Fat Melting vs. Fat Freezing: What's The Difference?

The terms fat ‘freezing’ and ‘melting’ are used interchangeably, but the treatments that promise to get rid of stubborn fat are not the same. So, what’s the difference? The AEDITION breaks it down.
Aesthetics
Written by Vivien Moon
07.27.2020
Fat Melting vs. Fat Freezing: What's The Difference?Alexander Krivitskiy/Unsplash

To freeze or to melt? When it comes to stubborn fat, the answer is usually “get rid of it” — but in which manner should you do it? Fat ‘freezing’ and fat ‘melting’ are two of the most well known non-surgical body contouring treatments, and both utilize extreme temperatures (albeit at opposite ends of the thermometer) to make fat cells disappear. While both are noninvasive treatments for fat reduction, the body contouring techniques are not the same. So, what's the differences between the two? The AEDITION breaks it down.

How Fat ‘Melting’ Works

“Devices that cause fat cell death via heat are referred to as 'melting' fat,” explains Julie Russak, MD, a board certified dermatologist in New York City. SculpSure® is one such treatment that uses high temperatures to destroy fat. “SculpSure® is a device that uses laser technology to non-invasively warm fat cells to a specific temperature — 107 to 116 degrees Fahrenheit — causing apoptosis (cell death) without compromising the skin,” Dr. Russak says. As such, ‘melting’ does not refer to an action that happens to the fat but rather plays on the process of the treatment utilizing heat to kill the fat cells. Full results are usually seen at the 12-week mark (after the body has time to eliminate the destroyed cells), and, on average, one session sees a 24 percent reduction of fat in the treated area.

How Fat ‘Freezing’ Works

“CoolSculpting® is a device that uses cryo technology to non-invasively target and freeze fat cells,” Dr. Russak shares. While fat cells will die at four degrees Celsius (around 39 degrees Fahrenheit), CoolSculpting® (a.k.a. cryolipolysis) cools to as low as -11 degrees Celsius in order to penetrate the several layers of fat cells beneath the surface of the skin. “Having fat cells exposed to freezing temperatures for a specific amount of time causes fat cell death,” she says. While it takes one to three months for the body to eliminate the dead fat cells, the results are permanent with a healthy lifestyle. Most patients experience a 20 to 25 percent reduction of fat in the treated area.

How Fat Melting & Fat Freezing Differ

Both fat melting and fat freezing procedures destroy fat cells through the application of extreme temperatures. “One is warming up fat cells to reach fat cell death, while the other is using cold/cryo to reach fat cell death,” Dr. Russak says. Both techniques are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and yield significant results for the right candidates. “These are not treatments intended for weight loss and do not work on visceral fat,” Dr. Russak cautions.

The benefits of fat melting and freezing are that they do not require anesthesia, can be done during a workday (if desired), and have virtually no downtime. They do, however, work best after multiple sessions and results require patience (it’ll be six weeks before you notice much of anything). There is also a limit to how much the fat can be reduced, and the treatments are not suitable for those with a higher amount of body fat.

How else do they differ? Here’s the breakdown:

SculpSure®

  • Session Time: About 25 minutes
  • Sessions Required: 2 to 3 sessions, spaced 6 weeks apart
  • Areas Targeted: Stomach, thighs, back, abdomen, and chin
  • Ideal Candidate: Someone with a healthy lifestyle looking to get rid of stubborn fat
  • Side Effects: Some patients experience temporary discomfort during the treatment; any bruising or swelling subside in a week
  • Results: May be seen within 4 weeks, but the final results take up to 12 weeks
  • Downtime: None

CoolSculpting®

  • Session Time: 30 - 45 minutes
  • Sessions Required: 2 to 3 sessions for best results
  • Areas Targeted: Hips, thighs, back, arms, stomach, and chin
  • Ideal Candidate: Someone with a healthy lifestyle looking to get rid of stubborn fat
  • Side Effects: Some patients experience mild to moderate discomfort lasting a few days; any bruising or swelling subside in a week
  • Results: As early as 3 weeks post-op, but final results appear in 4 to 6 months
  • Downtime: None

In a review published by the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, CoolSculping® produced a reduction in fat layer thickness by 14 percent, with a 73 percent patient satisfaction. The layer of fat thickness reduced by SculpSure®, meanwhile, was 11 percent but had a 90 percent patient satisfaction rate.

So, Do Fat Melting & Freezing Work?

“Yes, they work,” Dr. Russak says. “Treatments that cause fat cell death are permanent and the cells do not reproduce.” For best results, patients are encouraged to maintain their weight, though the lack of fat cells has long term benefits. “While you can still gain weight after being treated, you will have fewer cells in the treatment area to expand, helping keep the contour of post-treatment results,” she explains.

Both SculpSure® and CoolSculping® are viable treatment options for patients who have a healthy body mass index (BMI) but cannot seem to get rid of specific fat pockets with diet and exercise alone. “Treatments work best on stubborn areas of excess fat,” Dr. Russak says, adding that the treatments could even be good for “anyone who’s gained a few pounds” during quarantine.

The Takeaway

Body contouring procedures are a popular way to get rid of stubborn fat that won't budge despite a healthy lifestyle. “The human body stops producing fat cells in puberty,” Dr. Russak explains. While melting and freezing fat are solutions for fat reduction, they are not to be confused with weight loss. “As we gain or lose weight, fat cells expand and contract,” she continues. Ultimately, these procedures are meant to complement a holistic diet and exercise plan, not replace it. “While the cells disappear, they do not shrink and stay small,” she shares. “It is dependent on a proper lifestyle.”

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VIVIEN MOONis the assistant editor at AEDIT.
tagsFat ReductionBody ContouringNon-Surgical
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