Cryolipolysis: using cold to reduce fat deposits

The cryolipolysis is a technique developed in the United States, based on the observation that the fat cells (adipocytes) are sensitive to cold: cryolipolysis literally means the destruction of fat through cold. It is based on a natural body mechanism. We know for a long time that fat cells do not resist to low temperatures. Indeed, since the 19th century we have observed that riders, being astride their horse, saw their thighs become thinner during the winter. Later on, we also noticed that the same thing happened to children’s cheeks when eating popsicles.


The principle of action of cryolipolysis is well known today: when an adipocyte is submitted to intense and prolonged cold, it releases an enzyme (an enzyme is a biological catalyst, a substance that favors a chemical reaction without participating to it directly) called caspase-3. It is the enzyme of apoptosis, word designating the natural death of the cell. Under the action of cold, the cell wall will invaginate without breaking. Macrophages (body cleaners) will digest these adipocytes and the cellular debris will then be brought through the lymphatic system to the liver where the elimination process will come to an end. Relying on this physical principle, an American researcher in the laser domain, Rox Anderson, has developed after 12 years of research this technique to treat love handles.

How does the cryolipolysis work?

The technique combines the vacuum suction of the fat fold by a specific handpiece (sort of oval suction pad) called “Cryode” and its cooling to a temperature between 3 and 4°C. The purpose: cool the area of skin to treat, at the level of the fat tissue. The consequence is the crystallization of lipids contained in the adipocytes that will react by progressively disappearing. This phenomenon is called apoptosis. Apoptosis is the natural cell death, theoretically programmed; each body cell has a precise lifespan. Thus, the skin cells lifespan is very short (30 days) compared to that of adipocytes that is very long, almost the entire life, a little like our nerve cells, the neurons. This slow elimination by the body takes place without significantly changing the lipid level in the blood (cholesterol, triglycerides) and without hurting the nearby tissues.


During the treatment, a surface (epidermis) and in depth (subcutaneous fatty tissues) temperature control is done with precision in order to avoid all necrosis risk. Once the treatment launched (between 20 and 50 minutes by area), the practitioner does not need to be present and the patient, comfortably sited, can keep himself busy (reading, computer, etc.). At the end of the session, the handpiece is removed from the fat bulge that has the aspect of a frozen sausage and that will require a massage. The fat cells are destroyed and get eliminated progressively in the following weeks.

The areas treated with cryolipolysis

Due to its principle of action and to the way it is applied, this technique is indicated only in the case of localized fat deposits, and not in the case of important excess weight which requires a diet that the cryolipolysis cannot replace. Cryolipolysis gives good results on the belly, the love handles, the back, inside the thighs and on jodhpur thighs.


We count one session for a single bulge, two for love handles or back bulges that come by pair or for the inside of the thighs. The sessions last around one hour by bulge and they never exceed more than three hours for patient comfort reasons. For a medium size bulge a session of one hour is usually enough to obtain, two to three months later, a satisfying result. If the bulge is bigger, a second session can be proposed. In no case, the cryolipolysis can replace a diet if the latter is necessary.

Session effects

The skin from the treated area often remains partially numb for around 2 weeks, but this always goes away. It can sometimes present light bruising caused by the suction necessary to “pinch” the skin to treat. The area can also be slightly swollen and the sensitivity reduced for a couple of days. A pins and needles sensation is also possible and rarely pain resembling stiffness, more or less important. In this case, analgesics are prescribed, which relieve very fast. The patient can return to a normal activity when leaving the doctor’s office.

Side effects and contraindications of cryolipolysis

After many ears of following patients treated with cryolipolysis, we do not notice any side effects (residual effects, depigmentation risks or skin burns, etc.) significant enough to be underlined. The very few contraindications concern Raynaud's disease, cold urticarial and rarer, cryoglobulinemia.

Frequently asked questions concerning cryolipolysis

For whom?

For those that have a localized fat excess. When we are round all around, it is better to use another technique. Moreover, the machines propose automatic programs adapted to different body types. In what concerns the handpiece, it adapts without any difficulty to the morphological changes produced.

Is it painful?

The session is almost painless: an unpleasant sensation is felt during the first minutes, caused by the suction pad that holds the bulge in order to expose it to the heat extractors, then a cold sensation that disappears after several minutes. The treatment does not require any anesthesia or previous preparation.

Is it efficient and definitive?

In order for the cryolipolysis to be efficient, the conditions must be clearly established: an isolated bulge very visible and an elastic skin, if not the results are disappointing. In order for the area to be treated, it needs to be accessible for suction by the suction pad. Generally, the patients observe a reduction of 20 to 25% of their fat layer in three months. This technique is considered as permanent. The eliminated bulge cannot form again except in the case of an important weight gain.

Is the technique safe?

Yes, because studies and tests were made before launching this method. The cryolipolysis allows to combine intense and prolonged cold while only destroying the adipocytes, thus without damaging the other tissues such as muscles, nerves or blood vessels and without burning the skin. Only doctors are authorized to practice it: a surgeon, a dermatologist or an aesthetic doctor.

Can it treat cellulite and replace liposuction?

For the moment, the cryolipolysis cannot treat cellulite because the suction pad only sticks to certain body areas (stomach, back, etc.). When it concerns precise areas, it allows to avoid liposuction or a localized laser lipolysis.

Cryolipolysis Toulouse: treatment of fatty deposits