Pulse: How We Spend: The Firm

Noninvasive flab-reducing treatments are the luxe new lipo. Or are they?

The scene before me is an odd one, and not only because I’ve just entered a room where a stranger is lying on a table, wearing nothing but a Hanky Panky thong and dark goggles. It’s also odd because upon the stranger’s torso, a flower-shaped neon red laser beam whirls and buzzes. The lady, the light, the table, are like a scene from Weird Science — or a tanning machine of the future. It looks odd. It does not, however, look painful.

I’m at Deme, the sleek dental-medical collaborative that has quickly risen to the top of our region’s most-popular-for-Botox/-medical facials/teeth-whitening/eye-lifts/and-beyond list. Here, they’re doing in-house trials of lipo that isn’t lipo at all, testing out new, noninvasive treatments that are supposed to “work through the barrier of the skin without pausing, without the need for any incisions, any anesthesia, essentially any pain — with an immediate recovery,” says Deme plastic surgeon Kevin Cross. In other words, it’s lipo for wimpsters. At last.

This particular device is the efficacious-sounding, laser-based Zerona. The next room over is the Accent, another alleged fat-banisher that resembles a hand-held mini vacuum, which is going to town on another stranger’s post-pregnancy paunch.  

To scientists and doctors, these two different treatments are the new frontier of body sculpting. But to the rest of us, they’re simple, spa-like, and God-sent: You go in, get assessed, sign up for two to six 30-ish-minute visits, pay about $3,000, and wait for what Cross calls your “troublesome areas” to shrink.

Or not. Preliminary findings show these machines don’t work for everyone; even the machines’ manufacturers can’t report long-term results. Warns Brian Buinewicz, medical director at medspa 3000BC, “If you want proven technology, you want liposuction.” Except if you don’t want liposuction. Ever.

A few weeks after my visit, Deme decides against keeping the Accent and the Zerona — says Cross, “Our findings were much less significant than what [the manufacturer-sponsored] studies reported.” I decide to see for myself via Rescue Rittenhouse Spa’s new radio-frequency-powered VelaShape machine. Inside a serene treatment room, aesthetician Kelly Cronin crisscrosses the device over my legs, which get warm. Then, we’re done. Afterwards, my thighs feel as toned as if they just went to spin class; the rest of me feels relaxed, like I’ve had a massage. Who knows if it really worked? All I know is, the future is here, and it’s odd, and I’ll be back.