Pros, cons of two popular procedures to get rid of belly fat

New option promises to freeze away fat without surgery


HOUSTON – The number of tummy tucks has risen by more than 100 percent over the last 10 years, but this surgery, which targets stubborn belly fat, is expensive and can be risky.

CoolSculpting is a nonsurgical alternative to a tummy tuck. It's a freezing treatment that works in the same way a vacuum cleaner does, to suck up fat.

While the canisters suck in fat, the tissue is chilled to 39 degrees, which causes it to crystallize.

"They found a way to cool the fat, but not kill the skin," said Dr. Salvatore Dimercurio, a Maryland-based plastic surgeon.

Jerra Feaga was treated on her thighs and stomach.

"It's like a numbing feeling that continues to get colder and colder to the point of probably what hypothermia feels like," Feaga said.

The pain generally lasts about seven minutes of the hourlong treatment.

"Even though we have some good results four to eight weeks post-treatment, we find that if we treat that area again, we get better results," Dimercurio said.

"It's only up to a 30 percent decrease, so it's not going to be a wow factor," Feaga said.

For more dramatic results, some patients consider the tummy tuck, which is sometimes called the "yummy mummy" surgery.

"Typically, it's the woman who's had children. She goes to the gym five days a week. She doesn't understand why she can't remove this loose flabby skin," plastic surgeon Dr. Henry Garazo said.

Like Christine Rosenthal, a mom who, after two cesarean section births, still had overhanging skin. But she said after surgery, she physically improved by 90 percent.

"Everything isn't going to be perfect, but it's better than it was," Rosenthal said. "That's how I viewed it."

"It's transformational. For women, when they walk in the office, you can literally see them at the front desk walking down the hall and they're a completely new person," Garazo said.

Neither procedure is covered by insurance. CoolSculpting costs about $2,000-$3,000 and tummy tucks start at $5,000.