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How Does Zeltiq Machine Work? Lose Fat Without Surgery

Updated on March 29, 2011

Zeltiq: Before and after

A before and after image from a dermatologist's brochure.
A before and after image from a dermatologist's brochure.

What Is Zeltiq? Cellulite Removal Without Surgery

Zeltiq is a “cold technology” liposuction alternative that recently got FDA approval. The Zeltiq body contouring procedure promises to help you lose fat and remove cellulite to get a tighter, sleeker shape without surgery or Spanx. This is non-surgical fat removal, "smart liposuction," for people looking for a non-invasive liposuction alternative.

We are all born with a set number of fat cells. They grow or shrink with us as we get fatter or thinner.

Liposuction is a surgical procedure to hoover out unwanted fat cells.

Now there’s Zeltiq, a non-invasive mechanism that delivers that same, targeted fat reduction through a process called Cryolipolysis.

Zeltiq Explained on the News

Does Zeltiq Work?

Here’s how Zeltiq works: A suction device is applied to the places where a patient wants to lose fat. It sucks the unwanted fat between two cold plates and the area becomes so cold that underlying fat cells crystallize and die. The surface skin is not damaged, though the procedure can be mildly uncomfortable.

Over the next two or three months, the dead cells break down and are expelled by the body. The procedure itself takes an hour and Zeltiq usually costs around $700 for one session. Some doctors may offer discounts for multiple sessions, and a single session can cost as much as $1,000 in some markets.

It is proven science that freezing fat cells will kill them. What remains to be seen is how this process works in the human body, and if the results last long term. In the short term, for a year or two, Zeltiq appears to have positive results for the right kind of candidate.

A study presented at a meeting of the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery found that Zeltiq reduced fat by 22 percent in a targeted area, according to a story in the New York Times.

Zeltiq on Good Morning America

Is Zeltiq Safe?

The Food and Drug Administration approved Zeltiq for fat-loss purposes in September 2010. It has been used commercially in the U.S. to help people get rid of unwanted fat for at least one year.

Zeltiq was approved to blast fat in Canada in Europe before it was approved here, so there is more data there about long-term results from Zeltiq. In the U.S., Zeltiq is primarily available through select doctors, usually dermatologists and plastic surgeons. It takes up to two months to see results.

Now that Zeltiq Aesthetics, the California company behind the device, has obtained FDA approval, chances are it will start marketing Zeltiq to the public in a big way. Clinical trials have been done and continue. Ads could soon start to appear on TV, in magazines or in the newspaper. The Zeltiq procedure has even appeared on Good Morning America.

Because Zeltiq is an elective treatment, it is unlikely to be covered by most insurance.

Who Should Try Zeltiq?

Zeltiq works best for those small, targeted “trouble spots” that bug you when you look in the mirror: The love handle, the man boob, the back fat, the tummy pooch or even, in my case, the jowl.

Good candidates for Zeltiq tend to be reasonably fit and healthy. Zeltiq doesn’t work for obese people looking to lose large amounts of weight. Nor is Cryolipolysis a substitute for a healthy lifestyle. It really is about re-contouring your body and shrinking the trouble spots you can’t exercise away.

Discomfort and recovery from Zeltiq

Zeltiq can be mildly uncomfortable. The surface skin may feel cold before it goes numb. The patient also may not enjoy the suction sensation as the machine freezes the fat cells. That unpleasantness usually lasts about 10 minutes.

Skin may be red for up to several hours after the procedure. Anything longer is not normal and the patient should call the doctor.

There may also be temporary bruising, tingling, tenderness or cramping. These should all pass relatively quickly.

One of the best things about Zeltiq is that there’s no recovery time. Doctors say patients can go back about their normal lives almost immediately!

Liposuction, by contrast, involves a long, sometimes painful recovery as the body heals from surgery.

Are there other non-surgical ways to eliminate fat cells?

Yes. People are always looking for ways to lose the pudge without going under the knife, and several promising new techniques are coming to market.

One is Zeltiq.

Another is Zerona, a four-armed laser that zaps your bulges over the course of six 40-minute sessions. The FDA first approved Zerona to treat pain following breast enlargements or liposuction, and now Zerona is approved as a fat blaster. It was approved about the same time that Zeltiq gained FDA approval.

Other non-surgical devices like UltraShape and LipoSonix will come out soon. They use ultrasound waves to attack specific fat patches.


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      Katarina 7 years ago


      I had it done about five days ago too (this was my second treatment). The first time I had it done, the doc used two small suctioners. This time, she used one big suctioner. I am in so much pain that I can't sleep tonight, even after taking a Vicodin. I feel like my stomache is slowly defrosting from frostbite or something. The shooting pains are just horrible. I don't remember it being so uncomfortable last time, though it was a little painful. It took about two months for my stomache to feel soft and "unfrozen," last time.

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      Harmen Cox 7 years ago

      its difficult to imagine how honest the results can be when at 80k to buy one 10,000 procedures must be completed to pay for it. Nothing works like lipo or smart lipo. Its like evetything else in life no pain or discomfort then no gain. If it sounds too good to be true it usually is.

    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Mary. I'd love to hear more about how Zeltiq works out for you, especially in a couple of months, if the treated area is smaller and if you think at that point it is worthwhile, or if you regret having tried it. I am sorry to hear that it has been so uncomfortable up to now. Good luck.

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      Mary 7 years ago

      My procedure was done 5 days ago, so I really don't know what the final result will be. I'm making this post so that others will know what to expect. I had two one-hour treatments on the same day. First the right side of my tummy was done and then the left side. There was quite a bit of discomfort when the fat is sucked into the machine, but that discomfort goes away after about 10 minutes. I was surpised that the fat sucking cups are very small -- probably about 4" by 2" and about 3" deep. That's why I had to endue the procedure twice. Only so much fat could be placed into the machine. Please understand that I am certainly not obese -- I am a size 6. My stomach just has a pooch. To get the entire stomach area, the procedure had to be performed on each side of my belly button. When each hour ended, my skin felt frozen -- almost like hamburger meat, but that went away quickly. When I got home I noticed that bruising had already begun. The skin on my left side had been punctured so I had some bleeding. It is now 5 days later, and I'm in a lot of pain. The area is basiclly numb to the touch except for a shooting pain that begins in the same area where my bleeding occurred. I really feel ashamed of myself for spending $1,500 for this procedure. If I achieve the average result, then 20% of the fat that was sucked into those cups will disappear. I don't think that will be significant enough to even notice, but I hope that I'm wrong. Before you invest in this procedure, please ask your doctor to see the machine. I think that you'll be amazed at the very small area that will be treated.