WebMD Medical News
Laura J. Martin, MD
April 26, 2010 (Washington) -- You've probably seen the billboards, not to
mention the glossy magazine ads, touting the benefits of laser-assisted
liposuction. But is it really that "smart or that "cool?"
The answer depends on whom you ask. Advocates say laser liposuction involves
less bruising and a quicker recovery time. And new research presented at the
annual meeting of the American society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery in
Washington, D.C., suggests laser liposuction also results in the much-coveted
But others say laser liposuction merely adds to the cost of traditional
liposuction, not the results, and increases the risk of side effects, namely
Laser liposuction uses lasers to liquefy the fat before it is removed,
making it easier to vacuum out via liposuction. Lasers may also stimulate the
production of collagen and elastin, which results in firmer, tighter, and
smoother skin. Lasers may also coagulate small blood vessels in the area, which
translates to less bruising.
In one study, patients had laser liposuction on one side of their abdomen
and traditional liposuction on the other side. They had more elasticity on the
laser side at three months then on the side with traditional liposuction.
"Skin loses elasticity and gains laxity, so for areas with loose skin, laser
lipo may be the way to go," study researcher Barry DiBernardo, MD, tells WebMD.
DiBernardo is a plastic surgeon in Montclair, N.J. and a consultant for
Cynosure, maker of Smartlipo Triplex, a laser energy device used for laser
liposuction. "It's not magic. It's just another tool that can add skin
tightening to improve the overall result."
It's not for everyone, DiBernardo says. "Lasers bring increased collagen and
elastin to the party. If you are too old, cells don't have the capacity to make
collagen and elastin."
But there is a risk of burns. "You need to monitor the temperature,"
Peter B. Fodor, MD, a plastic surgeon in Los Angeles, is not convinced about
the benefits of laser lipo, and has seen his fair share of burns from laser
liposuction procedures gone wrong. "It is tremendous hype and a lot of hype is
from the companies," he tells WebMD. "Don't place commerce ahead of
The results -- and risks -- are dependent on the doctor performing the
procedure, he says.
When you injure the skin with the laser, it contracts, Fodor says. "There is
no question that if you hit it exactly right, you will cause the skin to
contract. A little injury is good, but too much and you get burned."
Put another way: "There is a very small margin of error."
Jeffrey M. Kenkel, MD, a professor and vice chairman of plastic surgery at
the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and the director
of the Clinical Center for Cosmetic Laser Treatment in Dallas, has reservations
about the procedure.
"It liquefies fat and there is no data that I am aware of that shows it
consistently tightens skin," he tells WebMD. "There is a fine line between skin
tightening and injury. I am not convinced that we are at a point where we can
safely and predictably offer laser lipo as an option."
SOURCES:American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery annual meeting, Washington,
D.C., April 23-27, 2010.Jeffrey M. Kenkel, MD, professor and vice chairman, plastic surgery,
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; director, Clinical Center for
Cosmetic Laser Treatment, Dallas.Peter B. Fodor, MD, plastic surgeon, Los Angeles.Barry DiBernardo, MD, plastic surgeon, Montclair, N.J.; consultant,
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