CoolSculpting vs. Liposuction: Which Should You Choose?

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If you’re looking for a safe and effective way to get rid of unwanted fat, you’re probably considering two of the most popular treatment options: CoolSculpting and liposuction. Both procedures can permanently eliminate fat cells in treated areas, but there are some big differences between the two. CoolSculpting is a nonsurgical treatment that is best used to remove small to moderate amounts of stubborn fat in key areas, while liposuction excels at removing larger amounts of fat from almost anywhere on the body. 

Depending on your needs and concerns, you may prefer the more immediate results of liposuction despite the discomfort and downtime, or you might want to achieve slimmer body contours without the risks of surgery. Whether you’re seeking a noninvasive option or a more traditional approach, keep reading to learn more about the differences between CoolSculpting and liposuction and how the procedures compare stacked up against each other.

CoolSculpting vs. Liposuction Breakdown


CoolSculpting vs. Liposuction: At a Glance CoolSculpting Liposuction
The Procedure Nonsurgical Surgical
Effectiveness & Results Permanently eliminates 20-20% of treated fat cells; results develop over time Permanently removes 5 to 8 liters of body fat; results are immediately apparent and develop as swelling decreases
Safety Minor risks  More significant risks
Recovery No downtime or recovery Involves downtime, recovery and activity restrictions
Cost $$-$$$$ $$$-$$$$$


The Procedure

Winner — CoolSculpting

When comparing CoolSculpting and liposuction procedures, there are some significant differences to consider. First, one is surgical and involves anesthesia, incisions and downtime, while the other is nonsurgical and won’t interrupt your normal routine. 

If you’d rather avoid surgery and prefer a noninvasive way to eliminate stubborn fat that doesn’t respond to diet or exercise, then CoolSculpting may be right for you. The treatment process itself can actually be pretty relaxing. When you arrive for your appointment, our body contouring experts will place the applicators on your desired treatment area and start the machine. The applicators themselves come in a variety of shapes and sizes for improved comfort, and a protective gel pad will be placed beneath them to protect your skin from the cold. Then, you can read, watch a movie or listen to music while the device freezes away unwanted fat cells. Some patients even take a nap during their treatment.

In contrast, liposuction is a surgical process that involves the use of general or local anesthesia, an operating room and some discomfort afterward. The procedure can take several hours to complete depending on the size and number of your treatment areas and you’ll need to take time off from work and other activities to recover. While liposuction can provide more immediate and dramatic results, both treatments can permanently eliminate unwanted fat in targeted areas as long as you maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Effectiveness & Results

Winner — Liposuction

Coolsculpting and liposuction are designed to remove unwanted fat from areas of the body like the hips, thighs, flanks, stomach, arms and back. While the techniques they use are vastly different, both procedures can produce impressive and long-lasting results.

CoolSculpting works by freezing unwanted fat and contours the body without surgery. It can eliminate up to 20-25% of targeted fat cells in 9 key areas without harming the surrounding tissue. One to two applicators can be used at a time and most patients undergo a series of two or more CoolSculpting sessions to achieve their desired results. After your procedure, treated fat cells are eliminated naturally by the body over the next few months.

Liposuction provides more immediate results. Unwanted fat is removed directly with the use of a thin, hollow tube called a cannula. During treatment, the cannula is inserted into targeted areas through a small incision, then moved back and forth to dislodge and extract fatty tissue. Typically, liposuction can remove between 5 to 8 liters of unwanted fat. Sometimes, liposuction may be assisted with laser or ultrasonic energy to make fat cells easier to remove, causing less trauma to the surrounding skin and blood vessels.

Once fat cells are removed — either with CoolSculpting or liposuction — they’re gone for good. That means both procedures can provide permanent body contouring results. However, significant weight gain can cause the remaining fat cells to expand, so it’s important to maintain your results with a healthy diet and lifestyle for the best long-term outcome.


Winner — CoolSculpting

Whether it’s surgical or nonsurgical, any body contouring procedure that eliminates unwanted fat carries some risk. However, the risk profiles differ greatly depending on the treatment.

Surgical procedures like liposuction involve more risk due to the use of incisions and anesthesia, which are needed to achieve dramatic transformations but can lead to complications like bleeding, infection, fluid accumulation and adverse reactions to the anesthetic. Additionally, unfavorable treatment outcomes due to scarring, uneven contouring and skin irregularities can also occur, leaving patients dissatisfied with their results.

In comparison, the risks associated with CoolSculpting are minimal and include temporary pain or aching, skin irritation and numbness in the treated area. Rarely, some patients may also experience a phenomenon called paradoxical adipose hyperplasia. This is a serious complication in which treated fat cells grow instead of shrink, creating pockets of hardened and enlarged fat. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the incidence rate of this condition after cryolipolysis procedures like CoolSculpting is 0.0051%.


Winner — CoolSculpting

There’s no question here — when it comes to recovery, downtime and activity restrictions, CoolSculpting is the clear winner, because it entails none of these things.

Liposuction is a surgical procedure that requires incisions and anesthesia. While it can be a highly effective way to remove excess fat, it also involves downtime and a recovery period. After Liposuction, patients experience side effects like significant swelling, bruising, and discomfort for several days. They’re also advised to take at least a week off from work and other activities to allow the body to heal from the invasive treatment.

Coolsculpting, on the other hand, is a nonsurgical procedure that doesn’t require incisions or anesthesia. That means no stitches to worry about, so you can return home and immediately resume all normal activities with no restrictions or downtime. At most, you might experience some mild swelling, redness, bruising or tenderness in treated areas, but these side effects shouldn’t interfere with your daily routine and typically go away within 24 to 48 hours.


Winner — It depends

When looking at initial cost, CoolSculpting comes out on top over liposuction. However, the price of either procedure can vary depending on the location and extent of treatment. CoolSculpting typically costs around $2,000 to $4,000 per session or treatment area, while the American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimated the average cost of liposuction to be $3,637 in 2020. This did not include additional fees for anesthesia, operating room facilities or other expenses, so this average cost only tells part of the story. The final price tag may be anywhere between $2,000 and $10,000. 

So whichever is more cost-effective depends on your goals and how much fat you’re looking to eliminate. For some people, CoolSculpting is the clear winner, while others may find liposuction to be more affordable and practical for removing large amounts of fat. During a consultation, our team can help you decide which procedure is better suited for your individual needs and budget. 

Learn More 

At U Laser Med Spa, our board-certified plastic surgeons, Dr. William Umansky and Dr. Jeffrey Umanksy, are experts when it comes to surgical body contouring procedures like liposuction. However, we also know that there are times when CoolSculpting comes out on top depending on each patient’s individual needs, concerns and preferences. If you’d like to learn more about CoolSculpting and how it can help you achieve your body goals, call our office in La Jolla, California, at 619-304-5776 or click here to schedule a consultation.