Freezing Off Fat: Innovative or Dangerous?

Fitness experts tell you to "feel the burn," but others may soon be telling you to "cool it." That's because Cryolipolysis, a new technique for eliminating unwanted body fat, is quickly becoming popular. The Food and Drug Administration only recently approved it, but many dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons have been performing cryolipolysis "off label" for a while.   So, is freezing your fat off innovative or dangerous?

Cryolipolysis is a minimally invasive, painless procedure that was originally intended to cool the skin during dermatologic and other medical procedures.  Doctors determined, however, that when it was used to strategically cool areas with fat underneath, it had the effect of gradually reducing and removing some of the fat itself.  The procedure has since gained popularity as yet another weapon in the arsenal of fat reduction techniques that includes liposuction.  The advantage of this fat freezing technique, however, is that it does not involve surgery, anesthesia, or recovery time. 

Doctors apply either a saucer-sized suction cup or a gel-type patch to the targeted area and apply a cooling device.  Patients report minimal or no discomfort because instead of freezing the skin, the cooling effect is directed to the fat underneath. When that surface fat layer is cooled to a freezing temperature, the fat cells degenerate and the body metabolizes them.  The result is about a 22 percent reduction of fat in the targeted area.  It's not instant though.   It takes around an hour for each fat freezing procedure, and the effects aren't noticeable for about eight weeks. 

An article published in the journal Lasers in Surgery and Medicine conducted a review of cryolipolysis techniques, devices, and procedures to help determine how they might work for cosmetic procedures and whether fat freezing is safe.  They concluded that while they can't say for certain how cryolipolysis works or where the fat goes, it does have the affect of reducing fat and appears to be safe. Matthew Avram, MD, lead author of the journal article points out that this procedure is not comparable to liposuction and is not a weight-loss device.

The procedure costs between $400 and $1500 per treatment, but it appears that one freezing procedure is enough.  Doctors say it's best used for patients who are already at or near their optimal weight, physically fit, and looking for help with stubborn fat deposits that are resistant to exercise and diet. 

Is this the fat-blasting trend of the future?  It's too early to say but it does appear to be a cool option for some people. 



CryolipolysisTM for subcutaneous fat layer reduction

  1. Mathew M. Avram MD, JD1,*,
  2. Rosemary S. Harry MSBME2

Article first published online: 14 DEC 2009

DOI: 10.1002/lsm.20864