Oh my.  How confusing all this liposuction stuff is, even for me, a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon. If it confuses me, I can only imagine how it must confuse others. So here is a quick and dirty breakdown of what is out there, and my opinion of what it does…

UAL, ultrasonic, Vaser liposuction

  • UAL is ultrasonic liposuction.  It uses ultrasonic energy to help fat cavitate, or liquefy/break up.  It has been around since the mid 1990s.  It is wonderful at breaking up fibrous fat, and is thought to potentially tighten the skin a bit.  It never caught on as much as some other methods. Why if it is so good did it not catch on?  The machine was expensive.  They marketed mostly to true plastic surgeons (there aren’t many of us), so they didn’t sell many machines.  Some people who didn’t know how to use it well would get skin burns and issues with seromas, so they would bad mouth it.  After all this time, I am still a huge fan.  I find it is a good caliber, it really breaks up fibrous fat (which all you athletic people have, and you men, and anyone with any prior surgery and internal scar), and it helps create a smooth even result.  I still love it.
  • Vaser is ultrasonic liposuction.  A slightly smaller caliber, not quite as strong an energy as UAL.  Still effective at breaking up fat.  Good.

Laser liposuction, Slim lipo, Smart lipo

  • Laser liposuction uses laser energy to break up the fat.  Again, just like ultrasonic liposuction, the energy can potentially cause burns.  If you liquefy the fat and don’t remove it with traditional liposuction, you will get seromas.  My biggest issue with laser liposuction is the marketing.  They purposefully lead patients to believe there is no anesthesia needed, it retracts the skin well, no traditional liposuction is needed, and you will be back at normal life in a day or two.  ANY TIME YOU DO A SMALL AREA THESE THINGS ARE TRUE.  When you do any larger area, which even here with my uber atheletic Palo Alto patient population most of my patients need, they still use ultrasonic liposuction FIRST and then the laser second.  For normal sized cases where they only use the laser, it takes forever.  Because the laser is such a small caliber, it is like painting a room with a small paintbrush, not a roller.  Time on the operating room table is a risk factor for complications.  Smoothness of fat removal is important as well, and painting a room with a small brush doesn’t give that smooth airbrushed quality which a roller can.  Again, I think energy to break up fat is a good thing for most liposuction patients.  When I went to the seminar where they tried to sell me these machines, the instructors admitted for most cases they used ultrasonic first and finished the patients with the laser.  I don’t think lasers are bad.  My issue is with their misleading marketing.  Also these companies are focused on selling machines.  I am concerned about their integrity because they specifically target nonplastic surgeons to do the procedure.
  • Smart lipo. Brand of laser liposuction
  • Slim lipo. Another brand.  They argue they are faster than Smart Lipo. ??

Noninvasive liposuction.

  • No incisions. Not a surgery.  External machines which “melt” the fat, which is then absorbed into your body.   Sonosculpt, Zerona, Cryolipolysis, Ultrashape are some of the machines touted.  There is also mesotherapy and lipodissolve, where you inject fluids under the skin to melt the fat.  I was on the board of directors for a fledgling company which was trying to address noninvasive liposuction.  I think it is a fantastic idea, but has many issues still.  Most of the companies which show true reduction in fat volume could not control the smoothness and amount of fat removal.  And it was painful.
  • The goal with liposuction is not just the amount of fat removed.  You want the contour to look smooth.  I had a patient who came to me from Wyoming who had mesotherapy.  It has never really taken off for a reason.  There is no “standard” solution.  For my patient, the solution injected caused her to go into liver failure, and she was taken by emergency helicopter to Salt Lake City and was in the ICU for a week.

When fat is liquefied, it gets absorbed into your bloodstream, so safety and health issues to consider:

  • ?Change in blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels?  I recently went to a talk for a noninvasive liposuction machine.  They said the triglyceride and cholesterol levels were fine after the procedure.  When I asked for more detail (I was curious), they had only taken a single blood test six weeks after the procedure to look at levels.  That does not tell me the safety at all!  What was the level in the blood during the procedure? An hour after? 6 hours after? 24 hours?  I need to know my patients who are doing elective procedures for cosmetic reasons are safe.  If your blood stream is flooded with fat, can it cause organ damage? etc etc.
  • ?How much fat can you safely remove at a time?
  • ?Smoothness and evenness of fat removal?
  • ?Fat emboli in your blood stream?
  • ?Is the size reduction long lasting?  We all have seen massage and body wraps “take off inches” which we know will come right back after a few days.

So. I have gone into this on my website with liposuction pitfalls: I and II.  I may repeat myself a bit, but I hope to educate you and demystify the madness a little.  I like to think of myself as a girlfriend’s guide to plastic surgery.

Tell a friend.  I am always so sad when I meet a patient after they have been snookered into surgery by promises of a rainbow: no pain, no surgery, no scars, no downtime.  And some things I can’t fix.