News & Politics

Shaping Up for Summer

Can injections make fat disappear? Is lunchtime liposuction the quick way to get a beach-ready body? And what works on cellulite?

Lunch-hour liposuction that promises quicker results than regular lipo? Injections that melt away fat? Are these new procedures the answer to bathing-suit worries?

Don’t jump off the elliptical machine yet. Any results of these “quick fixes” take weeks to show. And they’re designed for small pockets of fat, not overall slimming. Still, they may get rid of stubborn love handles, saddlebags, or a tummy bulge that no amount of diet and exercise can dislodge.

Shots That Melt Fat?

With Lipodissolve, a soy-based compound is injected into fat, breaking it down so it is excreted from the body, says Rockville plastic surgeon Roger Friedman, medical director for MedSculpt, a medical spa in Rockville and McLean.

Lipodissolve is not for the needle-phobic: It can take 100 shots or more with a fine-gauge needle to treat an area the size of two love handles. Each shot contains a local anesthetic. The process takes about 15 minutes.

An hour or so after treatment, the area swells as the body reacts to the injected material. “It is like a histamine reaction,” says Friedman. Patients are swollen and sore for a few days. It can take up to four weeks for the fat to dissolve.

After the swelling goes down, doctor and patient decide whether to treat any fat not injected the first time. “I tell patients that it will take two or three treatments spaced six or eight weeks apart to get the desired results,” Friedman says. The cost for two or three treatments is $1,800 to $2,400.

A small percentage of patients do not see results. Anyone allergic to soy is not a candidate.

This is not the first procedure that promises to dissolve fat with injections. In “mesotherapy,” practitioners inject a variety of botanicals and enzymes. The results can be “dangerous,” says Arlington dermatologist Michelle Rivera. Last year she treated a group of women who had been injected with imported botanical extracts; the injections contained contaminated fluid. The women developed skin ulcers that turned out to be tuberculosis of the skin. After a year of treatment, they still have scars.

Rivera warns that just because an injected fluid is “natural” doesn’t mean it is safe. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery has issued a warning against injected fat-loss treatments: None has received FDA approval. The ASAPS research foundation is conducting a study of the injected formula similar to the one Friedman is using because, according to an ASAPS press release, it “has shown the most promise in small, published trials.”

Smarter Liposuction?

SmartLipo is laser-assisted liposuction. A surgeon makes an incision and inserts a tube with a small laser probe used to rupture fat cells. Because the probe is small, there is less bruising and inflammation and a shorter recovery than with normal lipo. The laser may also tighten skin.

Like Lipodissolve, SmartLipo is designed for small fat deposits only. Patients need to wear compression garments for the first few weeks after the procedure. Costs range from $3,000 to $7,000.

“I don’t do it. I don’t suggest it. It is not as noninvasive as you think,” says DC dermatologist Tina Alster. Cosmetic surgeon Steven Hopping, chair of an international conference on liposuction this summer, believes that SmartLipo looks promising, but “the hype is well ahead of the reality.”

What Works on Cellulite?

Cellulite, the dimpled fat deposits just below the skin on hips and thighs, often defies all efforts to dislodge it.

Friedman is using a combination of Lipodissolve on the dimpled fat and collagen injections to fill in depressions. The variations of massage therapy like Endermologie, he says, “feel good, but they don’t work.”

Rivera agrees, saying things like yoga and massage may temporarily smooth skin because they move lymphatic fluid but that results are “barely noticeable.” Rivera says lasers are being developed that may target cellulite.

MedlinePlus, the public information service of the National Library of Medicine, reports: “A great deal of money is spent by people who want to rid themselves of cellulite, but no amount of weight loss, exercise, massages, wraps, creams, supplements, or surgery has proven to effectively eliminate it.”

If you agonize over cellulite, you have two choices—wear a sarong or don’t look back.