skip to Main Content

Shaping Up

Understanding non-surgical laser body sculpting treatments

Gone are the days when liposuction and plastic surgery were the only options for consumers looking to get rid of unwanted fat. These days, a client can pop into the spa for a quick non-invasive body sculpting treatment on their lunch hour and go right back to work, with no downtime required. 

There are a number of treatments that claim to have a fat-reducing effect, treatments that use ultrasound, radio frequency and lasers. The focus of this article is exclusively on laser-based, non-invasive body sculpting treatments.

Some Like It Hot

In 2007, Cynosure developed a minimally invasive surgical procedure that offered an alternative to traditional liposuction. Called Smart Lipo, the treatment involved making a small incision into the belly of the patient and using a laser to melt away unwanted fat from the inside. Years later, Cynosure observed that there was a growing demand for non-invasive treatments that would have a similar effect to the Smart Lipo procedure. SculpSure was developed to meet that demand. 

Recently approved by Health Canada for medical use, SculpSure has been gaining traction at the medi spa. Lasers are attached to applicators on the skin and heat the subcutaneous layer of fat to a temperature of 42 to 47 C, breaking down the fat cells. 

“It takes about a minimum six weeks for those fat cells to be processed through your lymphatic system and to be flushed out, and then it takes about 12 weeks for you to see optimum results,” says Mac Osman of Cynosure. 

The treatment lasts for 25 minutes and involves intervals of heating and cooling so that the client doesn’t feel sustained discomfort. “It is an uncomfortable treatment, but it’s tolerable,” Osman says. “It beats going to the gym five days a week and running on the treadmill for an hour and feeling that burn. Everybody’s [pain] threshold is different though.”

Some Like It Cold

CoolSculpting by Zeltiq is a popular laser body sculpting treatment that uses a method called cryolipolysis, which involves destroying fat cells by freezing them. Cooling applicators attach to the body and provide localized suction on the belly, hips, bra line, inner thighs, and outer thighs, pulling unwanted fat into the chamber. It then cools the fat cells to a temperature of 5 C for 45 minutes to one hour. The best non-invasive laser body sculpting programs integrate more than one of these treatments, says Dr. Stephen Mulholland of Toronto’s SpaMedica. At SpaMedica, spa clients can get both the CoolSculpting and SculpSure treatments, six weeks apart, and start to see results 12 weeks after the two treatments, he says. According to Mulholland, whose medi spa also offers the BodyFX radio-frequency treatment and the Ultrashape ultrasound treatment, BodyFX and Ultrashape require more treatments but yield results in less time. 

Not Too Cold, Not Too Hot

“Ours is a cold laser,” says James Bryer, an independent provider of Zerona Canada. “What that means is it just doesn’t generate any heat,” he says. Unlike the SculpSure and CoolSculpting treatments, the goal of the Zerona laser treatment isn’t to destroy the fat cells, but merely deflate them. “We’re not killing cells at all, we’re actually just reducing them inside, and the way we’re doing that is we’re giving them an instruction that the body needs all the energy stored up inside the fat cells,” Bryer says. “Once that instruction is given, the fat cells release all their content – not just a little bit, but all of it – and the cells collapse. The contents from the fat cells – the triglycerides, the fatty acids, things like that – they all get caught in your lymphatic system and we flush them out using a lot of water.”

Fat cells are an important part of the endocrine system, which is an important part of the immune system, Bryer says. The Zerona treatment, he says, aims to make the fat cells “small and young again.”

After the treatment, it takes the fat cells about 48 hours to repair themselves, and then they fill back up again. However, Bryer says, because the membrane has been empty for a couple of days, the fat cell does not fill up to full size. After each successive treatment, the capacity of the fat cells becomes less and less. “We actually guarantee a five per cent reduction at the waist, hips and thighs in two weeks,” he says.

To Laser Or Not To Laser

Not only are these treatments a great option for clients who want a slimming result without going under the knife, laser non-invasive body sculpting treatments are ideal for medi spas looking for an alternative to add to the treatment menu. 
Before adding these treatments, however, Dr. Melissa Hershberg of Q Esthetics Laser Clinic recommends that spas make sure they have enough clientele to make enough use out of the laser devices. “The treatments are expensive,” Hershberg says. “[Spas] need to make sure they understand their limitations. It’s not the same as liposuction; you’re not going to get huge fat volume reductions, but it’s more for people who have already used diet and exercise and are on their way to losing but have a few stubborn pockets of fat. For that, you can achieve really good results. I don’t want to make any overreaching promises.” 

Aftercare Advice For Spa Clients

Before you go into the medi spa for a non-invasive laser body sculpting treatment (wow, that’s a mouthful), make sure to come well hydrated. “Drinking water is really important,” Dr. Melissa Hershberg of Q Esthetics Laser Clinic says. “That will help your lymphatic system flush out any fat cells destroyed as well. It’s also important to continue with your diet and exercise regime. These treatments are not a cure all, but they can be an effective accompaniment to a weight loss program. Some of these treatments may cause discomfort, so Hershberg suggests that you take a pain reliever like Advil or Tylenol before the procedure. That being said, every treatment is different and has slightly different aftercare procedures. Check with your individual provider or spa for more details.




TightSculpting treatment

Hermione Wilson

Hermione has a background in lifestyle and entertainment journalism. After graduating from Humber College’s journalism program, where she wrote for the school’s newspaper and various magazines, Hermione interned at TV Guide Canada, writing television reviews, and at Canadian Living, where she sampled goodies from the Test Kitchen.

Back To Top