“I’ve gone from a size 12 to a size 10 in jeans since I had Smartlipo on my tummy,” says Shalini Mistry, 29, who arranged her treatment through Botonics (www.botonics.co.uk). “It took 20 minutes, it was was completely painless and I went out for lunch afterwards.”
Women who would never consider liposuction are queuing up for Smartlipo, even though, at £2,000-£4,000, it’s not much cheaper than the full op. “I think television makeover programmes that show liposuction have put a lot of women off, because it looks an aggressive, traumatic procedure. You can see the surgeon really pushing the canula around with some force,” says Dr Patrick Bowler, author of The Nervous Girl’s Guide to Nip&Tuck (Harper Thorsons £7.99) and medical director of Court House Clinics. “Smartlipo is much, much gentler. It doesn’t require a general anaesthetic, and there are no stitches.”
Another big part of its appeal is the quick recovery time. “I dropped the children off at school, went to the clinic, had Smartlipo, then picked the children up at 3.30pm, and nobody except my husband had any idea I’d had anything done,” says Olivia Carrol, 34, an accountant from Portsmouth, who had treatment on her stomach, love handles and chin six weeks ago at the Snowberry Lane Clinic, in Wiltshire (www.snowberrylane.co.uk). “With three kids, I simply couldn’t be out of action for three weeks, which I’ve heard is how long it takes to recover from liposuction. I was a bit sore the next day, but, to be honest, the most painful part of the whole procedure was the local-anaesthetic injection.”
Because the canula used in the procedure is ultra-fine and flexible and no vacuum suction is performed, the trauma to the body is light. The incision made in the skin is so tiny, it doesn’t even need stitching. After a local-anaesthetic injection, the laser is inserted into the layer of fat just underneath the skin and moved around in slow, fanning movements. The heat it produces destroys the walls of the fat cells and liquefies the fat within them, while sealing off blood vessels, which minimises internal bleeding and bruising. Depending on the number of areas treated, the procedure can take from 20 minutes to two and a half hours.
The melted fat is released into the bloodstream and then removed and metabolised by the liver like any other fat. To ensure the liver isn’t overloaded, the total amount of fat treated at one time is limited to 500ml, and the technique isn’t advisable for anyone with liver problems, but you don’t need to stick to a low-fat diet or avoid alcohol afterwards. The gradual processing of the fat can take up to 12 weeks, and while that means the results aren’t instant, it does mean they’re easy to pass off as the result of dieting. When the full effect is achieved, it’s permanent.
“The fat cells in the area are either destroyed or damaged, and, as the majority of people don’t make new fat cells after puberty (if you put on weight, the cells get bigger), it’s highly unlikely they’ll come back,” says Dr Mike Comins, who offers Smartlipo at his Hans Place Practice, in Knightsbridge (www.hansplace.com). A bonus effect is firmer skin – the heat of the laser stimulates the skin’s fibroblasts to produce collagen, leaving skin tighter and smoother-looking.
It took four months to see the full effects of the Smartlipo that Sam Taylor, a 29-year-old events co-ordinator, had on her saddlebag thighs, at Comins’s clinic. “I had the treatment in October last year and started to really notice the difference in January; by February, my thighs were a completely different shape,” she says. “The effect is smooth and natural – there are no lumps. I’ve always eaten a healthy diet and I exercise at the gym at least four times a week, but every woman in my family has the same saddlebags. I wanted rid of them, but I have a low pain threshold and I’m too wimpy even to consider liposuction. The Smartlipo took 20 minutes, and, while it felt a bit weird, it didn’t hurt, and I went shopping at Harvey Nichols afterwards.”
If you want an immediate improvement, Dr Rupert Gabriel of the Snowberry Lane Clinic offers the option of having a small amount of fat “aspirated”, or sucked out, during the procedure. “It’s not simply a case of adding liposuction at the end,” Gabriel says. “We use a much finer canula and lower vacuum pressure, because we’re removing lasered, not solid, fat. The recovery time is the same as for the usual Smartlipo procedure.”
Smartlipo received FDA approval in the USA in November last year and met European CE safety standards at about the same time. So far, it has an impressive safety record. “All procedures have a degree of operator dependency, but the good thing about Smartlipo is that it’s very hard to do harm with it,” Gabriel says. “The main possible side effect is infection, but the risk is tiny, and patients are given a three-day course of antibiotics to minimise it further.” It’s a doctor-only procedure, and, to date, about 20 have been trained in the UK. “As with all aesthetic techniques, those who do it most tend to be best at it, so ask your doctor how many people they’ve treated,” Gabriel says. “A good clinic should show you before-and-after pictures and even allow you to talk to previous patients, if requested.”
The most popular areas for treatment are the inner and outer thighs, love handles, bingo wings, podgy knees and post-baby jelly belly. It’s also a good alternative to a tummy tuck for eliminating the dreaded caesarean overhang – the bulge of flab that hangs over a caesarean scar and refuses to budge, no matter how much weight you lose.
But Smartlipo does have its limitations. The ideal patient is slim and toned, with a localised area of stubborn fat they’d like to remove. It’s not an alternative to dieting if you have a lot of weight to lose. “I wouldn’t recommend Smartlipo for anyone with a BMI (body-mass index) of more than 25,” Gabriel says. But if you are in good shape and would like to hit the beach without your saddlebags or love handles this year, it could be the treatment for you.
FAT-ZAPPERS FOR NEEDLE-PHOBES
If you like the idea of Smartlipo, but are too squeamish even for a local anaesthetic, the following techniques produce similar results and are completely needle-free. The downside is they’re more time-consuming.
UltraShape Shrinks flabby bits by up to 6cm by breaking down fat cells with ultrasound in three one-hour sessions, a month apart. “Most patients say the treatment is relaxing, and you can go to the gym, go to work or go shopping afterwards,” says the aesthetic surgeon Barbara Jemec. From £2,450 to £3,400 at London Bridge Plastic Surgery (www.lbps.co.uk)
Accent Uses radiofrequency to break down fat in several half-hour sessions. “The effect is more subtle than SmartLipo, but it’s also cheaper. Five treatments can result in 5cm loss,” says Dr Patrick Bowler. £1,080 for a course of six, from Court House Clinics (www.courthouseclinics.co.uk)