laser energy, the more complete and simpler the procedure. Therefore, heating the fat’s water content (which has to be achieved by actually getting it to boiling point) in order to melt your fat itself is a slower and less efficient process.
Selecting The Right Laser Fat Removal Technique
There is not one particular laser fat removal machine in widespread use today due to the varying techniques (the combination of wavelength and wattage as discussed earlier) that can be used. Therefore, there are quite significant differences between the machines being used for this purpose. This is predominantly because of the technological patent restrictions currently in place, which has resulted in some machines using wavelengths that are not the best for the actual procedure itself.
The following laser fat removal machines (with their distinct operational parameters) are regarded as the most popular in current usage:
With the advent of new technology, there is always a first – in terms of laser fat removal, this was the SMARTLipo, the first laser lipo machine to appear on the market. The original SMARTLipo utilized a 1064nm wavelength to melt the excess fat. As described previously, this wavelength targets water – therefore, the SMARTLipo melted fat by heating its water content, and the fat is melted secondarily. Improvements to this first machine’s abilities were made with the SMARTLipo MPX.
SlimLipo laser fat removal uses a patented 924nm wavelength to melt your fat. The 924nm laser has been found to be the most highly absorbed laser wavelength by the targeted fat tissue. This wavelength melts 3-5 times as much fat, in terms of volume than any other wavelengths being used today. The SlimLipo also uses a 924nm/975nm blended wavelength for its skin tightening procedure.
Relatively new into the realm of laser lipo machinery is the Lipotherme, which uses a 980nm wavelength for laser fat removal. The primary target of this wavelength is water again, so this newer technology melts the fat as a secondary result of first heating its water content.
Cool Lipo Machine
Cool Lipo utilizes a 1320nm laser wavelength to dissolving the targeted fat. Although this wavelength has a better fat absorption rate than the 1064nm wavelength, water remains its primary target. Therefore, the actual mechanism involved is fundamentally the same as the 1064nm wavelength used in SMARTLipo.
The Associated Risks of Laser Fat Removal
As with all medical procedures, whether they are surgical or non-surgical, invasive or non-invasive, there will always be associated risks, which must be factored into any decision taken by patients to proceed with the laser fat removal procedure.
Several of the risks associated with this newer procedure are actually the same as those of traditional liposuction, such as:
- Skin contour irregularities
- Subcutaneous fluid collection
- Minor burns/blistering
Furthermore, there is the remote possibility of fat necrosis, which is when the fat cells suffer irreparable damage and die. As always, the patient should be guided by a qualified physician with whom they can discuss the above and any other areas of concern.
Who Is Professionally Qualified To Carry Out Laser Fat Removal?
It is imperative patients are confident in the abilities of the physician or other qualified person carrying out the procedure. A patient is able to check the professional credentials of relevant physicians by accessing the American Board of Plastic Surgery’s website via this link.
Does Health Insurance Cover Laser Lipo?
Laser fat removal is classed as an elective surgical procedure, ie. it is the patient’s choice that the procedure is carried out, and, as such, it is not normally covered by health insurance.
Exceptions to this are based on the therapeutic benefit gained by this procedure. For example, female breast reduction surgery is often covered by insurance because it can relieve chronic back and shoulder pain. Therefore, if a patient chooses laser lipo for this purpose, their particular health insurance company may reimburse a portion of the actual cost. Similarly, health insurance companies may cover laser lipo treatment in the case of subcutaneous lipomas, which are small fatty tumors just beneath the skin, although it cannot guarantee complete removal, unlike normal surgery.
The Decision Is Yours
This guide is intended to be a complete, up-to-date and unbiased reference for anyone considering laser fat removal (laser lipo). It provides all the relevant information necessary to make that decision. However, as always, it is extremely important that any potential patients wishing to undergo this body contouring procedure, in the very first instance, discuss the option with their physician or healthcare professional.
The rapid rise in popularity of laser fat removal is due to its improved patient safety, its rapid results, and the shorter downtime that its patients experience. Because of these factors, it is important that any potential patient be as aware as possible of what the procedure actually entails.
This ultimate guide to laser fat removal has provided relevant information on the following areas for patient consideration:
- How Does Laser Lipo Work?
- What Body Areas Can Be Treated with Laser Lipo?
- What Makes A Suitable Laser Lipo Candidate?
- How Many Laser Fat Removal Treatments Are Needed?
- What Preparation Is Required Prior To Laser Lipo?
- How Long Is The Recovery Period After Laser Lipo?
- How Soon Are The Results Visible To The Patient?
- How Does The Patient Maintain Their Newly-Contoured Body Shape?
- The Average Cost of Laser Fat Removal Treatments
- The Importance Of Wavelength
- Selecting The Right Laser Fat Removal Technique
- The Associated Risks of Laser Fat Removal
- Who Is Professionally Qualified To Carry Out Laser Fat Removal?
- Does Health Insurance Cover Laser Lipo?
If the reader has any other questions or would like any other information pertaining to the laser fat removal procedure, please provide a comment below. Thank you.