Smartlipo: What You Should Know

Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery
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What is Smartlipo?

By Lesley Rotchford • Medical review by Bruce E. Katz, MD on July 31st, 2019

 

85% say it’s “Worth It”

 

$5,225 Average cost

 

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2,918 doctors & clinics

 

3–5 days of downtime

 

Local or general anesthesia

Smartlipo is a less invasive type of liposuction that uses laser energy to liquefy fat before the doctor suctions it out—which makes the fat easier to remove and results in less bruising. Because the laser makes it so precise, it’s often used on smaller, stubborn pockets of fat, like love handles, flabby upper arms, bra bulge, or double chin, though it can be used on all areas of the body. It has the added benefit of also stimulating collagen production, meaning that it tightens up your skin and boosts elasticity, so you aren’t left with saggy skin after fat has been removed.

Like all liposuction, it’s not a weight loss procedure. Smartlipo works best on those within 20% of their ideal body weight and just have a stubborn, diet- and exercise-resistant pocket of excess fat. 
You may also come across the names Smartlipo MPX and Smartlipo Triplex, which are evolutions of the Smartlipo laser technology.  Smartlipo initially used one wavelength of Nd:YAG laser at 1,064nm. “SmartLipo MPX added a second wavelength 1,320nm and increased the power to improve the skin tightening strength of this laser,” explains Dr. Kirk Churukian, a plastic surgeon in San Jose, California, in a RealSelf Q&A. “Most recently, the SmartLipo Triplex added a third wavelength 1,440nm as well as an accelerometer and a temperature sensing tip that now improves the speed and safety of fat removal. This also allows sculpting of the face and neck and knees and ankles.”
 
Pros

  • It’s just as effective as regular (tumescent) liposuction. “The results are actually better,” says Dr. Bruce Katz, a dermatologic surgeon in New York City. “In fact, I haven’t done regular liposuction on a patient in 15 years.”
  • It’s minimally invasive and usually requires only local anesthesia. That means it’s less expensive and safer than traditional lipo,  which usually requires general anesthesia.
  • It can make you look more fit and defined by removing fat that’s covering your muscles. 
  • Smartlipo removes fat while also stimulating collagen production, so treated areas look both slim and increasingly tight and smooth. “With traditional lipo, we could only take out the fat. We couldn’t tighten the skin, so patients could end up with areas of the body that looked like deflated balloons,” says Dr. Katz. 
  • The procedure can be performed in less than two hours, and it requires only one treatment.
  • Because the fat is liquefied before being suctioned out, there’s less trauma to the surrounding tissue and the recovery period is shorter and easier, says Dr. Katz.

Cons

  • While it’s less invasive than traditional lipo, Smartlipo is still surgery. Possible complications include hematoma (pooling of blood under the skin) and infection.
  • Some RealSelf members report still being sore weeks or months after having the procedure. 
  • In rare cases, Smartlipo can burn the skin, because the laser generates heat. This risk increases if you’re being treated by someone with little experience performing Smartlipo. 
  • Fat that has been removed via Smartlipo can’t be transferred to plump up other areas of the body, like the breasts or butt (a process known as “fat grafting” or “fat transfer”), as it can with traditional or VASER liposuction, because the laser kills the fat cells.

Also known as: Laser lipolysis, Laser liposuction, Lipoplasty, Smart Lipo

What happens during Smartlipo

There will first be an initial consultation in which you and your surgeon discuss your desired results. “During the consultation process, we discuss with patients their goals and expectations and then create a customized surgical plan to help achieve the best results,” says Dr. David Shafer, a plastic surgeon in New York City. 

On the day of the procedure, you’ll be given local anesthesia so that you won’t feel any pain (although you might feel a little bit of pressure). However, “when larger areas or multiple areas are treated, the patient most likely needs IV or general anesthesia, for both their comfort and safety,” says Dr. Shafer. 

Then the surgeon will make an incision and insert a tiny laser fiber. “The laser fiber is only 1 mm, so the incision is really tiny,” Dr. Katz says. “Regular liposuction uses a cannula [a thin tube] that is 3 mm to 5 mm, so the incision is larger.” The laser destroys fat cell membranes in the targeted area, liquifies the fat, and tightens skin. Three different wavelengths can be used: 1,064 nm, 1,320 nm, and 1,440 nm. Says Dr. Katz, “1,440nm produces the best skin tightening, so that’s the one that’s most commonly used.” 

The surgeon then gently suctions the liquefied fat out of your body, using a tiny cannula. The whole process takes less than two hours, depending on how many areas are being treated (if you are having several areas worked on, the overall time could be longer); just one treatment is necessary. Because the incision is so small, no stitches are needed; the tiny wound will close up on its own.

What to expect after Smartlipo

Post-surgery, you’ll probably be swollen and sore, with some bruising, numbness, and tenderness. Inflammation could make the treated area feel stiff or possibly lumpy—and you’ll wear a compression garment, except while showering, for a week. Even though this is relatively minor surgery, you should still plan to take the next day off from work. You should be totally back in action within a week, and you’ll be encouraged to start exercising again as soon as you feel up to it. “Most of my patients resume full exercise in five days,” says Sterling, Virginia–based plastic surgeon Dr. David Berman in a RealSelf Q&A. All symptoms should improve within six weeks. Your doctor might recommend some massage techniques to help smooth out lumpiness.

Experts agree that because the fat is liquefied (instead of broken up by manual movements of the cannula), recovery is faster than with traditional liposuction. “I’ve used many different machines, and laser liposuction has been so beneficial in reducing bruising, swelling, and pain in comparison to traditional liposuction,” says Dallas plastic surgeon Dr. Jeff Angobaldo in a RealSelf Q&A. Just keep in mind that the more areas you have worked on at once, the longer your recovery will likely be.

When you'll see results and how long they'll last

Results should show up in about a week (once the swelling goes down), and you’ll continue to see improvement for six months. 

Since Smartlipo completely removes fat cells, your results will last for as long as you maintain a stable weight. If you gain weight, the remaining fat cells will expand. Doctors on RealSelf stress the importance of eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly to stay fit and keep your body looking proportionate.

How much Smartlipo costs

RealSelf member reviews say Smartlipo costs just over $5,000 on average. The price will vary based on how many areas you’re having treated, the experience of your surgeon, and your doctor’s location. Atlanta plastic surgeon Dr. Stanley Okoro warns in a RealSelf Q&A that lower costs may mean that the doctor you’re considering is less qualified. “Experience and training matter a lot [with liposuction],” he explains.

Alternatives to Smartlipo

BodyTite is another form of energy-assisted lipo. It uses radiofrequency to melt fat and tighten skin. “However, it’s really more for skin tightening, like if you have saggy skin on your abdomen after having a baby,” says Dr. Katz. 

If you don’t mind going in for multiple treatment sessions and waiting several months to see your final results (as opposed to with Smartlipo and BodyTite, which are completed in just one procedure), you have a variety of nonsurgical fat-reduction options. They all do basically the same thing but in a slightly different way. Because they aren’t as invasive as Smartlipo, they can’t remove as much fat at one time. These nonsurgical options tend to cost less than Smartlipo does, but they require multiple visits—which can ultimately make them even more expensive.

  • CoolSculpting destroys fat cells by freezing them, and the dead cells are naturally eliminated over time.  
  • UltraShape uses targeted ultrasound technology to burst fat cells and contour the midsection. The destroyed fat cells are metabolized and eliminated.
  • Vanquish uses radiofrequency energy to heat and destroy fat cells, which are flushed out of the body over the next few weeks.
  • WarmSculpting with SculpSure uses diode-laser energy to heat and destroy fat cells.

Published 4 Dec 2018   •   Updated 30 Aug 2019