Liposuction vs. Non-Surgical Body Contouring

Areas of stubborn fat despite a healthy diet and exercise routine are a common concern for many patients.  Young moms with post-pregnancy stomach “pooches”, post-menopausal women frustrated with belly fat that only seems to only grow larger with age or brides desiring to appear their very best in their wedding dress are just a few of the many types of candidates seeking to remove unwanted fat in troublesome areas.


For years, liposuction has been one of the most popular and top performed cosmetic procedures, and with good reason. This surgical procedure safely and effectively reduces localized fat, but at a cost.  In the last several years, the rising popularity of non-surgical body contouring treatments, such as CoolSculpting and SculpSure, have provided patients with viable options to surgical liposuction in the quest to reduce fat.


Minimally-Invasive Liposuction

Liposuction is a surgical fat removal procedure that first became popular in the 1980s, which has only grown in popularity as the methods have improved and the associated pain and downtime have decreased. During the procedure, a cosmetic surgeon precisely removes excess fat through a small, hollow tube called a cannula. Suction is applied as the surgeon moves the cannula through the fat deposit, removing excess fat cells and sculpting a slimmer body contour.  Liposuction is particularly effective at removing fat in the legs, abdomen, back, arms, chin and neck. It provides more dramatic results than the noninvasive fat reduction procedures, however, it has a longer recovery period (up to six weeks) and typically costs more than its nonsurgical counterparts.  Common brand names of minimally-invasive liposuction include SmartLipo, Tickle Lipo and Vaser Lipo, among others.

Non-Surgical Body Contouring

In recent years, nonsurgical or minimally invasive alternatives to liposuction, such as CoolSculpting and SculpSure have been gaining popularity, as they do not require an incision or anesthesia, and they often require less downtime than minimally invasive liposuction. Nonsurgical fat reduction treatments use different modalities to target and eliminate unwanted fat cells through a topical, rather than surgical, procedure.  Non-surgical body contouring is ideal for patients who maintain a healthy weight, but want to reduce small, localized trouble spots on the hips, abdomen, or thighs. Popular treatments use either a freezing device to cool unwanted fat cells to the point of death, or laser energy to, literally, melt the fat.  Once the fat cells die, they are flushed from the body during the days and weeks following the procedure, with final results typically noticeable within 8-12 weeks.

Liposuction vs. Nonsurgical Body Contouring: Pros & Cons

There are advantages and disadvantages to both liposuction and nonsurgical body contouring.

  • Invasiveness

    Liposuction is a more aggressive method of fat reduction and creates some trauma in the treatment area. Patients will experience soreness, bruising, and swelling for up to 10 days after the procedure. Because the fat cells are removed through a hollow instrument called a cannula, which is inserted into the skin, there is a risk for some scarring, and, depending on the type of energy used, the possibility of some burning. Non-surgical body contouring treatments, such as SculpSure, are completely non-invasive, meaning they only use a handpiece, not a cannula, which is placed on top of the skin, and are typically gentle with minimal discomfort, both during and after treatment.

  • Results

    Liposuction results are visible after the swelling goes down and the treated area heals, although the body may continue eliminating fat cells for up to 6 months post-surgery.  Liposuction may be a better option for reducing larger deposits of excess fat with more noticeable results. Non-surgical fat reduction treatments will not have any immediate noticeable results, which typically take 6-12 weeks.  While neither liposuction or nonsurgical body contouring treatments are a replacement for weight loss, liposuction does offer more dramatic and longer-lasting results, in addition to some skin shrinkage.  Nonsurgical fat reduction may be a better fit if you are already at your ideal weight, have good skin elasticity, and want to target smaller, stubborn trouble spots. However, the results will not be as dramatic and multiple treatments may be necessary.

  • Downtime

    The healing process after liposuction requires patients to restrict everyday activities for several days after the procedure and to use caution when restarting exercise. Because minimally-invasive liposuction requires the use of anesthesia, patients will need a ride home from the doctor’s office, and will need to return home to rest. Non-surgical body contouring does not require the use of anesthesia, or an extended healing period and patients can return to normal activities immediately, though slight soreness and swelling are to be expected. Though your results will be less noticeable with nonsurgical fat reduction, you will be able to return to work and get back to your life much sooner.

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