Dr. Rosmy Barrios 25 Nov 2021

Minimally invasive and non-invasive procedures are a rising trend in aesthetic medicine. The improvements in medical science and technology make the effects of these treatments somewhat comparable to surgical procedures.

Anti-aging facial treatments, such as dermal fillers and Botox, top the popularity list. But, right behind them are the non-invasive body sculpting techniques.

Minimal risk of complications, short recovery time, and lower cost are factors that work in favor of non-invasive treatments. Also, they are suitable for most people, and we cannot say the same about surgery.

In this article, we bring you everything about lipolysis - an effective fat-dissolving and body sculpting technique.


Simply put, lipolysis is a fat-dissolving process. It occurs naturally inside the body when we lose weight due to diet and exercise.

Lipolysis, as an aesthetic procedure, also dissolves fat. But, it does so with external influence and with the help of modern technology.

There are limitations, of course. Lipolysis cannot "meltdown" high amounts of fat. That's why it is a body sculpting technique and not a weight loss procedure.

The treatment can target smaller amounts of fat in certain areas of the body. Namely: the abdomen, thighs, buttocks, and the under-chin area. It usually requires several sessions before visible results. However, it is safe, painless, and with no downtime.

What is lipolysis?

We’ve mentioned that lipolysis is a natural process. It is a metabolic pathway that occurs inside fat cells. The fat turns into fatty acids and glycerol. Further metabolization leads to a decrease in fat deposits locally.

That is nature's way. Non-invasive body contouring procedures mostly rely on provoking programmed cell death (apoptosis).

They destroy fat cells, leading to their absorption by macrophages and a reduction of fat deposits in the treatment area.

Types of Lipolysis Treatment

There are four popular lipolysis modalities. These are:

  • Laser lipolysis
  • Injection lipolysis
  • Cryolipolysis, and
  • Radiofrequency lipolysis
  • High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU)

Laser Lipolysis

Laser lipolysis is the most popular, safest, and most effective minimally invasive body contouring technique. Every session leads to a permanent reduction of fat in the treatment area.

Laser lipolysis is a minimally invasive aesthetic treatment. It involves making small incisions in the skin so the laser light can reach the fat cells. The treatment requires local anesthesia.

The doctor vacuums or massages out broken-up fat deposits, effectively removing them during each session.

There are no significant side effects. Although, some irritation, bruising, and swelling can occur locally.

Injection Lipolysis

Injection lipolysis uses chemicals to reduce the number of fat cells in the treatment area. Doctors usually inject deoxycholic acid underneath the chin to get rid of submental fat (double chin).

Local anesthesia is enough to eliminate discomfort during the procedure. Two to six treatments are usually necessary to achieve satisfying results. In the meantime, you may experience some bruising, redness, pain, and swelling in the area.

Rare complications include difficulty swallowing or nerve damage.


Fat cells freeze faster than surrounding cells. Cryolipolysis is a non-invasive body contouring technique that capitalizes on that fact.

When frozen fat cells die, macrophages digest them. That process leads to a reduction of fat deposits in the treatment area.

One session lasts around sixty minutes.

Cryolipolysis device vacuums the treatment area between two cooling panels to facilitate fat cells' freezing. Common side effects include redness, bruising, and swelling.

Radiofrequency Lipolysis

Radiofrequency devices heat up and destroy fat cells without causing injury to other tissues. There is no contact with the skin either. Anesthesia is not necessary.

Currently, monopolar and bipolar devices are in use. Monopolar devices are more effective and require fewer sessions.

For visible results, at least four treatments are necessary. However, the abdominal circumference reduction is usually minimal. There is no post-treatment downtime.


The HIFU technology uses acoustic energy to induce thermal damage and destroy fat cells. It reaches deep into the dermis and heats the cells at temperatures higher than 65°C, without damaging the dermis or the surrounding cells.

The procedure also produces a skin-tightening effect because it promotes natural collagen synthesis.

Subcutaneous nodules, purpuric lesions, and blisters are rare complications of HIFU lipolysis treatment.

How to prepare for lipolysis treatment?

When you see your doctor about the lipolysis procedure, they should make sure you provide them with all the valuable pre-treatment information, such as:

  • Pre-existing health conditions
  • Prescription medications you are currently taking
  • Potential allergies, and
  • History of previous aesthetic treatments

A doctor will also advise you to stop taking anti-inflammatory medications or blood thinners two weeks before the procedure. They will let you know what to expect during the procedure and recovery, which activities to avoid to help the healing process.

The Procedure

All types of lipolysis treatments are minimally or non-invasive and take place in a sterile procedure room. They do not require sedation and usually last around sixty minutes. The use of local anesthetics is not necessary with some types of lipolysis.

The technique also varies depending on the type of lipolysis. For example, laser lipolysis requires small skin incisions. Injections also create puncture trauma, while radiofrequency works on the surface of the skin only.

Possible Side Effects

Lipolysis is a relatively new procedure. More research is necessary to determine the scale of potential side effects and complications. However, the risk is low, and the common side effects are mild. They include:

  • Skin sensitivity
  • Redness
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Mild discomfort

These side effects are a normal reaction of the skin and other tissues to minor trauma. Therefore, they usually resolve on their own a few days after the procedure.

In rare cases, purpuric lesions, blisters, and burning sensations can occur too. Severe complications such as infections and allergic reactions are also possible.

Treatment Outcomes

The circumference reduction in the abdominal or thigh area is the measure of success for lipolysis. It can reach between one and four centimeters in the treatment area.

However, the visible effect depends on the patient's overall weight. That's why non-invasive body contouring does not work well if there is a large amount of weight to be lost.

Satisfying treatment outcomes will remain permanent if there is no post-procedure weight gain.

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About the Author:
Dr. Rosmy Barrios is an aesthetic medicine specialist with international work experience. She earned her physician diploma at the Universidad Del Norte’s School of Medicine in Barranquilla, Colombia, and her specialty at John F. Kennedy University in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Dr. Barrios is a member of Pan-American Aesthetic Medicine Association (PASAM) and the Union Internationale de Medecine Esthetique (UIME). She is an expert health writer with keen interests in aesthetic medicine, regenerative aesthetics, anti-aging, fitness, and nutrition. Currently, Dr. Barrios heads the Regenerative Aesthetics department at a renowned Internal Medicine clinic based in Belgrade, Serbia.


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