By Guest Editor Wendy Lewis
The fat reduction market is predicted to see the greatest growth among laser and light based devices over the next few years, stemming from our never ending svelte seeking mission, as well as doctors and clinics that are adopting new technologies at a record pace. The new breed of “laser-assisted liposuction,” or “LAL” for short, come at a time when consumer desires for non-surgical, minimally invasive procedures are at an all time high. So we can expect to see many more of these devices in the near future that have wide appeal to both sexes.
The new technologies combine lasers, various forms of radio frequency and ultrasound, and other energies to dissolve fat and offer up less invasive solutions than traditional liposuction that often involves general anesthesia and a hospital stay. The beauty of these systems is that the recovery and downtime are minimized. There is some good clinical data coming out that proves that surely some of them do indeed do what they claim to, which is to remove what doctors call “unwanted fat deposits,” – as if there were any other kind! However, results can be variable and are not always a home run. Another growing concern is that a whole influx of non-surgeons and lesser trained doctors have jumped on the lipo lasering bandwagon, so it’s a case of buyer beware. Although the technology may be proven to be safe, there is a learning curve for the technician to get it right and to avoid possible lumps or uneven areas. There is no substitute for experience and a good aesthetic eye.
One of the newest bulge blasting machines is the Zerona™ a non-invasive body contouring system that uses a low-level laser to emit a beam of light which targets the fat cells. The Erchonia™ Laser Scanner causes the destruction of fatty tissue and then the excess fat is metabolized and passes through the body normally. The treatment takes about a half hour and you will need about six treatment sessions over a two week time span. You will be instructed to drink lots of fluids, walk daily, take oral supplements and wear a compression garment during the process, and you can see some improvement after one week.
SmoothLipo™ is a continuous wave type of laser energy that raises the temperature uniformly over an area to be treated, leading to collapse of the fat cells. The process continues to generate improvement even after the procedure has ended. One of the benefits claimed is that higher energies can be used safely so that you get a smoother contour along with skin tightening, which is the holy grail of fat dissolving systems. According to New York Plastic Surgeon Z. Paul Lorenc, MD, “SmoothLipo is more than just laser lipolysis. The heating of the tissue seems to produce good skin retraction which improves contour irregularities and smoothes the skin, especially in areas of laxity. We have used it for three months and are getting great results on the neck and for mommy makeovers to firm up the tummy after childbirth.” The precursor technology to SmoothLipo™ is SmoothShapes™ from Eleme Medical which is primarily used to obliterate cellulite, lumps, bumps and other irregularities. The two devices can deliver a one two punch for slimmer thighs with fewer dimples to get your body beach ready in a few weeks.
Europe is paving the way to freedom from “unwanted” fat because CE marks are infinitely easier, faster and cheaper to get than FDA approval. The first ultrasonic fat blasting system approved to market in Europe was UltraShape™, a system using selectively focused ultrasound originally conceived by an Israeli plastic surgeon. This technology uses transdermal ultrasound, meaning through the skin, to liquefy fat without making any incisions. A series of three sessions is typically needed to see a sizeable contour change. As a side note, Israel is one of the main exporters for these devices as their technology and more specifically, laser and energy based device, development sectors are way ahead of the curve.
Enter LipoSonix™ from Medicis (the Restylane company) that was granted a CE mark last year and more recently approval from Health Canada. The device was just launched in Europe, and is designed to focus high intensity focused ultrasound (called HIFU) to cause permanent disruption of fatty tissue without damaging the skin or underlying tissues and organs. The energy is applied with a transducer which delivers it across the skin surface at a low intensity, and brings it to a high intensity focus at precise depths in the targeted fat to cause heat destruction. The body flushes the damaged fat cells through the lymphatic system to the liver, where they are resorbed over several weeks. The advantages of this ultrasonic energy are little to no downtime and one treatment that takes about an hour can take a few centimeters off your waistline. At the current time, Liposonix is used primarily for the tummy, hips and thighs, although smaller transducers will be launched in the future for arms, neck and other areas. After a treatment, you may have temporary redness, mild bruising, discomfort, and swelling. According to Dr. Rita Rakus in London, “Liposonix is not intended to treat obesity or areas where there is too little fat. A single treatment can produce a dramatic flattening of the tummy.”
Lastly, the long awaited Zeltiq Aesthetics just received the European CE Mark approval for non-invasive fat reduction with a different twist. Zeltiq™ is based on the patented method of “Cryolipolysis,” which translates to using controlled cooling rather than heating to target and eliminate fat cells. It doesn’t actually freeze your fat, but lowers the temperature to transform your fat cells from liquids to solids. Think about what happens to chicken soup when you put in the fridge – the fat forms a solid crust. The fat cells are thus destroyed and processed by the liver and then resorbed by the body over several months.
Neither UltraShape, Liposonix nor Zeltiq is FDA approved for cosmetic use in the US yet, but clinical trials are ongoing and hope springs eternal that they will soon! These systems are available in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East so by the time they arrive on US shores, we will have a pretty good idea of how well they work and how many inches you can reasonably lose in one session. As with most minimally invasive techniques, more is more when it comes to fat reduction and larger areas or bigger bellies may request more than one treatment.
Melting, freezing and lasering fat cells does not come cheap; these high tech energy devices cost the doctor from $60,000 – $100,000.
Most non-invasive or minimally invasive fat treatments fall into the price range of $2,500 -$4,000 per area, which is not necessarily less expensive than traditional liposuction, although hospitalization and anesthesia is usually not needed which cuts down on your total investment.