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Laser Liposuction
  • AirSculpt is a new, minimally invasive laser liposuction technique that requires no needles, stitches, or general anesthesia.
  • It has earned the nickname “lunchtime lipo” due to the short time it takes to complete it and the relatively quick recovery.
  • Research on AirSculpt is sparse but its safety and efficacy can be extrapolated from existing studies on similar laser lipo procedures.

Struggling to get rid of stubborn love handles? Here we answer some frequently asked questions on AirSculpt, a new liposuction technique that promises to give you a smoother, more natural appearance than any other body contouring procedure on the market.

What is AirSculpt?

Most people who have heard of AirSculpt are also familiar with Dr. Aaron Rollins, its inventor, who has been has featured in numerous media outlets as “Hollywood’s liposuction doctor to the stars.”

Rollins is the founder of Elite Body Sculpture, a Beverly Hills-based chain of cosmetic surgery clinics with several locations across the United States. He claims that his patented laser liposuction technique allows him to help patients achieve their ideal body shape with minimal side effects.

How it works

AirSculpt is similar to other lipo lasers. First, a 2mm opening is created in the skin to infuse a numbing solution (local anesthesia) with air into the fat. This is where AirSculpt derives its name from. If needed, drugs may also be administered to make you more relaxed.

A laser is then inserted, creating heat to melt the fat. The last step is removing the fat through a small tube (cannula). The process as a whole is similar to certain laser lipo procedures that typically require general anesthesia.

Aside from not requiring general anesthesia, AirSculpt also does not entail any stitches. The goal is to only leave a small mark similar to a freckle on the skin instead of a line or suture marks, which are seen more frequently with other procedures.

This tends to give good results, but may still leave scars since the hole that is punched removes a portion of the skin.

“The fat is removed cell by cell with a device that makes everything feel like a massage. It moves about 1,000 times a minute, and typically our patients just feel vibration,” Rollins says. “Because it’s so fast, we can use a much smaller tube. We believe this allows for faster healing, less downtime and smoother results.”

Where can you get it and what does it cost?

AirSculpt is mostly performed by the group of doctors in Rollin’s clinics. A small number of unaffiliated doctors who perform laser lipo may be open to performing AirSculpt as well. Currently, this boils down to a minority of plastic surgeons — something that may change with time.

According to a survey by ASAPS from 2011, one in 10 plastic surgeons have experience with and prefer laser lipo. On the other hand, nine in 10 plastic surgeons have experience with traditional liposuction, and about half still prefer it.

When it comes to price, AirSculpt can range from $3,000 to $10,000 USD, based on each individual case and the amount of fat to be removed.

What results can be expected?

No large studies have confirmed the benefits of any laser lipo technique over traditional liposuction. AirSculpt may have skin tightening effects but there is little evidence to back this up.

One study of 25 patients who received traditional lipo on one side of the body and laser lipo on the other found no added benefit with laser lipo (SmartLipo).

Since laser lipo is very similar to AirSculpt, the benefits can be considered comparable, but this still amounts to an extrapolation and should not be taken as an exact reflection.

Am I a candidate for AirSculpt liposuction?

AirSculpt can be performed on people in any weight category, according to Rollins.

During the procedure, a large amount of fat can be removed. Similar to traditional liposuction, this volume ranges from the size of an espresso cup or shot glass (50ml) up to six regular cups (1.4L).

The FDA cautions, however, that liposuction is not a weight control procedure but an option for patients who are within 30% of their ideal weight.

It’s also important to keep in mind that procedures that remove more fat can be more complex as they take longer to perform. They also carry a higher risk of damaging the tissue under the fat.

Thus, AirSculpt probably works best for people with smaller, more localized problem areas — those who are slightly overweight and are unable to lose stubborn fat despite adopting healthy lifestyle habits.

Rollins sees good results in people who’ve struggled with saddlebags and other specific concerns for most of their life. He adds that those people are usually most satisfied with the results.

AirSculpt could also be a solution for men who suffer from gynecomastia, women looking to get rid of excess breast fat, or people who want to avoid general anesthesia.

Is AirSculpt safe?

AirSculpt was approved by the FDA in 2013. Given its similarity to other laser lipo procedures, its safety is assumed to reflect that of the other approved devices.

Some experts, however, believe that more information should be gathered before making claims about safety and superiority. Dr. James M. Nachbar in Scottsdale, AZ, explains that the safety profiles of certain FDA-approved laser lipo devices remains questionable.

One study of 582 patients determined that laser lipo under local anesthesia is safe. However, a smaller study of 25 patients found that laser lipo can have more side effects as heat from the laser could release fats into the bloodstream, causing damage to the kidneys or liver.

As mentioned, no studies have yet confirmed the safety of AirSculpt. The inventor claims that the procedure doesn’t damage the skin or cause swelling. However, all lipo lasers use heat and can burn the skin if not used with care.

Overall, plastic surgeons feel that complications from laser lipo are similar to traditional lipo. They usually arise from physicians performing procedures without adequate training.

The most common complications from laser lipo include deformed shape, unsatisfactory results, burns, and scarring.

Is AirSculpt painful?

Patients who have undergone AirSculpt claim that it isn’t painful and the study of 25 patients mentioned earlier also noted that laser lipo resulted in less pain than traditional lipo.

However, AirSculpt can still cause discomfort and once the numbing solution wears off, you will likely feel some pain. Although reports suggest that the pain is bearable, most people need painkillers until the surrounding tissue completely recovers.

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What’s the recovery time?

According to Elite Body Sculpture, patients typically recover in about a month, which is much shorter than the 6-month recovery from traditional lipo.

Recovery time depends on the procedure’s complexity and how your body reacts to the treatment. You might be back to your normal routine in a couple of days, but it could take more time — certainly more than a lunch hour.

The laser entry sites are left open to allow drainage from the swollen area and speed recovery, which means you will need to wear a protective casing for a couple of weeks after the procedure and a compression suit during the third week. Bruising is common and tends to fade after four weeks.

Can the fat be saved or transfered?

Fat from laser lipo can be saved if adequately stored. According to animal studies, stem cells from fat do survive laser treatment.

Elite Body Sculpture offers sculpting for the whole body and specifies that the removed fat can be transferred to improve other areas — for instance, natural breast augmentation, a Brazilian butt lift or infused into hands for a more youthful appearance.

Rollins explains that the benefit of this approach is that it avoids introducing foreign materials into the body (such as silicone). In addition, using a patient’s own fat as filler translates to a more natural feel.

On the down side, it’s unknown what amount of transferred fat will survive the process. The body usually dissolves one- to two-thirds of the transferred fat over time. Plastic surgeons usually adjust for this eventuality before deciding on how to best achieve the sought-after results.

The low-down on laser lipo AirSculpt

Although AirSculpt may offer some benefits over traditional lipo, it’s still a new procedure. More information on its results, efficacy and safety will become available as more doctors adopt the technique and research studies gather additional evidence.

In the end, it’s the skills of the plastic surgeon that can make the biggest difference. If you decide to try AirSculpt, make sure to consult a board-certified plastic surgeon with adequate training and experience.

» To find out which body contouring procedure is best suited to your needs, ask a cosmetic doctor for advice and schedule an appointment using Zwivel’s free online consultation tool.

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About The Author

Articles by

Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharm) is a pharmacist turned freelance health/science writer based in Montreal, Canada. Passionate about scientific research, mental health, and integrative medicine. When not writing, she’s traveling the world, doing yoga, and painting.

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