Laser Liposuction vs Traditional Liposuction. Which is better?

Liposuction is already the second most popular cosmetic procedure (behind breast augmentation), and it’s only getting more popular now that new “laser” liposuction techniques are being introduced left and right. Find out what the laser is all about, and whether or not it makes a difference.

The Brands

  1. VASER Lipo
  2. SMART Lipo
  3. SLIM Lipo
  4. COOL Lipo

There are more types of liposuction on the market today than any of us can remember.  However, you don’t really need to remember which is which because they are essentially all the same. All of the above brand names are slightly different variations of laser liposuction, and although there are some minor differences, they are all fairly similar techniques and technologies.

The Claims

  1. Less bruising, swelling, and pain
  2. More skin contraction
  3. Can be performed without general anesthesia
  4. Utilizes the “tumescent technique”

Laser liposuction’s claim to fame is that the laser melts the fat under your skin, which supposedly makes it an easier and less traumatic technique. Because its less traumatic, there should be less bruising, swelling, and pain after the procedure, and the recovery time should be shorter. In addition, the fact that the procedure is supposed to be less painful means that it can sometimes be done under local anesthesia in the office setting. There is also speculation that the heat of the laser causes more skin contraction that regular liposuction, and therefore you get better long term result.

The Facts

  1. For the most part, there is no difference in skin contraction
  2. Claims of less bruising and swelling are not consistent
  3. Claims of less pain and shorter recovery are not consistent
  4. Laser liposuction takes longer
  5. Local anesthesia is only appropriate for small areas

The fact of the matter is that laser liposuction is still a relatively new and evolving technology, and many of the claims are based only on the marketing campaigns of the companies who make the laser machines. Unfortunately, there isn’t much actual unbiased research to help us decide if what these companies tell us is actually true.

The laser procedure does appear to be less traumatic because your plastic surgeon doesn’t have to exert as much force with the liposuction cannulas to get the fat out, but the theoretical benefits on bruising and swelling aren’t consistent.  Some people have less, but other’s have more. In addition, the heat of the laser that supposedly causes better skin contraction can also cause thermal damage, so be careful.  Laser lipo does appear to cause slightly more skin contraction on certain areas like the neck, elbows, and knees, but in most people there’s no obvious difference between the laser technique and the regular technique.

The laser procedure definitely takes longer because there is an extra step: the fat melting. In the traditional technique, there are only two steps: 1) injecting the tumescent fluid  2) sucking the fat out.  In laser liposuction, there are three steps 1) injecting the tumescent fluid  2) melting the fat  3) sucking the melted fat out.  This extra step adds a significant amount of time to the procedure, especially if you are having a large area done, and this extra time may very well negate the theoretical benefits of less bruising and swelling.

Claims about laser liposuction being done awake don’t hold much water because any liposuction, whether it’s laser or not, can be done awake if the area you’re getting done is small enough. Small areas like the neck, the back of the arms, and the inner thighs can be done without general anesthesia because it’s relatively easy to make these areas numb, but larger areas like the abdomen and back are much more difficult (for you) to do without going to sleep.  Click here to check out this article on one of our readers experiences with awake liposuction.

Another common misconception about laser liposuction is that the tumescent technique is unique to laser liposuction.  It’s not. All liposuction techniques use the tumescent technique, traditional liposuction included. The tumescent fluid is a necessary part of any liposuction since it controls pain prevents excessive bleeding and bruising.

So what’s the verdict?

The good news is that it probably doesn’t matter which technique you choose. The claims that the laser liposuction made by the companies are speculative at best, and there’s not much good research to back up all the hype. For certain areas like the neck, elbows, and knees, the heat of the laser might help the skin contract a little better, but skin contraction is really a genetic thing… if you have “good” skin, chances are that yours will contract well regardless of which technique your surgeon uses. The bottom line is that we need more research to decide on whether the laser makes a difference. Right now, it appears that the traditional technique is just as good as the new laser methods.

In the meantime, the two most important things you can do to get good results from liposuction are:

  1. Make sure your surgeon is a fully-trained plastic surgeon who is qualified to be doing your procedure
  2. Get a good quality compression garment and wear it for at least 4 weeks after surgery (Veronique Garments are the best)

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nicholas vendemia on facebook, mas, manhattan aesthetic surgeryNicholas Vendemia, M.D.
Plastic Surgeon, New York City
MAS / Manhattan Aesthetic Surgery

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Photo Credit: iStockPhoto

NOTICE: None of the celebrities or individuals discussed here have ever received treatment, surgery, medical advice, or evaluations from any author, physician, surgeon, or representative of this blog. All images and photos in this article represent models only. No actual patients or clients are shown.

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