Liposuction is a widely known procedure. It’s also one of the most misunderstood. Case in point: lipo is not a weight loss procedure. And since most think it is, we decided to talk to doctors to help clear the air about this popular, surgical treatment.
What is liposuction?
Liposuction is best defined as a surgical procedure used to remove areas of stubborn fat that has traditionally been resistant to diet and exercise. Thin tubes called cannulas are inserted into the body, dislodging fat cells and suctioning them out.
Lipo can be performed on various body parts, including your stomach, love handles, thighs, arms, back and under the chin. Liposuction is also remembered as the only surgical fat reduction procedure. There are different types of lipo (more on that later), but they all fall under the umbrella of liposuction.
Fat reduction vs. weight loss
The term “fat reduction” may sound like weight loss, but there is a big difference. Fat reduction, including lipo, is used to help contour the body and remove pockets of fat. Weight loss is more about losing weight all around and can be done through different surgical procedures or with diet and exercise.
A lot of people who undergo lipo, eat healthy and exercise regularly. If you have a lot of weight to lose, lipo likely isn’t for you, since you will only get up to 5 liters (roughly 11lbs) removed. Also, you may not see that weight removal reflected on the bathroom scale. There are a number of reasons why your actual weight won’t vary after lipo. Think of it more as a change in the shape of your body, rather than the weight of your body.
Who’s a good candidate?
Austin Plastic Surgeon Dr. Johnny Franco says that he typically tries to have patients under a BMI of 35 to undergo any surgical procedure, including liposuction. “The risk of problems from surgery goes down by losing weight before surgery and your results will be better as well.”
He also clarified a few more common misconceptions regarding liposuction, including how much fat you can remove. “There is a limit to the amount of fat that can be removed in one setting, typically 5 liters. It is also important to leave a fine layer of fat under the skin so that the skin can re-drape smooth and have a natural, but slim appearance.”
Patients have external fat (fat we can pinch) and internal fat (fat under the ab muscles). “The external fat we can liposuction. The internal fat we can’t.” He adds that liposuction is not typically the best option for loose or sagging skin. “Patients that have a significant amount of loose skin tend to be better candidates for a tummy tuck.”
Different types of lipo
Understanding the various types of procedures available is also important. “Liposuction can be confusing as there are so many marketing terms, such as liposculpting, HD liposuction, liposculpture, next day lipo, etc,” said Dr. Franco.
Liposuction is also not i-Lipo, Lipodissolve, Liposonix, or LipoZap, though you may have seen these fat-melting procedure names floating around and thought they were. While these procedures share a similar name to lipo, they don’t come close to the results of the traditional liposuction.
The biggest difference between the methods of lipo isn’t actually that big. “Most of the methods used one of several actual liposuction devices to perform the procedure and then have a subtle difference in the actual technique for these various procedures,” said Dr. Franco.
If you are considering liposuction, here are a few of the most common types of procedures.
Smart Lipo, which may also be referred to as Smartlipo Laser Lipolysis or Laser Lypolysis, is a variation on traditional liposuction that uses laser energy to liquefy fat before it’s removed through a cannula. This technique makes the fat easier to remove, making Smart Lipo a less aggressive procedure that may have a faster recovery timeline.
Vaser liposuction uses ultrasound energy to melt fat before it is removed through a cannula. This technique makes the fat easier to remove and may be especially useful in areas with larger volumes or denser fat. It also results in a less-aggressive procedure, which may lead to faster recovery times. This method does pose a risk for burns.
Laser liposuction (also called laser lipo) is a variation on traditional liposuction that uses low-wave laser energy to liquefy fat before it’s removed through a cannula. This technique makes the fat easier to remove, resulting in a less aggressive procedure, which may lead to faster recovery times.
SAFELipo is a variation on liposuction that involves a three-step process: Separation, Aspiration, and Fat Equilization. It’s different from traditional liposuction in that it doesn’t generate any heat. This means less damage to the skin, blood vessels, and nerves, which can allow for a shorter healing time. The final step in the treatment, Fat Equilization, involves fat grafting and fat shifting to minimize the risk for lumpy or uneven results.
Regardless of which procedure you choose, it is important to have a conversation with your doctor about what you’d like to achieve, and where you may have found your information. “In the age of social media, be careful about what you see online,” says Dr. Franco. “Social media is a great way to transfer information and knowledge, but it can also be the wild west as there is no real control over the information and pictures that are posted on various outlets. There are a lot of fake pictures and information on Instagram, Snapchat and so forth. Discuss any information or pictures you find on social media with your board-certified provider.”