The pros and cons of the non-surgical procedures that promise the body of your dreams
Forget about your face for a minute. Non-surgical body contouring or sculpting procedures are increasingly popular – and attractive-sounding – offerings at your local dermatologist’s or aesthetician’s office.
Also known as non-invasive fat-reduction treatments, they claim to offer a quick, pain-free solution to getting rid of fat, requiring no anaesthesia and leaving neither scars nor discomfort.
But can you really whittle away that muffin top, shrink that belly, firm up those saddle bags or get rid of a double chin with the wave of a wand?
“No, you cannot”
“For me, it just didn’t work, despite how much I wanted it to,” says Reem Mohammed, a 23-year-old Lebanese communications student in Abu Dhabi. “My friends and I have become obsessed with learning everything we can about these treatments – and unfortunately, not all of them work.”
If you are overweight and need to lose a few pounds, body contouring is a waste of money, Mohammed believes.
She tried a procedure called 3D-Lipo at a clinic in Abu Dhabi, which claims to aid weight loss by combining different types of treatments, including: cavitation, which uses ultrasound to destroy fat cells; cryolipolysis for fat reduction; radio frequency for skin tightening and dermology for cellulite reduction.
“I was told a total of six to eight sessions were required to see any change,” says Mohammed. “I did four. I lost two to three centimetres as soon as each session was done but in the next day or two, whatever I lost would come back – and it kept happening. So I asked for my money back and didn’t do my final three sessions.”
Mohammed says the treatment might work for people who “are already slim and at a normal weight and just need a few centimetres off here and there – but not those who need proper weight loss”.
At Dh1,200 a session – or a special deal of six sessions for Dh4,000 – the procedure is not cheap.
“They compress your tummy for about 20 minutes, so of course you feel slimmer, but as soon as I drank water, my tummy bulged out again,” she says.
“So many of my friends tried so many of these treatments, and a total of zero friends say anything worked – it’s such a waste of money.”
“Yes, you can”
Lipodystrophy is a disorder that prevents the body from producing and storing fat – it is sometimes called fat redistribution. Induced lipodystrophy is possible either through cool sculpting, which freezes and hence destroys fat cells, or using a cold laser treatment, which again targets and eliminates fat cells.
Cool sculpting is a body-contouring treatment that actually works. A non-invasive alternative to liposuction, it is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. If you can pinch the fat on your skin between your fingers, then you can freeze it and, eventually, eliminate it.
Similar to cool sculpting, and also FDA approved, the low-level cold laser Zerona disrupts fat membranes, causing fat cells to leak and collapse, resulting in inches taken off the treated areas.
Sara Esam, a 25-year-old American-Palestinian accountant in Abu Dhabi, says she has become a regular at the VLCC Wellness Clinic in Abu Dhabi to try out similar weight-loss treatments.
“They offer all sorts of body-contouring treatments there and it’s almost addictive for someone like me,” she says.
Esam has lost 50 kilograms in the past four years, dropping from a UK size 20 dress size to size 8. Still, she has problem areas that need to be targeted.
“I started off trying Thermage, which is a radiofrequency treatment, to tighten up all the loose skin on my thighs and underarms,” says Esam. “I spent so much money, and it just didn’t work.”
She now swears by cool sculpting. She is also impressed by ultrasound technology – specifically the Liponsonix – for its ability to target a double chin. It uses high-intensity focused ultrasounds (HIFU) to permanently destroy subcutaneous adipose tissues, offering a precisely focused delivery of energy to a specific area without harming surrounding skin, tissue or organs.
“My friend and I both did it, and her face is incredible now,” says Esam. “It took her six sessions and a lot of money but her double chin completely disappeared. I had a triple chin, and it’s gone. There’s such a huge difference in my face.”
Of all the body-contouring treatments, cool sculpting is the one that really works, according to Naseem, 30-year-old Arab-American who has been living in Abu Dhabi for three years and says she practically lives in the gym.
“I’m testament to that fact,” she said.
After losing 30 kilograms, her body plateaued, and try as she might, Naseem could not rid herself of her belly fat.
“I was really considering liposuction, because that pocket of fat killed me – I wanted it gone,” she says.
Doctors told her the amount of fat on her belly did not warrant treatment as severe and invasive as liposuction. One plastic surgeon instead advised her to look into cool sculpting.
“Considering it’s the only one that’s FDA-approved, I was interested,” she says. “It freezes your fat, which kills your fat cells. It made sense to me.”
Naseem had the procedure, targeting her lower abs, at the Eternal Clinic in Dubai five months ago. It took about an hour and 20 minutes and cost Dh4,200.
“After just one month, I could see the changes in my body shape,” she says. “Suddenly, a problem area that had been bothering me for years and that I just couldn’t fix no matter how much I tried, was no longer a problem and I didn’t even have to commit to invasive surgery.”
Naseem says she is “over-the-moon happy”, even though she concedes the results are not “perfect”.
“This procedure killed the fat cells in my tummy area, so now if I gain weight, it will be in other parts of my body,” she says. “But even if I’m at a heavier weight, I’m still comfortable because my body shape is different.
“And it’s not [a way] for a fat person to get skinny – it’s for targeting a problem area or resculpting, almost. If your love handles are big, this is the sort of thing you’d do.
“I did my research for months and this is the only method with science behind it to back it up.”
Proceed with caution
Patients have to understand that any fat-reduction technology that claims to be permanent will only work if the patient actively controls their weight.
“If you gain weight, it has to go somewhere, and if you’ve frozen fat cells on a particular part of your body, the fat gain will find somewhere else to settle,” says Dr Ahmad Al Aslawi, a reconstructive and aesthetic surgeon from Kuwait who practises at NMC in Dubai.
Nutrition and exercise remain the two most important factors in maintaining weight loss.
“If you’re going to spend all that money and commit to multiple sessions – because none of these treatments are cheap and none of them are as effective with just one session – and if you do all that without changing your diet and eating habits, then what a waste,” he adds.
Updated: June 28, 2017 04:00 AM