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Just freeze fat away? Method and risks of cryolipolysis

There are fat pads that stubbornly persist even after a lot of exercise. Those who are bothered by the supposed blemish, however, do not necessarily have to undergo a surgical procedure. More and more practices are offering cryolipolysis, a non-invasive treatment for fat reduction, which is marketed under the brand name Coolsculpting as a gentle solution to problem areas. But what are the risks of the treatment?

What is cryolipolysis?

Cryolipolysis comes from ancient Greek and is composed of the words kryos = frost, lipos = fat and lysis = solution. It is a non-invasive method, because unlike liposuction, this beauty treatment does not involve the use of a scalpel. Fat deposits that patients find disturbing are treated with strong cold in order to achieve the death of the fat cells. The method was developed by scientists at Harvard University. They had observed in animal experiments that fat cells are more severely attacked by cold than the overlying skin and connective tissue. Based on this, they developed the cosmetic cold treatment, which has now been in practice for ten years. The procedure is also known under the term "Coolsculpting". This is the brand name of the cooling machine used for fat reduction.

You can find out more about the positive effects of cold on the skin here.

For whom is the procedure suitable?

In Germany, the treatment is offered, among others, in the practice of the Munich dermatologist Dr. Golüke. He explains that the Coolscuplting device can be used to remove localized fat deposits. Accordingly, the procedure is suitable for individual fat deposits that are resistant to diet and exercise, but not for severe obesity. The expert goes on to explain that the treatment is generally possible for every adult. The only exceptions are pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding, and people with certain health impairments. For example, the treatment is not suitable for patients suffering from cold urticaria (cold allergy) or for those who regularly have to take blood-thinning medication, according to Dr. Goluuml;ke.

How does the treatment work?

The areas to be treated are thoroughly cleaned and protected with a gel pad before the Coolsculpting device is used. In this process, the tissue is sucked in through a vacuum cup – the fat that is in this container is the treatment area, so to speak. The Coolsculpting machine uses sensors to keep the skin at a constant plus four degrees Celsius. This is cold enough to destroy the fat cells, but at the same time does not cause cold burns on the skin. Depending on the treated area, the cooling modules run for between 35 minutes and an hour. The subsequent and final treatment step is a two-minute massage of the iced area to finally destroy the fat cells and promote their degradation.

Since cryolipolysis only works from the outside, no anesthesia is necessary, and the ability to drive or work is not restricted. Pain is – possible, as with any medical procedure – but unlikely, as the specialist confirms.

Which problem areas are suitable for cryolipolysis?

The treatment is suitable for fat deposits that stick out, i.e. a small bump, fat pads on the buttocks or thighs, and a double chin. The Coolscuplting device must be able to suck in the areas to be treated. Freezing fat, which is evenly distributed on, for example, legs, could lead to dents after the treatment.

Is the treatment painful?

By nature, pain is perceived differently from person to person. In principle, however, the procedure is well tolerated and in no way comparable to the accompanying symptoms associated with liposuction, for example, according to the physician. At the beginning the cold effect is clearly noticeable, after a few minutes the unpleasant feeling subsides – the skin is then as if slightly numb and less sensitive to temperature. The least favorite part: the two-minute "kneading" following the cold treatment. The aim is to manually destroy the degenerated fat cells and finally achieve a greater treatment success.

What are the risks?

If health contraindications were excluded before the treatment, the possible side effects were limited according to the expert to the emergence of bruises, Rötungen and pressure and touch sensitivity in the treated area. A feeling of numbness is also possible here, which can last for up to two weeks. The reason: nerves are affected by the cooling machine. However, these eventualities are temporary at best. It is important to place oneself in capable and experienced hands. Improper work can lead to unsightly dents and depressions. It is also important to find out which device is used for the method. Only the Coolsculpting brand cryolipolysis device has the European CE certification and also meets American safety criteria.

How effective is Coolsculpting?

One risk is that cryolipolysis may have no effect, or at least not the desired effect. As with any medical measure, the result cannot be predicted with absolute certainty,” says Dr. Golüke. Expectations also vary from patient to patient. Some have the treatment repeated because they want to see even more effect. The success of the treatment also depends strongly on the individual constitution and lifestyle.

When can the effect of the treatment be seen?

Depending on the individual metabolism, it can take longer or go faster until the fat cells are completely destroyed, metabolized by the liver and eliminated from the body. The first changes can be seen about three weeks after treatment, and the final results are usually seen after two to three months. This is also the time for a follow-up appointment in the practice, during which the patient and doctor examine the development together and compare it with before photos.

How long does the result of cryolipolysis last?

Once destroyed, the fat cells do not return, so the result in the treated areas is permanent. Nevertheless, patients should take care to maintain their weight after the treatment. Since the fat cells have been locally iced, new fat deposits can develop in other parts of the body.

How much does the treatment cost?

The prices depend not least on which and how many zones are treated. A single treatment costs about 700 euros. The treatment is a purely private service, the health insurance does not cover the costs.


Properly performed, cryolipolysis is, according to the current state of knowledge, an overall effective, non-invasive method for reducing wrinkled problem areas. However, solid studies proving its effectiveness do not yet exist. Moreover, how effective the treatment is varies from person to person. Our assessment: the method does not replace a healthy diet and exercise, – and perhaps small fat patches are not so bad, but simply quite normal.