No matter how strict you stick to your daily exercise routine and diet plan, you just can’t seem to shed those stubborn pockets of fat. Luckily for us, there are now non-surgical fat reduction treatments available.
Non-surgical fat reduction refers to non-invasive procedures designed to break down the fat cells in your body. They can help you achieve the desired body you’ve been reaching for.
In this article, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about non-surgical fat reduction, how our fat cells work, the different types of non-surgical fat reduction treatments, side effects of the procedures and more.
Let’s have a better look at our fat cells: How do they work?
It is common knowledge that too much fat is bad for us. However, our bodies need fat to function. The scientific terms for these fat cells are :
- Essential fatty acids
These are types of fat that the body cannot make on its own.
Triglycerides are the main type of fat we consume. They are important for energy storage and serve as an energy supply for our bodies' needs. The rest is stored inside the cells as blobs referred to as lipid droplets.
Fats help the body stockpile certain nutrients. They include the so-called fat-soluble vitamins — A, D, E and K . They are stored in the liver and fatty tissues.
Fat cells are also regulators of certain chemical reactions. They help to regulate:
- Immune function
- And other aspects of metabolism
However, an excess or imbalance of fat cells can result in diseases such as heart disease and diabetes .
How do you get rid of fat cells?
I always explain to my patients that once fat cells form, especially when we reach adulthood, they may shrink during weight loss. However, the actual number of fat cells we have does not change. One definite way to reduce the number of fat cells is through a surgical procedure called liposuction.
However, this form of surgery carries significant risks. It has the potential to result in death from potential complications of lipo surgery.
While diet and exercise cannot permanently remove fat cells, we have at our disposal non-surgical fat reduction devices. These devices promise to break down fat cells through a process known as lipolysis. The fat gets broken down into glycerol and fatty acids which then can be broken down directly into energy or to make glucose.
What is the difference between fat reduction and weight loss?
Losing weight and losing fat are two different issues. There are 2 factors that determine our weight. They are :
- Store energy from the food we eat
- And at the rate which we use that energy
Therefore, a negative calorie balance will result in weight loss.
In fat reduction, it is important to remember that as our body breaks down fat, the number of fat cells remains the same. They simply reduce in size.
How do I know if non-surgical fat reduction is a good option for me?
In my opinion, non-surgical fat reduction is a good option for those who have tried diet and exercise and yet still have stubborn pockets of fat that are resistant. These are typically individuals with a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30 or less. They must also have a realistic expectation of what they hope to achieve through non-surgical fat reduction.
What are the benefits of non-surgical fat reduction?
The main benefit of non-surgical fat reduction is that it helps individuals achieve their desired body shape without the complications of a lipo surgery. It improves their self-esteem as well as helps them fit into clothes they otherwise will have problems with.
What are the limitations of non-surgical fat reduction?
When I counsel patients who intend to undergo non-surgical fat reduction, the first things I tell them are its limitations. Non-surgical fat reduction cannot replace surgical liposuction in terms of the results that they are looking for. However, the effects can be close to or approximately that of surgery in those with minimal pockets of fat.
How do non-surgical fat reduction techniques work?
Generally, fat cells are most sensitive to changes in temperature as compared to other tissues. Therefore, fat reduction devices will either use extreme cold or elevated temperatures to cause lipolysis of the fat cells.
What are the most common non-surgical fat reduction treatments and how do they work?
Cryolipolysis works by subjecting the fat cells to extreme cold . The temperature usually ranges from -11 to 5 degrees Celsius for the localised reduction of fat deposits. This helps to reshape the contours of the body.
The most popular device for non-surgical fat reduction is called Zeltiq. This device popularised the term “coolsculpting”. Since then, there have been many other similar devices on the market. One must be careful when choosing where to go for such procedures. Some beauty salons use unlicensed devices that claim to provide "coolsculpting".
Studies have shown that there has been an average of up to 25% reduction of fat after a single treatment . However, usually more than one treatment is required.
Laser lipolysis has evolved into a minimally invasive procedure. It uses heat from fibre-optic lasers at various wavelengths to melt body fat . During the procedure, the laser beams inactive the fat cells. In doing so, the effects of this procedure will be permanent.
In recent years, there is now an FDA-approved non-surgical laser treatment called Sculpture. The 1064nm wavelength used has a specific natural liking for fat cells. Coupled with minimal absorption by the skin, it allows for the device to efficiently treat stubborn pockets of fat.
This procedure has been given the term “warmsculpting”. Studies done by Sculpture have shown fat reduction of up to 24% in the areas treated. Typically, a series of treatments is also required to see results.
Ultrasound Fat Reduction
There are several such devices on the market today. The more notable ones are Ultrashape and Liposonix.
Ultrashape utilises a pulse of non-thermal mechanical ultrasound that induces cavitational lipolysis.
Liposonix, on the other hand, utilises high-intensity, focused ultrasound delivered to a precise depth of 13mm to induce focal fat cell death.
In my opinion, there are a few issues with Liposonix. It has expensive consumables and the procedure causes discomfort to the patients. Hence, I have replaced it with a newer generation model called SCIZER. It has an innovative contact cooling handpiece which reduces patient discomfort. In addition, the consumables are cheaper which translates into a more economical option.
Radiofrequency Induced Lipolysis
Radiofrequency (RF) induced lipolysis devices are not new. The older generation devices that utilise bipolar to multipolar electrodes, in my experience, do not produce consistent and effective results. The newer generation devices such as Vanquish ME and Trusculpt ID are both Monopolar RF devices. It allows the RF energy to penetrate deeper and deliver the RF energy more efficiently.
What differentiates Vanquish ME from the rest is that it is a non-contact RF device. This makes the procedure more comfortable. However, there are a few downsides to it. It requires at least 4 treatments  and each treatment takes around 45 minutes to complete.
Trusculpt ID, on the other hand, has a total of 6 handpieces each 40 cm sq. This allows for the customisation of the treatment area. It can cover up to 300 sq cm in a single session. What sets this apart from other RF treatments is that the treatment takes only 15 minutes and can feel like a hot stone massage. The number of sessions you have to go for depends on the amount of fat that needs to be removed.
How do I know which non-surgical fat reduction treatment is suited for me?
When looking for a suitable non-surgical fat reduction treatment, it is advisable to go to registered medical clinics. These clinics use devices registered under the local HSA. Thus, a degree of safety and efficacy can be assured.
One must also bear in mind that some of these devices can only be done on individuals with at least one inch of pinchable fat. If you have a layer of fat that is too thin, you are not suitable for this treatment. This applies to devices like Zeltiq cool sculpting and HIFU devices. In general, such treatments are best suited to individuals with a BMI of less than 30.
What are the side effects of non-surgical fat reduction?
The side effects of non-surgical fat reduction are generally temporary if performed correctly. Here are some of the potential temporary side effects :
- Abnormal sensations
Other notable side effects, although less common, include paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (PAH). Normally associated with cool sculpting, it is when the treated area becomes bigger than desired.
Other complications have also been reported. They are
- Muscle injuries
- Intestinal perforations
However, these are due to incorrect selection of patients and incorrect use of the device.
How do I know I won’t gain back the fat I just lost through non-surgical fat reduction?
To ensure that you do not put back on the fat you have lost, it is essential to embark on a good and healthy diet along with regular exercise. I have some patients who do come back for some maintenance treatments to ensure that the fat stays off.
What is body contouring? How is it different from non-surgical body reduction?
Body contouring refers to shaping the body into a more ideal or proportionate shape. It is usually associated with surgical liposuction.
To achieve fat loss, non-surgical fat reduction targets areas of stubborn fat. It usually does not involve contouring. In recent times, I have seen the evolution of non-surgical fat reduction that allows us to contour the body to a certain extent. This is especially true when combined with muscle toning or sculpting devices.
Who should I consult for non-surgical fat reduction?
I would advise that you seek consultation at registered medical clinics. This is crucial as it ensures that the treatment is:
- safely performed by an experienced as well as qualified doctor,
- done with safe devices.
What should I expect during the consultation?
During a consultation, it is important to determine the BMI of the patient. Such treatments work best on those with a BMI of <30.
Secondly, the area to be treated will be assessed and examined. This is to ensure that it is safe to carry out the treatment. For example, the presence of a hernia in the abdomen is a contraindication for treatment in this area.
Lastly, it is important to ensure that the patient has realistic expectations. The doctor should explain to the patient what the results that can be obtained are.
How much do non-surgical fat reduction procedures cost in Singapore?
The prices can vary quite a fair bit depending on these factors such as:
- the clinic and
- devices used.
Typically, devices that require only one or few sessions cost more per session than those that require multiple sessions.
The average costs of these treatments would also depend on the size of the area being treated. Typically, prices should range from $600 to $1,800 per session.
There has been a worldwide increase in the demand for non-surgical fat reduction. This is largely due to the relative ease of undergoing such procedures, as well as the safety and effectiveness of such devices. This has, in turn, fueled an increase in the research and development of such devices with newer and better ones coming into the market.
Here is what my ideal device would look like:
- Has good efficacy in fat reduction
- Comfortable for the patient
In addition, the cost of the procedure must be reasonable. Treatment times should also be kept short. Ideally, results should be able to be achieved in 1-2 sessions.
If this device can also achieve good skin tightening and muscle toning or sculpting, it will be a very attractive option.
Does such a device exist now? Probably not. However, the Trusculpt ID does tick a lot of these boxes. With the soon-to-be-released Trusculpt Flex for muscle toning and building, the combination of these two devices may prove to show more effective results. However, my only concern with this will be the cost if someone is to undergo both procedures.
Dr K K Chew practices aesthetic medicine and NU•U Aesthetics & Wellness Clinic located at Paragon since 2004. Dr Chew is the past Vice President of the Singapore Society of Aesthetic Medicine and currently serves as its Honorary Advisor. He believes that every face and person is unique and everyone will have their own aspirations and visions.
Would you like to ask any related health questions?
1. What Do Fats Do in the Body? Nih.gov.
2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Health Risks of Being Overweight | NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
3. Chow CC, Hall KD. The Dynamics of Human Body Weight Change. Bourne PE, ed. PLoS Computational Biology.
4. Sadick N, Luebberding S, Mai SV, Krueger N. Cryolipolysis for noninvasive body contouring: clinical efficacy and patient satisfaction. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology.
5. Badin A, Moraes L, Gondek L, Chiaratti M, Canta L. Laser Lipolysis: Flaccidity Under Control. Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
6. Pumprla J, Howorka K, Kolackova Z, Sovova E. Non-contact radiofrequency-induced reduction of subcutaneous abdominal fat correlates with initial cardiovascular autonomic balance and fat tissue hormones: safety analysis.
7. Kilmer SL, Burns AJ, Zelickson BD. Safety and efficacy of cryolipolysis for non-invasive reduction of submental fat. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine.