Do UltraShape, CoolSculpting and Other Non-Invasive Fat Reduction Systems Work?

fat reductionUltraShape is one of a number of emerging a non-invasive medical procedures that use ultrasound or thermal technologies in order to destroy fat cells in order to achieve fat reduction. Other such non-invasive procedures include Zeltiq/CoolSculpting, Bella Contour, CavaLipo and Liposonix; although currently there are over 25 such marketed procedures.  All of these treatments use either high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) devices or thermal treatments (cryolipolysis)  to “melt” or destroy fat cells which are eliminated through the body’s natural metabolic process.   In fact, the fat cells are not melting, as the processes rely upon the body to “degrade” the damaged fat cells.  But do they work?  We put CoolSculpting to the test recently.

These procedures are preferable to liposuction because of:

  1. Convenience and simplicity of the techniques. Most people don’t like the idea of being cut open if they can avoid it—so naturally a technique that doesn’t involve cutting is preferable if you can avoid going under the knife.
  2. Non surgical techniques have the potential to be more gentle to your body; you don’t have to deal with bleeding, bruising, and swelling, and much of the discomfort is reduced.
  3. There is also no need for general anesthesia, which carries many risks and should be avoided when possible.
  4. Shorter recovery period
  5. Lower cost relative to surgical procedures such as liposuction

However, they are not a replacement for liposuction as they do not have the capacity to remove large volume of fat cells.  Instead, they destroy fat cells.  They are better suited for smaller, targeted areas of excess or unwanted fat deposits.

UltraShape is somewhat unique among the ultrasonic devices as it reportedly has received FDA approval. However UltraShape’s own website indicates that it has only been FDA-cleared.  (note:  FDA-approval differs from FDA-clearance. The two should not be confused.  FDA-clearance merely indicates that the FDA has not determined the procedure to be dangerous.   However, FDA-approval requires affirmative evidence of safety and is far more difficult to secure.)   The distributor of UltraShape equipment claims the procedure has been used over 220,000 times and is used in tandem with VelaShape, which is a thermal technology.  Liposonix users report some higher degree of pain but results are achieved in only one session. whereas Ultrashape is reportedly less painful but requires three treatments spaced two weeks apart.  It works by emitting mild ultrasounds so as to vibrate fatty tissues, break down fat cells and ultimately liquify them, targeting at specific body regions.  There are some concerns about whether the liver can adequately metabolize the by-products.

In comparison, cryolipolysis, a technique that freezes fat away, has been around longer—about seven years—and so a little more is known about its effectiveness and safety than ultrasound/radiofrequency techniques. It targets fat cells (adipocytes), which are more sensitive to cooling than other cells of the skin and nearby tissue.  It involves placing cooling panels on the area to be worked on.  Suction pulls the area into a well between the cooling panels and freezes the fat in its grip without damaging the skin or surrounding tissue. After being frozen, the fat cells crystallize, break down and pass into the bloodstream and are eliminated by the body.  Cryolipolysis is also a rapid procedure—taking one to two hour-long sessions—and side effects are minimal.   Some of these devices, such as CoolSculpting, Cellulaze and VelaShape3 have been FDA-approved.

Similarities between Ultrasonic and Cryolipolysis Methods

  • Both procedures destroy fat cells and rely upon the body to eliminate the dead cells
  • Neither procedure requires anesthesia or sedation.
  • More than one visit to the clinic may be expected in order to reach the final result.  Ultrasonic procedures, such as UltraShape generally require three visits lasting 1 or ½ hours. Of course, the most significant factor that will determine the number and the duration of the needed sessions is the size of the treated area.
  • Both procedures are less painful than liposuction and generally show results within a few weeks.   However, many users have reported discomfort and even some pain associated with these non-invasive alternatives.
  • Both tend to be less expensive than liposuction, but neither are cheap. website reports the procedures range between $2000-3000, but it will depend upon the doctor you use and the scope of the fat reduction that you seek.

Potential Side Effects and Unintended Results

These “bodysculpting” procedures aren’t perfect.  Some patients have complained of encountering bruising and irritation on the treated areas. Because the procedures affect a relatively small body zone means that the recuperation time is practically very narrow and the patient can almost immediately go back to his / her daily routine. Most of the individuals who have actually tried it report moderate results and limited accomplishments; as expected, there are also men and women pretty satisfied with the final outcome, while there are others who claim that the operation delivered them only hassle and nothing more. In addition, several persons state that pain and distress were not avoided during their treating sessions.

Our CoolSculpting Test

Rather than just review the literature, we decided to take the plunge, so to speak, into the ice.   Our brave volunteer had four spots in his abdomen subjected to the CoolSculpturing process in San Diego, California.   The entire dualsculpting process took about an hour and a half:  35 minutes per body location and followed by Z-Wave messaging treatment that breaks up the frozen fat cells.   Was it painful?  Not really.   The treated areas become numb rather quickly.   Was it uncomfortable?  Sadly, yeah.  They are pinching and freezing parts of your body while you sit as still as possible.   It wasn’t the funnest way to spend 90 minutes. Did it work?

To answer that question, you need to be clear on your expectations.   Bodysculpting does not reduce your weight.  Instead, it changes your body shape by effectively removing fat pockets that are genetically determined.   The literature suggests that the fat cells that are removed will not return.  However, if you don’t maintain a healthy life regimen, the remaining cells will enlarge and fill in the spots previously occupied by the destroyed fat cells.    So you don’t measure success by weight loss as much as inches removed.   Our test metric was whether two inches in the waist were removed.

The other factor to consider is that it takes between 3-6 months for the body to reabsorb the frozen/destroyed fat cells.  So you cannot really measure the success of the procedure for the better part of half a year.   By March 2019, we will report on the results.

Perhaps the most important variable in determining which fat reduction process that you use is the confidence you have in your medical advisor/doctor. Ultimately the skill of the doctor that will determine the effectiveness and safety of any technique. Non-invasive fat reduction using procedures like ultrasonic or cryolipolysis are attractive alternatives for patients who want to remove their excess fat without resorting to a surgery and without having to withstand a prolonged recuperation period.   You may want to focus your efforts upon interviewing medical clinics that specialize in both procedures and determine what works best for your objectives as well as your pocketbook.

2 thoughts on “Do UltraShape, CoolSculpting and Other Non-Invasive Fat Reduction Systems Work?”

  1. I would like to try an nonsurgical weight loss procedure before I resort to surgery. i like that they have a shorter recovery period and less risks. It was interesting to learn that nonsurgical procedures destroy fat cells instead of removing them. What happens to the cells once they are destroyed? Thanks for sharing this information!

    • According to the clinics who offer this service, dead fat cells are absorbed by the body. However, as we are not a medical-advice site, we encourage you to verify this information.


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