Demand is high for nonsurgical fat reduction, especially at this time of year when we are setting New Year resolutions after perhaps a little over-indulgence during Christmas celebrations. ‘Cryolipolysis’ as it is technically called, is a medical treatment used to destroy fat cells. The term combines ‘cryo’ (icy cold) with ‘lipolysis’ (the chemical decomposition of fat). Its principle relies on controlled cooling for the non-invasive localised reduction of fat deposits in order to reshape body contours. The exposure to cooling is set at a certain temperature so that it causes cell death of subcutaneous fat tissue without apparent damage to the overlying skin. The procedure is billed as a nonsurgical alternative to liposuction. The process can also be known as ‘fat freezing’ or more commonly ‘cool sculpting’. 

Cool sculpting, which is approved for the abdomen, flank and thighs, has been shown in studies to be relatively safe and effective. The treatment is not intended for massive weight loss but for treating problem areas like love handles, stomach rolls and arm fat. However, as with virtually all procedures, there are side effects and potential complications. 

Redness, swelling, bruising and temporary tingling or numbness are common, normal side effects. More serious potential complications with cool sculpting include skin damage leading to ulceration or scarring; prolonged or severe pain, abrupt fat layer changes and paradoxical adipose (fat tissue) hyperplasia. The latter is the scenario where the patient will actually get a reverse reaction. Instead of fat reduction, they end up with more fat cells in that area. It happens more commonly in men than women and there is really nothing that can be done to prevent it or even identify if somebody is at risk.

Alison Johnson, senior associate at Penningtons Manches LLP, says: “As with all cosmetic treatments, establishing whether you are a good candidate or not and understanding all the risks and benefits before making a decision to go ahead is imperative. Cool sculpting may not be for everyone. If you are planning to lose a significant amount of weight, your surgeon may recommend you hold off on this procedure. Moreover, if you have already lost a massive amount of weight after bariatric surgery perhaps, you may need more invasive body contouring procedures, such as a tummy tuck, to deal with excess skin after surgery. We recommend that patients discuss their body contouring options with their doctor.”