Cryolipolysis has emerged as a popular noninvasive treatment option for reducing localized areas of fat. The technology was developed on the premise that cold temperatures can selectively damage subcutaneous fat while leaving the overlying skin unharmed, as demonstrated by popsicle panniculitis. In this process, when subcutaneous fat is cooled below body temperature but above freezing, the fat undergoes cell death followed by a local inflammatory response, a localized panniculitis, that gradually results in a reduction of fat in that area.
Dr. Dieter Manstein and Dr. R. Rox Anderson pioneered the concept of cryolipolysis in 2008. The technology was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010 in the form of the Zeltiq device. The device has different-sized hand pieces with a vacuum connection that, after it is applied to the skin, cools the subcutaneous fat without damaging the top layers of skin. Each area is treated for 1 hour, and 20%-30% of the fat cells are expected to be reduced with a single treatment. Typical responses after treatment include numbness, but some patients may also experience bruising and discomfort, all of which typically last no longer than 2-3 weeks.
If discomfort occurs in my patients, I find they report it more often in the lower abdomen than the love handles. Paradoxical adipose hyperplasia was recently reported for the first time in a male patient in his 40s (in the lower abdomen) (JAMA Dermatol. 2014;150:317-9).
In my experience, there is no difference in efficacy or adverse events seen in patients of different ethnicities. One study found no difference in efficacy or adverse events of cryolipolysis in Chinese patients (Lasers Surg. Med. 2012;44:125-30), but no other study of cryolipolysis in ethnic patients has been published.
I was involved in the clinical trials for this device prior to FDA approval where one love handle was treated on a patient and the other side was used as a control. Based on this experience and my experience using the device in practice, it is not a replacement for abdominoplasty or liposuction, but it is a useful technology in the right candidate. The patients who seem to do the best are those who are 10-15 pounds from their goal weight, are not obese (body mass index less than 30 kg/m2), and have a discrete bulge (typically love handles or abdomen) that they can’t get rid of with good diet and exercise alone. Massage for a few minutes after treatment seems to increase efficacy (Lasers Surg. Med. 2014;46:20-6).
Some patients may require more than one treatment to achieve their desired results, but I recommend waiting at least 2-3 months before opting for additional treatment. Choosing the right candidates and providing patients with realistic expectations seem to be the most helpful in this process.
Dr. Wesley practices dermatology in Beverly Hills, Calif.