If you’re looking for a non-surgical option for reducing body fat, you may have heard of CoolSculpting. And if you’re considering this procedure, you may be wondering: How much is CoolSculpting? And what are the risks and benefits? Read on to learn all about this procedure, so you can choose the cosmetic treatment that’s right for you.
Many of us find that excess fat tends to build up in certain areas of our bodies. Personal body characteristics, diet and exercise habits, age, sex and prior pregnancies can all affect body fat distribution over time. And depending on where fat tends to build up on your body, you may be looking for ways to remove or reduce it.
Doctors can use a variety of techniques to remove excess fat, including:
- Liposuction — This is generally the gold standard procedure. During liposuction, doctors make small incisions in your body and use long instruments to remove fat.
- Lipectomy — This type of surgery involves making larger incisions to remove fat. Lipectomy may happen as part of larger operations, like “tummy tuck” surgery (which also tightens the abdominal wall to contour the waistline), or other surgeries to remove stretched out skin and fat after weight loss or pregnancy.
However, if you want to avoid surgery or can’t have surgery for medical reasons, many less invasive options are available — including CoolSculpting. Read on to find out more about the pros and cons of CoolSculpting, along with costs and other considerations.
What Is CoolSculpting?
CoolSculpting is a patented brand name by Zeltiq Aesthetics, a subsidiary of the Allergan pharmaceutical company. It uses cryolipolysis, a method that applies below-freezing temperatures to freeze and kill fat cells. After treatment, the body gets rid of those dead cells over the following weeks.
This is an FDA-approved treatment for body contouring and removal of excess fat in these specific areas:
- Under the chin
- Under the jawline
- Upper arms
- Abdomen and flanks
- Torso (for fat around the back and bra line)
- Underneath the buttocks
CoolSculpting is considered non-invasive because it doesn’t require general anesthesia or incisions. But it can have serious side effects, from pain and bruising to frostbite.
There’s also a rare but very distressing adverse reaction to CoolSculpting called paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (PAH). PAH causes a lumpy growth of fat in the treated area, so that the area gets larger rather than smaller.
You may have heard of PAH in the news. In 2021, supermodel Linda Evangelista went public with her unfortunate experience of severe PAH side effects after CoolSculpting. She filed a lawsuit against Zeltiq Aesthetics for damage to her appearance and modeling career and related depression.
How Does CoolSculpting Work?
First, you’ll have a consultation with your doctor. You and your doctor will discuss your goals and expectations, examine areas of your body that you’d like to address, and review your medical history. Your doctor should go over the benefits and risks of CoolSculpting and other options in detail. Together, you can decide which procedure is right for you.
If you choose to proceed with CoolSculpting, you’ll make a treatment plan together. Each session can last between 1 to 3 hours, and you’ll probably need more than 1 session.
During each session, your doctor will:
- Mark the areas on your body they plan to treat
- Place a gel pad over your skin to protect it
- Apply the CoolSculpting device to the targeted area
The device uses sucking vacuum pressure to pull your skin into the device, so that the cooling panels can reach the area you’re treating. When your doctor applies the device, you’ll feel a tug and intense cold. You may also feel tingling or numbness.
The freezing effect kills some of the fat cells under your skin. Because fat is more sensitive to cold than other body tissues, it doesn’t have the same effect on your skin and muscles. Over the following weeks, your body will slowly get rid of the dead fat cells. If the treatment works, you’ll notice an overall reduction in the size and contour of the treated area.
It can take 4 to 12 weeks to see results from CoolSculpting. And it’s important to know that outcomes vary between people.
You can usually return to your daily activities, including your job or workout routine, immediately after each session. You may notice bruising, redness, pain, tingling and numbness after each session. These side effects are usually temporary — but they may last for days or even a few weeks. Your doctor will tell you about signs of more serious potential side effects and when to get help right away.
What Are the Benefits of CoolSculpting?
CoolSculpting doesn’t use general anesthesia or surgical incisions. So if you have health conditions that make it risky for you to get surgery, it may be a safer option for you.
Because the procedure is less invasive, recovery from CoolSculpting can be smoother and less painful than recovery from liposuction or other surgical options. It also doesn’t leave any surgical scars.
And because you can return to normal activities right after each session, it’s easier to fit the treatment sessions into your work schedule and daily routine.
What Are the Risks and Side Effects of CoolSculpting?
CoolSculpting typically treats about a quarter of fat cells in the target area. Depending on your body type, you may need more than 1 session to get the results you’re looking for. Diet and exercise can also affect the results.
Beyond common side effects like bruising, pain and numbness, there are two rare but very important risks to be aware of: frostbite and PAH.
The combination of pressure and freezing during a CoolSculpting session can occasionally cause a serious frostbite injury to all layers of the skin. Frostbite needs immediate treatment. In serious cases, you may need surgery to remove dead or infected skin and other tissue. Treatments for frostbite may have a longer recovery time and leave scars.
A small number of people who get CoolSculpting will develop a lumpy growth of fat in the treated area. This lumpy growth can appear up to 2 to 5 months after the treatment. PAH lumps don’t look like normal body fat — instead, they match the shape of the CoolSculpting device. This unusual appearance can be very stressful and depressing to patients.
Studies have found that less than 1 percent of patients develop PAH. But it’s likely that additional cases are unreported or misdiagnosed, so the risk may actually be higher. When PAH does happen, it typically doesn’t go away on its own or with diet and exercise. If you have PAH, you may need liposuction or surgery to remove it.
How to Lower the Risk of Side Effects
Serious side effects are less likely if you get the procedure from a board-certified doctor in a doctor’s office or other medical setting. It’s important to talk about all the risks and side effects before you get CoolSculpting. And remember, this is a cosmetic procedure — so you may decide that the health risks outweigh the potential cosmetic benefits.
CoolSculpting isn’t safe for people with certain medical conditions, like:
- Cryoglobulinemia, a rare blood vessel disorder
- Cold agglutinin disease, a rare autoimmune disorder that destroys red blood cells
- Paroxysmal cold hemoglobinuria, a rare autoimmune disorder that’s affected by cold temperatures
- Known allergies or sensitivities to similar treatments
Make sure to tell your doctor about any medical conditions, recent surgeries or infections, or previous allergic reactions.
What’s the Average Price for CoolSculpting?
Insurance typically does not cover CoolSculpting, so you’ll have to pay the entire cost out of pocket. Make sure to talk about pricing options up front with your doctor.
According to 2020 statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average cost of nonsurgical fat reduction (like CoolSculpting) is $1,437. But this doesn’t include the total expenses and final price you’ll see on your bill, which can range between $2000 and $4000 depending on the office and number of sessions.
Costs vary by doctor, city, your particular medical situation and the body areas you’re planning to treat. Make sure to discuss how many treatment sessions you may need as part of the cost conversation. Many doctors also offer financing plans.
Where Can I Get CoolSculpting?
Before considering any surgical or nonsurgical fat removal procedure, make sure you research the procedure and choose your doctor wisely. It’s common for nonsurgical treatments like CoolSculpting to be offered by non-medical spas and offices. But these places may not have the quality control and medical supervision needed for a safe procedure.
The most important step you can take to protect your health (and increase your chances of satisfying outcome) is to make sure that your doctor has the right licenses and certifications. For CoolSculpting, it’s safest to choose a board-certified plastic surgeon.
To sum things up, CoolSculpting can be a convenient nonsurgical option for cosmetic fat reduction. But it’s not right for everyone, and it can cause serious side effects. So it’s very important to talk with your doctor about all the potential risks before you consider this treatment.
- “Fat Freezing (Cryolipolysis)” via Cleveland Clinic
- “Cryolipolysis | Nonsurgical Fat Reduction” via American Society of Plastic Surgeons
- “Choosing a Plastic Surgeon for Nonsurgical Fat Reduction” via American Society of Plastic Surgeons
- “The Skinny on Freezing fat” via Harvard Health
- “Fat-Freezing Fat Reduction Procedure” via CoolSculpting
- “What is CoolSculpting, the procedure that Linda Evangelista says ‘disfigured’ her face?” via The Washington Post
- “A Multicenter Evaluation of Paradoxical Adipose Hyperplasia Following Cryolipolysis for Fat Reduction and Body Contouring” via Aesthetic Surgery Journal
- “Severe Frostbite Complication After Cryolipolysis: A Case Report” via JPRAS Open
- “Frostbite Following Cryolipolysis Treatment in a Beauty Salon: A Case Study” via Journal of Wound Care