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Let's just get this out there: Procedures targeting fat are divisive. As the movement to reclaim the word fat—and abolish the stigma around it—grows, so too does the increasing interest in cosmetic procedures and injectables. (According to the most recent data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the number of liposuction procedures rose 5% in the last year, while noninvasive fat reduction treatments rose 6%.) The relationships we have with our bodies are complicated and rarely fall perfectly into one belief system.
It's no wonder then that Coolsculpting, an FDA-approved nonsurgical fat-freezing procedure, has become one of the most popular treatments people ask me about on social media. I've worked as an on-camera beauty expert for the past eight years, and while it's a misconception that everyone who gets procedures is hypercritical of their appearance or trying to adhere to idealistic beauty standards—I don't feel compelled to look "perfect"—the reality is I had a lot of curiosity around it. I, like others, wanted to know whether fat freezing hurt, and mostly about the results. So when the opportunity to try Coolsculpting arose, I was willing to give it a go. And if it sculpted my body a little in the process? Cool.
What Is Coolsculpting?
First things first: Coolsculpting is described as a “fat-freezing fat reduction” procedure. It’s noninvasive and has very little downtime, so doctors often position it as an alternative to liposuction. Scientifically known as cryolipolysis, the process involves using a vacuum-like applicator to suction targeted areas of fat. Then it deep-freezes your fat cells, which eventually causes them to die and be naturally expelled via your lymphatic system. (Yep, that's exactly as it sounds.)
It’s cleared to work on the following areas: under your chin and jawline; on your thighs, abdomen, and flanks (i.e., "love handles"); for bra fat; and underneath your buttocks and upper arms. The caveat is that you have to have enough fat for the applicator to adhere to. Appointments are about 45 minutes long, and—at least in my experience—the procedure wasn't painful.
The sensation when the applicator suctions on to your skin is extremely cold at first, but your skin numbs, almost like when your foot falls asleep. After they remove the machine, they quickly massage out the frozen area of fat, which most agree is the worst part. Before you know it, it's over. I did my sessions with cosmetic surgeon Ashkan Ghavami, M.D., in Beverly Hills. In total, we did three appointments: one for my chin and two for my abdomen, spaced six weeks apart.
It’s now been two years since I had Coolsculpting, and to this day, I am constantly asked whether or not I would do it again. The short answer is yes, and I would probably get my stomach and flanks treated as well. While I loved my Coolsculpting results, there are a few things I wish I had known beforehand to keep expectations in check. Below, here are eight things you should know before booking your own appointment.
Coolsculpting Doesn’t Guarantee to Keep Off Fat
Coolsculpting might be FDA-approved, but it doesn't mean that your fat will disappear forever. If you gain weight, you may see the areas you treated gain weight as well. “The fat that died isn't coming back, but fat can still grow,” says board-certified dermatologist Nancy Samolitis, M.D., of Facile Dermatology Boutique in West Hollywood. The protocol for Coolsculpting includes weighing you in before the first treatment in the event you gain weight afterward. “If you’ve gained 10 pounds, it might even out, so you may look the same as your 'before' picture,” she says. For the record, I have gained 10 pounds, and while I had more sculpted results after I got the treatments, new fat has since grown back in those areas.
Plan to Get at Least Two Treatments
In theory, you can see a reduction in fat on areas like your stomach, flanks, and chin in as little as one session. But Ghavami told me that two sessions are ideal for more permanent results. You might even want to book three sessions for larger areas like your abdomen.
It Takes a Few Months to See Results
I remember thinking I was going to walk out of the treatment with my fat magically gone, but that didn't happen. Ghavami explained that I would see the best results after my second round. “Twenty to twenty-five percent of fat reduction is expected after two sessions,” he says. “Three to six months after the second session is when you’ll really see the best results.” He was right; one morning, I looked in the mirror and noticed that my chin and stomach were both noticeably slimmer. But you have to have patience.
Before Coolsculpting on my chin; after one session of CoolsculptingKirbie Johnson
Smaller Areas Might Not Be Worth It
When I got my chin done, the results were so effective that I actually wasn’t able to get a second treatment there (because there was no fat available to be frozen off). “The applicators are a certain size, and for smaller areas, if it doesn’t grab on, you can’t do it,” says Samolitis. In that case, Kybella (an FDA-approved injection, which contains a naturally occurring molecule that dissolves fat) might be more effective. But while both treatments can lead to inflammation and swelling, Samolitis warns those side effects tend to last longer with Kybella and the procedure is generally less pleasant than Coolsculpting. You typically also need more than two Kybella treatments to see longer-lasting results.
Another thing you should know about getting Coolsculpting on your chin is that it's one of the most uncomfortable areas. For me, it felt like having a hand pressed against my throat, so I'd advise giving careful consideration to this area if you're claustrophobic or triggered by the sensation.
It’s Meant for Stubborn Areas
This isn’t a magic wand to help get rid of all your fat—and it's not a replacement for a healthy diet or exercise. It’s really meant for fine-tuning. “Anybody who is significantly overweight, or who is over 20 pounds from their desired weight, is probably not going to be wowed by the effects of Coolsculpting,” says Samolitis. “Fat can still grow. There is no way Coolsculpting can remove 100% of it." Rather, if there's a small, stubborn area you want tweaked, Coolsculpting could be an option.
The Massage Is the Worst Part
After the doctors remove the applicator from your body, they immediately start to massage out the lump of frozen fat. This is by far the weirdest, most annoying part of the experience. I can’t compare it to anything else I've ever tried—just imagine that your fat has been frozen into a block, and someone must rapidly thaw it. It was bizarre feeling pressure from the technician’s hands, but not actually feeling her touch. Some patients say this part hurts. Personally, I would describe it more as intense discomfort.
The Price Depends on How Many Applicators You Need
Your doctor may use more applicators to impact how much fat gets reduced. "You need more applicators angled in different ways to get that sculpting effect," says Samolitis. "People have different patterns of fat distribution. Sometimes one person may need three applicators over two rounds, whereas another may need five applicators over two rounds.”
I had one applicator on my chin and one on my abdomen for a total of three treatments: one on my chin, two on my stomach. Most places that offer Coolsculpting charge per applicator, not per session. “Most people offer packages because rarely there’s a case where someone only needs one applicator with one treatment," says Samolitis. Prices vary depending on where you live, but at Ghavami’s office, where I received Coolsculpting, treatments on your chin range from $700 to $800 and can typically withstand only one mini applicator; while abdomen treatments range from $600 to $750 per applicator.
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My stomach before, in between, and after getting two Coolsculpting treatmentsKirbie Johnson
Beware of Counterfeit Coolsculpting
As Coolscupting gets more popular, counterfeit treatments (without FDA approval) are also on the rise. And while the price might be more affordable, they also have the potential to be detrimental to your skin. Samolitis says people who try these knockoffs often end up with extreme cases of frostbite. To make sure you’re being treated with a legitimate device, check it against the Coolsculpting site and always talk to your doctor about their experience administering the treatment.