From facelifts and neck lifts to breast lifts and butt lifts, there are many ‘lifts’ in aesthetic medicine that target one specific area. But what about the so-called body lift? This umbrella term can treat an array of concerns below the neck, and we’ve tapped top plastic surgeons and a dermatologist to get the 411 on all things body lifts, skin tightening, and toning. Whether you’re interested in the full-on surgical body lift, minimally invasive alternatives, or even topical treatments, here’s what you need to know to help get that body into tip-top shape.
What Is a Body Lift?
Generally speaking, body lifts combine several procedures to remove excess fat and skin. There are both surgical and non-surgical body lift options, but patients who are looking to address significant skin and fat concerns will most likely benefit from going under the knife for a ‘lift’ or ‘tuck.’ Surgical body lifts usually come after a substantial weight loss (think: bariatric surgery), and, depending on the patient and areas of concern, the procedures can address the upper body, lower body, or both.
- Lower Body Lift: Body lifts on the lower body typically include a tummy tuck (abdominoplasty), panniculectomy, thigh lift, butt lift, and/or monsplasty.
- Upper Body Lift: Body lifts focused on the upper body can feature an arm lift (brachioplasty) and back lift. Women may also add a breast lift and liposuction (especially when part of a ‘mommy makeover’).
- Full Body Lift: A full body lift combines the upper and lower body lift surgeries, though each set is usually performed several months apart to allow time to recover in between.
While these surgeries can work wonders when it comes to improving the contour of an area, it’s important to note that they do result in an unavoidable scar. “Some patients with loose skin extending around the lower torso in a donut-like fashion require a circumferential body lift with a scar running completely around the lower mid-section,” explains Chris Funderburk, MD, a board eligible plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Neinstein Plastic Surgery in New York City. “And, despite all of the scar creams and laser treatments in the world, a scar is still a scar. It will be visible to some extent.”
Who Is a Good Candidate for a Body Lift?
The keys to deciding whether someone is a candidate for a minimally invasive body contouring procedure (like liposuction) versus a more invasive lift to achieve their body goals? The laxity and age of the skin, Dr. Funderburk says.
New devices on the market, such as Renuvion®, can tighten the skin to some extent, but these technologies have limits. “Experienced users will know these limits well, since treating a patient with a minimally invasive device who truly requires a skin excision leads to patient and surgeon dissatisfaction,” Dr. Funderburk explains.
And then there is the influence of age. It is estimated that we lose approximately 6 to 8 percent of our collagen and elastin with each decade of life. These proteins are critical to the elasticity and rebound of the skin. As such, you can generally assume that the older the skin, the more likely it is to require a surgical lift or tuck. “Weight loss patients, especially those that lose weight later in life or lose high amounts of weight, exceed the ability of the skin to rebound and require lifts,” Dr. Funderburk adds. Often, the removal of the resulting loose skin is the final step of a patient’s weight loss journey.
What Does Recovering from a Body Lift Entail?
It is always vital to find a highly trained provider who specializes in the procedure(s) you are interested in, but it takes on an even greater importance when you are combining a series of complex surgeries. “We know from the scientific literature that the risk of complications increases as we add additional procedures, so the exact order and combination of procedures is something that is discussed in detail between the patient and the surgeon,” Dr. Funderburk shares.
Specialized surgeons understand that certain combinations of lifts and tucks — such as performing arm lifts and thigh lifts at the same time — can make for a more difficult recovery. During the consultation and pre-op process, be sure you understand what procedures will be performed at what time and how that will impact your healing process. Unlike minimally invasive procedures, recovery from a surgical body lift is more involved.
Compression garments are useful in reducing swelling, and lymphatic massages can help decrease edema or fluid buildup in the area. “Many lifts come with strict activity restrictions, such as no lifting the arms over 90 degrees, sleeping in certain positions to avoid tension on the wounds, and avoiding strenuous exercise for longer periods of time,” Dr. Funderburk says.
And don’t forget about those incision sites. Care and attention must be given to the scar(s). “Avoidance of UV light on the healing wound, as well as use of effective scar creams is key to a less prominent scar,” he adds.
Non-Surgical Body Lift Alternatives
Surgical body lifts can deliver transformative results, but they are not for everyone. In the case of patients who are looking for less significant toning and tightening, there are an array of non-surgical body contouring solutions that can provide similarly impressive benefits.
Dealing with stubborn fat that won’t budge with diet and exercise? There are a host of non-surgical fat reduction devices on the market to treat the arms (biceps and triceps), abs, butt, and legs. CoolSculpting® and SculpSure® are two such options (the former freezes away fat cells, while the latter melts them). “We recommend two treatments spaced two to four weeks apart, with full results at 12 weeks,” says Jennifer Levine, MD, a double board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon in NYC. Patients begin to see results at around four weeks.
Dr. Levine also uses Emsculpt Neo, which combines synchronized radiofrequency (RF) with electromagnetic pulses to tone and sculpt. The electromagnetic energy tightens the skin and increases muscle mass by 25 percent, while the RF decreases fat by 30 percent. Four treatments over the course of four weeks are required, with full results seen around 12 weeks after the last session. One of the benefits of Emsculpt Neo is how it can be customized. “If someone does not want to lose fat and only tighten the muscle, the RF can be turned off,” Dr. Levine notes.
Muscle stimulation is one of the best ways to lift and tone the body sans surgery, says Jessica Weiser, MD, a board certified dermatologist in NYC. Her go-to tool is TruSculpt® Flex. “It’s an electric muscle stimulation device that has 16 applicators, so it is able to treat eight muscle groups at the same time in three different modes,” she shares. The ‘Prep’ setting warms up muscles for patients who are less active, the ‘Tone’ mode is used to create long lean muscle, and the ‘Sculpt’ option can create muscle definition and muscle bulk, when desired.
As she explains, the treatment can be used on the abdominal muscles — including the rectus abdominis (i.e. the ‘six pack muscles’) and obliques on the lateral abdomen — to lean the stomach, on the buttocks to lift and tone the glutes, on the quadriceps (read: front of the thighs) and hamstrings (posterior thighs) to contour the upper leg, and on the arms. “By creating better muscle tone, the skin is better supported and lifted,” Dr. Weiser says.
Skin Tightening & Smoothing
When it comes to treating lax skin on the thighs, buttocks, and arms, Dr. Levine turns to collagen-boosting fillers like Sculptra® and hyperdiluted Radiesse® to improve firmness, texture, and quality. “Hyperdiluted Radiesse® creates collagen induction over time, so there is gradual improvement,” she explains. Patients will see an initial benefit that continues to improve over the course of six months.
Much like skincare is a necessary complement to facial aesthetic treatments, Dr. Weiser says some topical treatments can enhance the appearance of body contouring procedures. “The Susanne Kaufmann Toning Body Serum can plump the skin cells to create a smoother and less crepe-like skin surface to make skin appear more firm and texturally improved,” she shares. “And can be used alongside the brand’s Restorative Toning Body Cream.” The combo boasts caffeine, tiger grass, antioxidants, and more to stimulate the lymphatic system, firm the skin, and improve the appearance of cellulite.
To give your arms a more sculpted look, try the U Beauty The Sculpt Arm Compound. The skin-strengthening serum reduces fluid accumulation, boosts collagen production, and improves oxygen supply for a visibly tightened and contoured effect.
All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.
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