Liposuction & CoolSculpting®: What’s the Difference?

“What’s the difference between liposuction and CoolSculpting?”

“How do I know which one is best for me?”

Those are some of the most common questions I hear from patients interested in body contouring at my plastic surgery practice near San Diego. While some aesthetic providers may prefer one treatment to another, I think it’s important to set a baseline of understand about when each procedure is a good choice. Here is a run-down of the main considerations I discuss with patients during their first consultation.

1. Treatment Areas

Liposuction treats unwanted fat on a variety of areas of the body, including the neck, arms, back, chest (to treat gynecomastia in men), lower abdomen, hips, flanks, thighs, and more. The cannulas used for the treatment can vary in size, meaning it’s easy to customize the approach to each patient’s needs. Liposuction also allows the surgeon to create very precise contours; it’s really about reshaping the body. For example, liposuction would allow me to create a more specific silhouette for a patient desiring a distinct, tapered curve between her waist and hips.

On the other hand, CoolSculpting doesn’t offer quite as wide an array of options. The applicators available can treat many of the same areas as liposuction, including the lower chin and lower abdomen. However, they’re not available in a wide of a variety of sizes, so the procedure isn’t quite as customizable as liposuction.

2. The Amount and Distribution of Fat

As I mentioned, liposuction treatments will be customized to the patient’s needs and can address different amounts and areas of fat. Different sizes of cannulas make it easy to adjust treatment for different areas, and we’ll make sure your results match your aesthetic goals.

CoolSculpting has been proven to remove at least 25% of unwanted fat in a specific area. It’s best for those stubborn areas we’re all too familiar with, such as the “spare tire” around the lower abdomen. While the fat may not diminish after a single treatment, a few follow-up treatments can further enhance those results to help patients reach their aesthetic goals.

3. Downtime Needed

Total downtime for both treatments is usually a total of 2 to 3 days, depending on the treated area.

Liposuction is often performed under local anesthesia (depending on the treatment area), so patients can be awake throughout the treatment. However, I suggest that patients have someone available to bring them home from their appointment and tend to any needs around their house afterwards, because you will be somewhat groggy at a minimum. Many patients will take the day off work to rest at home after the procedure. Some patients will choose to stay home the next day, as well, because they will likely be a little sore. However, over-the-counter pain medication is often all that is needed to manage discomfort.

Patients experience a similar schedule with CoolSculpting, though there is no numbing or anesthesia involved. That important difference means patients often choose to return to work immediately after their treatment, as well as the next day. As with liposuction, I suggest patients refrain from physical exercise for at least a few days after treatment, depending on the treated area.

4. Surgical Vs. Nonsurgical

The greatest difference between these two treatments comes down to the surgical aspect. Liposuction requires a few small incisions, usually about 5 centimeters in width, and use of a cannula, which is a long metal rod used to inject the liposuction solution and remove the treated fat. Because there are incisions required, patients will also receive injections to numb the treated area.

CoolSculpting is nonsurgical, so it requires no incisions, injections, or numbing cream. Patients may feel a little uncomfortable as the treatment begins, but they often pass the time reading a book, watching TV, or scrolling through emails on their phone while receiving the treatment. It typically lasts an hour, so some patients even come in for a session on their lunch break and return to work afterwards.

5. Aesthetic Goals

The results of both treatments can be transformative. Below are 2 examples of real patients: 1 who received liposuction and 1 who received CoolSculpting. Can you tell which patient received which treatment?



It’s sometimes hard for me to tell the difference, too! The patient in the first photo (with the black bra and shorts) is a CoolSculpting patient, while the second example is a liposuction patient. As you can see, both patients diminished unwanted fat on their lower abdomens and better defined their waistlines.

If you’re still asking which treatment will be better for you, the only way to know for sure is through an in-person consultation. We’ll discuss your aesthetic goals and the pros and cons of each treatment, and determine which one will be the best fit.

As I’ve shared in a previous blog post, I love that Dr. Stuart and I can offer these different options to our patients. Being able to provide them with the treatment that meets their needs is rewarding, and their results are always exciting!

Would you like to discuss these options together? Feel free to contact us anytime.

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