Unexpected Benefit from CoolSculpting: Skin Tightening

Posted October 23, 2014 by Paul M. Parker, M.D., FACS

smiling_girlOne of our newest body shaping options at the Parker Center, CoolSculpting® has been a huge hit, giving us an option for treating patients without surgery or downtime. Now it appears CoolSculpting may have an unexpected side effect for many patients, and it’s a good one: as unwanted fat disappears, skin in the treated areas appears smoother and firmer.

CoolSculpting can be used to treat stubborn fat on the abdomen, hips, flanks, thighs, or back. The apparent skin tightening that comes along with the procedure, however, has come as a pleasant surprise. I’ve seen the effects of CoolSculpting for tighter skin present in two ways:

CoolSculpting appears to preserve skin’s tone & appearance in the treated area.

For optimal results with fat reduction, the skin must be able to contract to fit the new, slimmer body contours. This is why liposuction is discouraged in patients with poorer skin elasticity, as the skin may appear loose after the fat is removed. In contrast, the majority of CoolSculpting patients have seen their skin contract nicely as their full results become apparent. In other words, the reduction in size of a given bulge has not resulted in increased skin laxity, even for patients who have had a fairly dramatic reduction in fat from the treatment.

CoolSculpting may improve skin firmness & elasticity.

A small but consistent number of patients experience an improvement in skin tone and appearance following CoolSculpting. Some have seen a noticeable fold diminish as the skin adopts a smoother, more aesthetically pleasing contour. While only surgery can remove excess skin, the phenomenon is promising news for patients who are bothered by excess fat and a moderate amount of stretched skin, but who are not ready for surgery—for example, post-pregnancy moms who are planning to having more children. For these women, CoolSculpting could provide a cost-effective interim treatment to help them improve their shape while still growing their family.

One of the more prominent theories as to why CoolSculpting may work to tighten skin is that the intense cold triggers the skin to accelerate collagen production. (Collagen is plentiful in youthful skin, but our bodies produce less of it as we age, leading to loss of skin elasticity.) This effect has been dubbed “cryodermadstringo,” or skin tightening via targeted chilling.

Another possibility lies in the gradual nature of fat loss after CoolSculpting. Since the results appear over the course of 3-4 months after treatment, this may simply give the skin time to naturally contract over a slimmer shape.

It’s not uncommon for an unexpected “bonus” benefit of a medical treatment to reveal itself a few years after it comes on the market. I’ve been excited to see patients enjoying this additional benefit from CoolSculpting, but it’s important to note it is not yet FDA approved for this specific use. Formal studies will be conducted to confirm if the skin tightening we’re seeing with our patients is consistent and measurable (as of this writing, such a study is in the initial stages). I look forward to sharing what these studies reveal—in the meantime, CoolSculpting remains an excellent way to lose unwanted body fat without going to extremes.

 

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