The Best Non-Surgical Options for Body Enhancement

Here's how to shape your body and shed some fat without going under the knife.

Would you be surprised to hear that body contouring treatments and procedures, both surgical and non-surgical, are often more popular than facial procedures?

Though Canadian statistics aren’t available, liposuction is the number one cosmetic surgery in the world, comprising five percent of all elective surgeries, and breast augmentation is the second most performed cosmetic procedure. It stands to reason: You know how good you feel about yourself when you lose a little weight – your muscles are firmer, and you like your new shape. That’s what drives people to consider body contouring procedures, from minimally invasive liposuction to completely noninvasive fat-destruction treatments.

The surgical side of body contouring is fairly simple, and includes liposuction, tummy tucks and breast augmentation. I’ll talk about liposuction and tummy tucks today and save breast augmentation for another column. In the realm of non-surgical liposuction, there are treatments that will reduce unwanted, localized body fat and firm muscles to give you a more pleasing silhouette. But let me start with “buyer beware” or, more accurately, “buyer be clear.” I say this not because the procedures aren’t effective but because, patients often have unrealistic expectations of what non-surgical body contouring can do. Simply put, the results are subtle – sometimes subtly terrific but subtle nonetheless.

Remember, it isn’t liposuction. Non-surgical body sculpting isn’t going to dramatically transform your body. But if you’re a “good candidate,” which means a body mass index (BMI) of less than 30, you can get some pleasing results. If you think of yourself as, say, 10 pounds overweight and in need of “firming,” you’re on track. (You can also try these skin-firming products.) If these technologies sometimes get a bad rap, you can blame some of the clinics that offer them. Too often, they will take patients whose BMIs are too high to achieve noticeable results. If it feels like I’m belabouring this, it’s because expectations are critical where non-surgical body sculpting is concerned.

Body firming and body shaping technologies have proliferated in recent years in response to greater interest and demand. Of the brand names you hear about most, Ultra-Shape is ultrasound, VelaShape is radiofrequency, CoolSculpting is cold lipolysis, SculpSure is laser heat lipolysis and Evolve is electroporation lipolysis. Rather than discuss all the technical aspects in detail, I’ll simplify them by saying that, regardless of whether the technologies are cooling, heating or electroporation, they all attack the fat cell nucleus and accelerate fat cell death. My recommendations? CoolSculpting, which freezes and kills fat cells, and SculpSure, which melts fat cells with laser technology, are highly effective for small, localized issues, such as tummy and love handles. Vanquish, which uses microwave-like energy to heat and kill fat cells, is effective if you have a higher BMI. Evolve, which sends alternating currents into fat cells, is effective for fat reduction, skin tightening and muscle toning. At SpaMedica, we combine two or more of these non-surgical lipo devices into one program, with each technology killing fat cells in a different way to achieve more satisfying results.

Liposuction, the physical aspiration of fat from localized areas of the body, has come a long way over the past 20 years. Less invasive with less recovery time, today’s liposuction is performed under local anaesthetic, both liquefying fat and tightening skin with internal probes that emit radiofrequency, laser or ultrasound, depending on the device used at the same time. Liposuction is perfect for those areas of fat that defy every effort you make with diet and exercise – that’s usually your tummy, hips, outer thighs, under-arms and bra line. Recovery is pretty straightforward and only moderately uncomfortable, and you can typically return to work and light activities within a week. Where brand names are concerned (everything is branded these days), look for a cosmetic surgeon who uses BodyTite, which is, by far, the world’s number one liposuction technology. And speaking of cosmetic surgeons, liposuction in Canada is well regulated and safe, but that’s not the case in the United States – it’s still the Wild West there when it comes to this procedure.

A tummy tuck, or abdominoplasty, is the big gun of cosmetic surgery because it involves cutting and removing loose skin, tighten-ing sagging muscles and creating a youthful-looking belly button. There’s often some liposuction involved as well. You may have heard the procedure referred to as a “mommy tuck” because it’s often done post-childbirth, particularly after more than one delivery, when women find that no amount of diet or exercise has any impact at all. I won’t downplay the recovery – there’s usually some significant discomfort involved, but it is typically experienced in the first few days immediately following the procedure and can be effectively remedied with medication. Before the procedure, you should be at a stable weight, within 10 pounds of your ideal weight. And keep in mind that a tummy tuck isn’t a weight loss procedure; it’s a game of centimetres, not kilograms. But with that said, you can expect to go down two or three sizes following the procedure.

Dr. Stephen Mulholland is a cosmetic plastic surgeon and founder of SpaMedica, a full-service cosmetic surgery and medical spa in Toronto.

Originally Published in Best Health Canada