It is said that summer bodies are built in the winter. That logic can extend to any time of the year and is true of both at-home nutrition and fitness plans and in-office body contouring treatments. “There is no such thing as an overnight sensation,” says Amy Wechsler, MD, a board certified dermatologist and psychiatrist in New York City. But what if a special event or trip popped up and your timeline is tighter than, say, the six months between the winter and summer solstices – are there any toning and tightening treatments that can get the job done sooner?
The answer is yes, if your expectations are properly managed. “It takes three to six months for any invasive procedure to have optimal results,” says Joseph Zakhary, MD, a board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon and co-founder of Southwest Breast & Aesthetics in Arizona. “Less invasive procedures may have speedier recoveries, but expectations should be tailored as the result is usually less dramatic when compared to a surgery.”
So, while there may be, as Dr. Wechsler notes, no substitute for “eating healthfully, exercising, sleeping enough,” and budgeting a proper amount of time, there are some body contouring procedures that can sculpt key areas of the body with minimal downtime and – relatively – quick results. Here, we’re breaking them down (and level-setting your expectations) with the help of expert dermatologists and plastic surgeons.
The Most Popular Areas for Body Contouring
Before we dive into the procedures that can tone, tighten, and sculpt, let’s talk about the areas of the body that are most often treated. “Common areas of body contouring for women are the lower abdomen, outer hips, and flanks (love handles), as well as the outer and inner thighs,” says Lyle Leipziger, MD, a board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon and chief of plastic surgery at North Shore University Hospital and LIJ Medical Center on Long Island. “The distribution is different for men, so these areas would be more limited to the trunk, upper and lower abdomen, and hips and flanks.” In some cases, guys may also be interested in sculpting the chest, he adds.
For men and women alike, the waistline is “by far” the most popular area to address, says Max Polo, MD, a board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Miami Plastic Surgery. “That includes the abdomen in front and the flanks on the side and in back,” he notes. Speaking of the back, women may seek to slim the mid-back or so-called “bra-fat” area, and the “buttocks is, of course, very popular these days for contouring,” Dr. Polo shares.
Another way to think about this is in relation to the concerns you are targeting. “The most common areas for patients seeking fat reduction are the abdomen, love handles, arms, and thighs,” says Jessie Cheung, MD, a board certified dermatologist who practices in NYC and Chicago. “Besides the face, the buttocks remain the most popular area for filler augmentation.” When it comes to strengthening and toning, “the most common body areas treated for muscle building are the buttocks, abdomen, arms, and calves,” she adds. And let’s not forget cellulite in the trunk area – especially heading into the summer months.
Here’s the good news. “There are some treatments that offer some immediate change,” says Jennifer Levine, MD, a double board certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon in NYC. And here comes the ‘but’ – “most need more than one treatment and have visible results in four weeks with maximal effects at 12 weeks,” she adds.
Downtime is one part of the process where you can save some time. “Many body contouring procedures available have minimal downtime as compared to surgery,” says Elizabeth Callahan, MD, a board certified dermatologist at SkinSmart Dermatology in Sarasota, FL. But that doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on when you see results. “Even when you do a procedure like CoolSculpting®, you still have to wait for the body to eliminate the treated fat and that can take up to three months,” she notes. “This is one of the main reasons we recommend patients pursue treatments in the winter – so they can be feeling great about their results by summer.”
If time is not on your side, you’ll want to have a conversation with your provider about what’s possible given your circumstances and aesthetic goals. “It's important to educate patients that results from body contouring aren't always immediate – even liposuction takes months to see the final results due to swelling and delayed skin tightening,” Dr. Cheung cautions. “Non-invasive fat reduction, skin tightening, and muscle-building procedures will typically need a series of treatments to see dramatic results, while buttock augmentation with fillers is an instant gratification procedure with minimal downtime.”
The takeaway: “Preparation, planning, and setting expectations is key,” Dr. Zakhary says.
The Best Minimally Invasive Body Contouring Procedures
Now that you have a better sense of the most common treatment areas and what is actually possible to achieve with in-office treatments, it’s time to take a closer look at the minimally invasive non-surgical and surgical body contouring procedures to tone, tighten, and sculpt.
For Non-Surgical Augmentation: Dermal Fillers
Downtime: None, though bruising, swelling, soreness possible Results: 1 to 12 weeks
If you are looking for an instant result, hyaluronic acid-based fillers sculpt the face and body upon injection. Biostimulatory injectables, like hyper-diluted Radiesse® and Sculptra®, require a bit more time to set in but are still pretty speedy and can improve skin quality and add volume. “Radiesse®, in particular, will have an immediate effect,” Dr. Levine notes, though you’ll see more of the benefits at the four-week mark and even more at 12 weeks. She recommends one to four treatments spaced four weeks apart for best results.
To boost your backside, Dr. Cheung says “the best buttock augmentation is filler injections.” She says they can be completed within one to three initial sessions depending on your desired outcome. “These need to be continued once every six to eight weeks, and minimal downtime includes possible bruising, swelling, and soreness,” she notes.
For Non-Surgical Fat Reduction: CoolSculpting®
Downtime: None, but expect mild swelling and redness Results: 4 to 12 weeks CoolSculpting® and the newer CoolSculpting® Elite use cryolipolysis technology to freeze away unwanted fat cells. “It works by applying the applicator to the targeted area and securing it, cold energy is then delivered and destroys the fat cells with no irritation or damage to the skin,” says Ariel Ostad, MD, a board certified dermatologist in NYC. “CoolSculpting® Elite can treat many areas including the abdomen, back, arms, inner and outer thighs, double chin, and love handles.” What’s more? “It is a non-surgical procedure with no downtime,” he notes. “The most common side effect is mild swelling and redness that usually goes away in 24 hours.”
While there has been a renewed focus on rare but serious adverse effects like paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (PAH), the majority of our experts recommend the treatment. “Despite recent bad press, this is still very effective technology with very rare complications,” Dr. Polo shares. “It is best for small areas of fat.” Because of its targeted nature, the treatment is highly customizable. “CoolSculpting® can treat almost any area on the body and usually takes two treatments spaced a month apart for optimal results,” Dr. Wechsler explains.
Since the fat cells need to be removed from the body, it takes several weeks to enjoy the full effect. “Patients see results from CoolSculpting® in three months,” Dr. Callahan shares. “This is due to the biology of fat reduction in the body, which takes some time.” Even so, Dr. Levine says she has noticed the updated CoolSculpting® Elite gives at least a sign of what’s to come much sooner. “It can have effects seen as early as two weeks, she notes.
For Non-Surgical Muscle Toning: Emsculpt® Neo
Downtime: None, but soreness and puffiness are common Results: 4 to 12 weeks The OG Emsculpt® used high-intensity focused electromagnetic technology (HIFEM) to mimic the effects of 20,000 crunches in a 30 minute treatment. The updated version of the device, Emsculpt® Neo, combines HIFEM with radiofrequency (RF) fat reduction for even better results. “The best muscle building treatment is Emsculpt® Neo,” Dr. Cheung says. It is used to tone and sculpt the abdomen, arms, buttocks, and thighs.
Dr. Levine likes it because of the lack of downtime and the progressive nature of the results. “We recommend four to six sessions spaced one week apart,” she shares. “Some patients notice an immediate change, but visible results are seen at four weeks with the maximal effect at 12 weeks.”
For Non-Surgical Fat-Reduction & Skin Tightening: Radiofrequency
Downtime: 48 to 72 hours Results: 4 to 12 weeks If you are looking to non-surgically target both skin laxity and excess fat concerns, radiofrequency (RF)-based treatments can do both. Morpheus 8 combines RF with microneedling (a.k.a. collagen induction therapy). “This modality boosts collagen in the skin to thicken skin and smooth wrinkles and creases,” Dr. Polo shares. Think of it as microneedling on steroids. “The needles emit radiofrequency energy into the skin layers, causing the skin to heat and tighten,” Dr. Ostad explains. “This added heat promotes the production of collagen at a much greater level than traditional microneedling.”
It is used to treat the face, neck, abdomen, arms, and legs, and three treatment sessions spaced four weeks apart are needed for the full effect. Redness and swelling are common for a few days after treatment, and you can resume wearing makeup after 48 to 72 hours. “Results are seen from a few to several weeks after each treatment and are maintained for several months to years after completing three sessions,” Dr. Polo says.
For a non-surgical alternative to liposuction, Dr. Polo is a fan of BodyTite™ or radiofrequency assisted lipolysis (RFAL). The “internal probe treatment,” is similar to “a small liposuction procedure,” he says. One treatment under sedation anesthesia can reduce fat and firm the skin. “This treatment is effective for dissolving small amounts of fat and achieving higher definition in already lean individuals,” Dr. Polo says. “Even more effectively, it tightens skin.”
Unlike some of the other procedures on the list, there is downtime, in addition to swelling, bruising, and tenderness. “There are only two days of downtime at most,” Dr. Polo notes. “Results are seen from a few to several weeks after treatment and are maintained for years.” He says BodyTite™ can be performed as a stand-alone procedure or in combination with liposuction to achieve a smoother contour.
For Non-Surgical Neck & Jawline Sculpting
Downtime: None, but swelling is likely Results: 4 to 24 weeks
We’re mostly talking about the body, we’d be remiss not to mention a couple of the minimally invasive sculpting options that exist for the neck and jawline. Kybella® is an FDA-approved medication that, when injected under the chin, destroys fat cells. “It contains deoxycholic acid, a substance found in the body that breaks down dietary fats,” Dr. Ostad shares. “This treatment restores a more youthful jawline with minimal downtime.”
Depending on your anatomy and aesthetic goals, two to six treatments spaced at least a month apart are needed. Patients see results about four to six weeks after each injection. Swelling and soreness are common, but there is no downtime.
If submental and facial skin tightening is what you are after, Dr. Callahan recommends Ultherapy®. The non-invasive treatment employs microfocused ultrasound technology to the face and neck to kickstart the body’s own collagen production processes. There is no downtime, but “results take about six months due to the nature of collagen stimulation and growth,” she notes.
For Smoothing Cellulite
Downtime: None, save for some minor swelling and bruising Results: 4 to 12 weeks If smoother skin is what you’re after, there are a few minimally invasive treatments for cellulite that will start showing results in four weeks or less.
- Avéli™: Performed under local anesthesia, the procedure identifies and releases the septa that cause cellulite dimples on the buttocks and thighs in just one treatment. Dr. Levine says some results are immediate (once bruising and swelling subside), but they continue to improve for up to 12 weeks.
- Cellfina®: The one-time treatment targets the structural cause of cellulite by releasing tension on the connective bands that are woven into the fat in the thighs and buttocks. Bruising is common, but there is no downtime. The initial results of Cellfina® are quick (think: days not weeks), and “patients can be bathing suit-ready as soon as one month after,” Dr. Polo shares.
- Sentient Sculpt™: This energy-based treatment can address a myriad of concerns – including cellulite. It uses 2.45 gigahertz of energy, 80 percent of which is sent directly into the fat tissue and cellulite fibers. In addition to the smoothing benefits, Dr. Cheung says “it’s the best fat reduction with skin tightening treatment.” She recommends four sessions once a month, with visible results within the first month.
For Surgical Fat Reduction: Liposuction
Downtime: 5 to 7 days, plus up to 6 weeks of swelling Results: 3 to 6 months
The word ‘surgery’ may have you envisioning being holed up in the house for weeks, but liposuction is one of the least invasive cosmetic surgeries and yields some of the most transformative results for patients looking to reduce fat. “Liposuction is the ‘minimally invasive’ procedure that possesses the opportunity for significant change with the least downtime and scarring,” Dr. Zakhary explains. “It is still surgery, but the incisions are one to two centimeters in length and positioned in areas to address the treatment zones.”
There are a number of types of liposuction that achieve the same goal – albeit with slightly different techniques. “I would recommend tumescent liposuction because it is more effective, safer, and less painful,” Dr. Ostad explains. “We utilize microcannulas, which are blunt instruments that are able to extract the fat through tiny entry points on the body.” Those incisions are so small, he says, there is no need for sutures.
He performs the surgery under local anesthesia and customizes the procedure based on areas of concern, which can include the abdomen, waist, back, arms, outer and inner thighs, and chin. “The procedure time varies with each patient, but you are able to return home at the end of the day and may return to work at least five days post procedure,” he shares.
If a more chiseled look is what you are after, Dr. Leipziger offers liposculpture as part of a liposuction procedure. “This involves using very fine cannulas to carefully sculpt problem areas to provide maximum results,” he explains. “The healing time to see full results is usually about six weeks, however, people may return to their normal activities within two weeks of the procedure.”
Regardless of the type of lipo you opt for, the post-op pain is “extremely manageable and leads to minimal downtime,” Dr. Zakhary says. “Patients will spend four to six weeks in a spandex compression garment.” There will be about two weeks of moderate swelling and bruising that resolves over time from there. One way to move things along? “Aggressive post-op lymphatic massage can accelerate this process and speed recovery,” Dr. Polo notes.
In terms of results, Dr. Polo says you can start to see them “as early as a few weeks after treatment,” but “usually four to six weeks are required before most swelling has resolved and the surface contour is smooth and natural again.” All told, budget three to six months for the full effect.
How to Maximize Body Contouring Results
Here’s the thing, in-office body contouring procedures – while highly effective for the right candidates – are not silver bullets. Achieving sustained results takes commitment. “Just like in surgery, there are no good short cuts for achieving great results,” Dr. Zakhary says. “A healthy diet and physical fitness regimen are important, and it is also important to minimize things that cause skin damage – as in, excess sun exposure or smoking cigarettes.”
Working with a personal trainer or nutritionist can help you find a regimen that works best for your aesthetic goals, but it’s all about developing a routine that works for you. “Diet and exercise are the biggest tips I have for keeping your body toned and tight,” Dr. Ostad says. “Keeping up a healthy lifestyle is very beneficial for many different aspects of your life – including how you feel mentally and physically.”
Body contouring procedures can complement these efforts, but, ultimately, they are more of a catalyst than an end-all solution. “Don't think of these procedures as a quick fix because if you don't change your lifestyle and mindset, you will gain the weight back,” Dr. Cheung concludes. “Think of these procedures as a tool that helps you get to your desired shape when you are disciplined and put in the work of eating healthy and exercising.”
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