Advancements in methods of fat removal by liposuction continue to change and be improved. One of the most noteworthy methods that is currently marketed and touted is laser liposuction, or more accurately, laser-assisted liposuction.

As opposed to the traditional technique of a hollowed-out cannula insertion, loosening and beating up the fat tissue, and then ******* it out, this mechanical particulation is replaced by the heat of laser energy. Inside the liposuction cannula, fibers carrying laser light deliver their heat to the targeted fat breaking it down into a liquid ‘soup’ which can be suctioned out. Theoretically, the skin in the areas overlying where the liposuction was done may get tighter due to the heat from the laser.

As of this date, there are three such laser-assisted liposuction systems available in the United States. They are under the marketed tradenames of SMARTLIPO (Cynosure), COOLLIPO (CoolTouch), and PROLIPO (Sctiton). All of them tout more effective and efficient fat removal, less bruising and swelling after the procedure, a faster recovery, and some skin tightening and improvement in the appearance of cellulite over the treated areas.

The real question is….are they truly better than basic liposuction…and are their increased costs over traditional liposuction worth it? (someone has to pay for the equipment purchase…and that someone is you the patient!) To date, laser-assisted liposuction is tremendously appealing, particularly to the general public. In the past, any medical treatment that included the word, laser, always enamors the public. No clinical trials have yet been reported however, that I have seen, that have ever directly compared any laser-assisted vs traditional liposuction procedure in patients. No clinical trial, large or small, has yet been done that has compared the results of any touted liposuction method in a prospective, controlled clinical study. FDA approval of these devices implies that they are safe for patient use but that does not mean they are necessarily more effective than other liposuction methods.

Much like ultrasonic-assisted liposuction when it was introduced 10 years ago, laser-assisted liposuction may be a popular trend that, in the end, will fare no better. It will undoubtably have its place in liposuction options and armamentarium but I doubt if it is magic or whether it offers a quantum leap forward in patient outcomes and recovery times. While it is another method of removing fat, I remain skeptical if all of the marketing claims of laser-assisted liposuction such as a quicker recovery and skin tightening can live up to the hype.

I am all for any form of advancement in liposuction, which is a fairly traumatic procedure on the tissues. While effective, liposuction is still one of the most ‘brutal’ procedures that we as plastic surgeons do. Is laser-assted liposuction a better method of liposuction?…..ask me again in 5 years!