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Laser Liposuction May Zap Fat Without Skin Sag

Preliminary research suggests procedure could have advantages over traditional method of fat removal

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Whereas traditional liposuction involves sucking the fat out in solid form using a hollow pen-like device, laser liposuction melts the fat with a laser before vacuuming it out with a similar pen-like device.

After the fat removal, doctors use a laser of a different wavelength that is absorbed by skin cells to create an "artificial burn" that tells the body to release collagen in the area, which causes the skin to tighten, Chamsuddin said.

A third type of liposuction, which is more common than laser liposuction, uses ultrasound to achieve a similar effect of melting the fat. Chamsuddin said, however, that fat cells absorb the laser energy better than ultrasonic energy.

The average age of participants in the current study was 38, and about 75 percent were women, Chamsuddin said. The most common areas treated were the belly, "love handles," thighs and arms. The volume of fat removed ranged from 30 percent to 90 percent, depending on the body area.

A similar amount of fat can be removed with traditional or ultrasound liposuction, said Dr. Jeffrey Kenkel, a professor of plastic surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"The main thing being promoted with laser liposuction is improved skin tightening, but there is not a lot of objective evidence," Kenkel said. Although a previous small study found that skin tightening was about 50 percent better with laser compared to traditional liposuction, the degree of skin tightening was low with both procedures and the difference was probably not meaningful for patients, he said.

"You are going to need firm skin no matter what the procedure," Kenkel said.

Kenkel also is worried about the safety of laser liposuction. The lasers heat the skin to high temperatures, which can cause burns and scarring if not used properly, he said.

Chamsuddin thinks the risk of bruising is similar for laser and traditional liposuction. He thinks that the use of laser leads to more pain, however, because it causes tissue burns. In his study, most participants complained of cramping and burning sensations for several days after the procedure.

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