Liposuction was the second-most popular cosmetic surgery procedure performed in America in 2018, behind only breast augmentation. And it appears to be gaining in popularity. Five percent more Americans had liposuction last year than in 2017.
But this isn’t the liposuction that you grew up hearing about. The more interest there is in a procedure, the more incentive there is to perfect it. That’s become the case with almost every kind of cosmetic surgery. As the stigma surrounding plastic surgery has fallen away, the new interest has given rise to widespread innovation.
In the case of liposuction, it’s felt most acutely because it’s a procedure that, for decades, didn’t really change much. We removed fat by sticking in a cannula and sucking—which made tunnels that could result in strange contours.
But there’s been so much evolution recently in the ways we remove fat that a technology that’s just a few years old can quickly begin to feel outdated. The cannulas got smaller and better. And in some forms of liposuction, instead of sucking out solid blocks of fat, surgeons are now melting it, which enables them to remove it more evenly.
The melting usually involves radio frequency or thermal energy emitted from a cannula. A new technique called BodyTite uses radio frequency in conjunction with liposuction to tighten skin. Before its arrival, surgeons could remove fat with liposuction, but if a patient had poor skin elasticity—which was just about everyone—they’d need a lift to remove the excess skin, which was a separate procedure.
BodyTite firms skin from 10% to 40%, which is enough to help skin bounce back if you’ve had 10 to 20 pounds removed with liposuction.
Rather than melting the fat, SafeLipo uses rapidly vibrating cannulas to emulsify it to the consistency of a smoothie, which allows it to be removed evenly and gently, without bleeding. Some of the remaining fat is then used as fat grafts, allowing the skin to be re-draped smoothly.
Aside from better results, these new procedures are also enabling a much greater degree of precision. If, for example, your eyes go straight to a bulge of fat just outside your bra near your armpit every time you get dressed, a ping pong ball-size amount of tissue can be removed from that area under local anesthesia. Removing just that little bit can make a big difference.
The recovery is also garnering lots of new attention, driven largely by a concerted effort to discover and implement nonnarcotic (read: non-addictive) medications. One new slow-release pain medicine called liposomal bupivacaine can be injected during surgery and provide 48 to 72 of relief afterward.
So, think of liposuction as an umbrella term rather than a single surgery. And somewhere under that umbrella is a procedure that can help you achieve your unique goals.