The truth about CoolSculpting

CoolSculpting definitely plays into the old adage that you can never be too rich or too thin. Makes sense, as, when it comes to new and innovative ways to get rid of stubborn fat, chances are there are going to be a lot of people ready and willing to try anything to slim down and tone up. Whether it's liposuction, diet pills, or surgical intervention, it seems that there are constantly new ways to shed those unwanted pounds available on the market.

CoolSculpting is one of the newer options available for folks wanting to melt inches away and is offered by dermatologists and plastic surgeons. It promises to get rid of that double chin, flabby belly, or other problem area that you can't seem to conquer on your own. So when diet and exercise just aren't cutting it, there's another way to zap the fat away.

But what is there to know about this procedure, which almost sounds too good to be true? Can you really get rid of fat just by getting hooked up to a machine? And how exactly does CoolSculpting work? Read on to find out!

What is CoolSculpting?

So just what is CoolSculpting, and how precisely does it get rid of body fat? As it turns out, the name is pretty on point, as CoolSculpting, or cryolipolysis, literally freezes the fat off of you with a machine on targeted areas of your body. The reason this can be done without permanently injuring the skin, muscles, nerves, and other cells in the area you freeze is because fat is more temperature sensitive than the rest of the cells your body, according to the Mayo Clinic. That means that fat will go through cell death first, leaving the rest of your cells intact.

As for the actual procedure, you can expect to be attached to the cooling applicator for about an hour, give or take, depending on the area on your body. During that time, 20 to 25 percent of the fat in your targeted area, whether it's your chin, abdomen, thighs, back, or arms, will be frozen and killed. Then over the course of the next couple of weeks, your body will get rid of those cells, thus revealing your new body.

How was CoolSculpting invented?

The story about how CoolSculpting came to be is actually pretty interesting. It all started with two doctors affiliated with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Rox Anderson and Dr. Dieter Manstein, according to Westlake Dermatology. Both of the physicians knew about the concept of "popsicle panniculitis," which is when you lose fat cells in your cheeks after eating frozen treats such as, you guessed it, popsicles. Additionally, believe it or not, at the time a woman reported a loss of fat in her inner thighs after riding a horse naked in especially cold weather. What her motives were for pulling a Lady Godiva, we may not ever know.

Armed with this knowledge, the two doctors hypothesized that you could harness the power of cold to decrease the amount of fat in targeted areas of the body. Thus, after figuring out exactly what temperature would get the job done, CoolSculpting was born. It was given the green light by the FDA in 2010, and has been available to people ever since — all thanks to popsicles!

You're awake for the CoolSculpting procedure

One of the things that proponents of CoolSculpting tout is that it's a minimally invasive procedure, as opposed to something like liposuction. In fact, according to CoolSculpting specialist Jane Vickers, CoolSculpting is less like a surgical procedure and more like getting a facial. "It is similar to a spa treatment," she explained in an interview with Village Dermatology. So there's no need to be given anesthesia to knock you out, or even a local anesthetic to prevent you from feeling pain. That's honestly a bit surprising, as CoolSculpting literally kills off cells.

Indeed for most people, CoolSculpting is actually a somewhat relaxing experience, with minimal discomfort and a comfortable set-up. "The bed is heated, we have blankets, etc.," Vickers continued. "You can read, watch T.V. or take a short nap! Afterwards, you can go back to whatever plans you have that day." That's a far cry from having a probe inserted under your skin that vacuums the fat out, for sure!

Some people experience pain from CoolSculpting

Not everyone has a relaxing and pain-free experience when they get CoolSculpting done. For example, according to patient Rachel Jacoby Zoldan, CoolSculpting was not fun at all. "The sharp pain of a huge machine sucking your stomach (imagine a vacuum) is kind of indescribable in the worst possible way," she wrote in an article for Shape magazine. It was only after she went numb ten minutes into the procedure that she was able to relax.

That wasn't all, though, as the massage that she received afterwards to minimize swelling and promote healing was excruciating. "The technician returned to spend what were the 120 most painful seconds of my life rubbing my right lower abdomen," she continued, noting, "With tears streaming down my face, I told her the pain was too great." Yikes!

Additionally, some people have discomfort from swelling after getting CoolSculpting, according to an article in The New York Times. So if you're planning to get the procedure done yourself, know that feeling pain is possible and plan accordingly.

CoolSculpting doesn't cause significant weight loss

You might be tempted to think that because CoolSculpting freezes your fat and your body slowly gets rid of those dead cells, you'll lose tons of weight as a result of the process. It seems like a logical notion, as when you burn fat the conventional way with diet and exercise, you lose weight.

But interestingly enough, when it comes to CoolSculpting, that's not the case, according to New York City-based CoolSculpting expert Jeannel Astarita. "None of these devices shed pounds," she explained in an interview with Vogue magazine. Apparently zapping away 25 percent of fat in a targeted area won't show up on the scale.

But that doesn't mean CoolSculpting won't give you results. "When [you lose] what's spilling over the top of your pants or your bra, it counts," Astarita continued, adding that many of her clients have dropped "one or two sizes in clothing." 

Different people get different results from CoolSculpting

Human bodies are incredibly diverse from one another, whether it's size, shape, phenotype, or myriad of other factors and responses. It should come as no surprise then that everyone will have a different response to CoolSculpting, according to plastic surgeon Jason Roostaeian. "One of the downsides of [CoolSculpting] is there's a range for any one person," he shared in an interview with Vogue magazine. "I've seen people look at before and after pictures and not be able to see the results."

For those less-than-lucky folks, they don't see the dramatic changes that others do. "At best you get mild fat reduction — a slightly improved waistline, less bulging of any particular area that's concerning," he continued. "I would emphasize the word mild." Clearly then, your mileage may vary when it comes to CoolSculpting.

The upside is that you can have multiple CoolSculpting sessions on the same area, which many people have to do anyway to see significant changes. So not all is lost!

CoolSculpting isn't for everyone

Although CoolSculpting is a relatively simple procedure, it's not for everyone. For one, you'll want to be within a certain range of your goal weight for maximum results, according to dermatologist Angela Lamb. "CoolSculpting works best on women who are within 15 to 20 pounds of their ideal weight," she explained in an interview with Redbook. That doesn't mean you can't get CoolSculpting if you weigh more than that, however, as you can still melt inches away at a larger size. But results will be more dramatic for people who are within that range.

Additionally, if you have cryoglobulinemia, cold agglutinin disease, or paroxysmal cold hemoglobulinuria, you should avoid getting CoolSculpting, according to an article in Healthline. That's because CoolSculpting can cause some pretty severe complications for people with those conditions. Of course, it goes without saying that you should talk to your doctor before getting CoolSculpting to make sure that you're a good candidate.

CoolSculpting is permanent, but not magical

It really is pretty incredible that CoolSculpting permanently destroys fat cells, ensuring that they never come back to torment you. But CoolSculpting isn't magical, as you do have to put in some work. "I really emphasize to my patients, yes it's a permanent fat reduction technology, but only if you control your weight," CoolSculpting expert Jeannel Astarita revealed in an interview with Vogue magazine. "If you gain weight, it will go somewhere." Indeed that's something many people know all too well.

In a nutshell, you can't rely on CoolSculpting to manage your weight, as it's not a treatment for obesity. "A little bit of this is on you," Astarita continued. "If you're going to do 14 cycles and not change your diet and eating habits at all, [your body] is not going to change at all." That would also be a waste of money and time, so make sure you're ready to put in some effort to maximize your results.

When should you get CoolSculpting done?

If you have a big event coming up, such as a wedding or class reunion, you might be considering getting CoolSculpting done so you can look especially slender for the big day. But make sure you plan accordingly, as it takes time for the final results to be visible. "The results after one treatment are almost always inadequate," plastic surgeon Jason Roostaeian shared in an interview with Vogue magazine. "Each [treatment] has a downtime, so you want at least six to eight weeks [between appointments]." Roostaeian also recommends scheduling your appointments three to six months in advance.

It's not just waiting for final results that you want to plan for, but also allowing enough time for your body to heal. Because you will likely have some swelling and bruising, in addition to the possibility of numbed nerves, you'll probably want to avoid activities that are super demanding. And if you're self-conscious, you might want to avoid activities that require minimal clothing, such as heading to the beach.

How much does CoolSculpting cost?

Of course, one of the most pressing questions that people have about CoolSculpting is: how much does it cost? And is there any way to get the procedure covered by health insurance? 

Unfortunately, CoolSculpting is not covered by health insurance, according to an article in The New York Times. Given that it's a cosmetic procedure in the way that liposuction is, health insurance companies aren't obligated to cover the procedure, as they only do that when there's a medical necessity involved. So if you decide to get CoolSculpting done, you'll be paying out of pocket.

As for the cost of a single CoolSculpting treatment, that will set you back by about $625, which isn't all that bad as far as cosmetic procedures go. But since you usually need to get multiple treatments before you see your desired results, you could be looking at a bill between $2,000 and $4,000 when all is said and done. So unless you're wealthy, it's time to start saving those pennies!

Is CoolSculpting safe?

Just as cost is a big concern when it comes to CoolSculpting, so too is safety. So is it really true that CoolSculpting is as safe as it is effective? And what are the risks that you need to know about before sitting down for the procedure?

Given that the FDA approved CoolSculpting in 2010, you can rest assured that it is indeed a medically safe procedure in the eyes of Uncle Sam. But some people have experienced pain during CoolSculpting, as well as swelling, as noted by Healthline. Additionally, another one of the side effects is a pulling sensation while you're getting CoolSculpting, which can be unnerving and uncomfortable. You might also deal with redness and feel that your skin is more sensitive than usual where you got it done.

The good news is that all of these side effects are temporary, and most of them will clear up in about two weeks. CoolSculpting, then, isn't a risky thing to do. Hooray!

CoolSculpting tightens your skin

In addition to freezing away unwanted fat cells, CoolSculpting has another surprising benefit. According to an article in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, CoolSculpting also tightens the skin in the area where you have the procedure done. Talk about the cherry on top of the sundae! That's the stuff of dreams.

What mechanisms are at work, exactly, that render your skin less saggy and more toned after CoolSculpting? One theory is that the cold temperature of the paddles during the procedure triggers elevated collagen production, according to the Parker Center for Plastic Surgery. And since collagen is what helps skin stay firm and youthful in appearance, that can tighten up areas that may have sagged a bit over the years.

Another theory is that since the fat loss is gradual after CoolSculpting, sometimes taking up to four months, that amount of time gives the skin the chance to naturally contract over a newly CoolSculpted shape. Either way, that's a super cool bonus!

In rare cases, CoolSculpting can cause fat growth

Unfortunately, it's not all good news when it comes to CoolSculpting, as there is one potential pitfall that can come along with it — which is completely antithetical to the goal of the procedure. Fortunately, it's exceedingly rare, so it won't have an impact on the overwhelmingly vast majority of people who have CoolSculpting done.

According to an article in the journal JAMA Dermatology, 0.0051 percent of patients who undergo CoolSculpting will develop a condition called paradoxical adipose hyperplasia. In layperson's terms, instead of having fat decrease in the area treated with CoolSculpting, fat cells actually increase. Scientists discovered this when a 41-year-old while male presented with an area of protruding flesh on his abdomen, where he had CoolSculpting done several months prior. Scans revealed that the tissue was indeed fat cells, likely to his chagrin.

Interestingly enough, this side effect is more common in men than women. But since only one in 20,000 people will get this side effect, it's not too much of a concern.

CoolSculpting is a profitable business

It should come as no surprise that CoolSculpting is quite the profitable venture for plastic surgeons and dermatologists. Given the cost of the procedure and the large amount of people who are having it done, there's quite a demand for CoolSculpting, meaning that anyone who provides it has the potential to make some serious bank.

So what are the specifics and just how much money is CoolSculpting pulling in for providers? According to an article in The New York Timesinvestors in CoolSculpting revealed that facilities who offer the procedure could earn an extra $200,000 a year in gross profits. That's if they're able to pull in at least two patients per week, each who will undergo about four treatments each. Um, that's a lot of extra cash!

Plus, if you look at the numbers, the demand for CoolSculpting truly is high. Zeltiq, the company who manufactures CoolSculpting machines, sells them for $150,000 apiece. And as of the end of 2016, they report that they had installed 5,600 CoolSculpting machines all over the world, and that approximately one million people have undergone nearly four million treatments. Who knows how much it's grown since!