Liposuction Alternatives: Treatments for Love Handles, Muffin Tops, Belly Fat and More

From Zeltiq to VelaShape, four FDA-approved fat removal techniques to take care of trouble spots

Woman can't squeeze into jeans

If you’re thinking about liposuction but are a little freaked about surgery, anesthesia, downtime—or heck, all three—you may be in luck. Non-invasive fat removal techniques that get rid of fat cells without surgery or recovery time are available at plenty of places in the area.

Of course, there are drawbacks to these liposuction alternatives. For one, most work as compliments to liposuction surgery, or perform fat removal on a smaller scale. Although cheaper than lipo, they’re all pretty pricey, and it’s questionable how permanent the results are. And of course, none of these procedures (liposuction included), are miracle-workers. Diet, upkeep and exercise are necessary for long-lasting results.

But if you have a few pesky trouble-spots the gym just won’t get rid of, these four techniques, which leverage lasers, light, heat and freezing temperatures, may do the trick. All of these procedures are FDA-approved and said to be relatively painless.

Zerona laser liposuction
Cost: $2,000 to $3,500
Time commitment: The four-week treatment involves one week of prep where patients take a supplement called Curva, followed by two weeks of the lasers and one week for fat to metabolize (timing can vary).

You remember photosynthesis from ninth-grade biology, right? Well this is sort of like that—only for fat cells.

Zerona laser liposuction uses a photochemical process where light shines through the skin to subcontaneous fat. This opens up a temporary pore in the fat cells which allows them to leak, going from plump and grape-like to shriveled and raisin-like, so the cells don’t actually die. The fat is taken into lymph system, then transferred to the blood vessels and processed by the liver. The procedure simply uses light and your body’s normal processes to optimize fat removal.

During the procedure, patients lie on a table while two claw-like devices are lowered over them. The arms of the claws are pointed at target areas—love handles, muffin tops—where they shine low-level lasers that carry out the cell-leaking duties. Patients typically receive 20 minutes of lasers on each side.

Family physician Suzanne Steele, who offers the procedure at Rittenhouse Laser, says that Zerona laser liposuction shows results in people of all sizes—not just slightly-overweight patients. However, some surgeons remain skeptical of Zerona’s effectiveness. The treatment involves multiple weekly sessions, prep, a low-fat diet, and exercise, any of which can affect the results if not done properly. Another downside: during the four weeks of treatment, patients can’t drink alcohol. So try to plan around New Year’s Eve and big open-bar events.

CoolSculpting by Zeltiq
Cost: $700 per treatment; most areas, like the abdomen and love handles, need two treatments, one on each side.
Time commitment: Each treatment is one hour long.

Okay, here’s another ninth-grade bio term for you: apoptosis, or programmed cell death. What Zeltiq’s CoolSculpting does is freeze the cells, through a process called cryolipolysis, and induce apoptosis, a natural process in which the fat cell gradually dies. It uses an applicator piece that has a strong vacuum where fat is pinched down and cooled. Plastic surgeon Jason Bloom at Main Line Center for Laser Surgery in Ardmore, where CoolSculpting is offered, says that 20 to 22 percent of the fat suctioned into the device dies within six weeks to two months after patients receive treatment.

Bloom says the procedure works best for people who are ten to fifteen pounds overweight and have pockets of fat on the upper and lower abdomen, love handles, high hip, back and bra areas. Bloom says it also does a great job tackling the pesky post-pregnancy and C-section pooch.

A downside to the Zeltiq fat removal technique: treated areas can be sore or tender for two to five days after treatment and you may be numb in the areas for up to a week. CoolSculpting is not FDA-approved to be used on the butt, thighs, arms and neck.

Cost: $700 to $2,000
Time commitment: One month of four weekly treatments maintained every four to six months

Yup, this is the one Kim Kardashian gushed about. VelaShape uses radiofrequency and infared light, along with a massage roller. The infared light heats the dermis, while radiofrequency shrinks and tightens fat cells. There are suction and massage elements involved, too, which open up the blood vessels, increase circulation and evenly distribute the cellulite.

Molly Hagen, medical aesthetician who offers VelaShape at Dermacenter Medical Spa in Rittenhouse, says it pairs well as a complementary to liposuction. The surgery often causes cellulite and dimpling (bummer, right?) that VelaShape does a good job of smoothing out. Hagen says it works best for circumferential reduction in the butt and thigh areas, but can also be used on the arms or even the stomach for belly fat removal. And of course, as Kim Kardashian will tell you, it’s great for cellulite.

Cost: $1,500 to $3,000
Time commitment: Six to eight sessions, one to two weeks apart

Exilis is another radiofrequency treatment that penetrates deeper than VelaShape and does not require a suction mechanism. In this procedure, a wand similar to that in an ultrasound glides over the skin with gel. The wand heats the tissues under the skin to the point that fat cells become so damaged that they explode, leak, go into the the bloodstream and leave the body via urination. The skin stays safe during this procedure; the device measures the skin’s temperature and turns off every 30 seconds to keep from getting too hot.

Paul Glat, a plastic surgeon who provides this liposuction alternative at his office in Bala Cynwood, says Exilis can be a replacement for small-scale liposuction. The procedure is best for spot reduction, like the spare tires, saddle bags and muffin tops. It also has shown some nice results in tightening the neck, jowls and lower-face areas.