Laser Assisted Liposuction – True Innovation

By W. Jason Martin, M.D.  -  On 02 Feb, 2010 -  0 comments

Liposuction has evolved from a rather traumatic surgery that required 2-3 weeks of painful recovery, to a laser assisted procedure that now requires around 7 days of recovery with a relatively painless post-operative course.  Patients with loose, redundant skin who were not good candidates for liposuction in the past are now getting a second look.  The easy part has always been removing the fat, but now we have the ability to tighten the skin.  That is innovation.

Most patients do not realize that the technique of liposuction has only been around since the mid-1970s.  It was originated in Rome by Dr. Giorgio Fischer, a gynecologist, and was then popularized by Dr. Illouz, a French plastic surgeon.  In the mid-1980s this technique migrated to the United States and quickly became one of the most common procedures performed in the field of cosmetic surgery.  What I find interesting is that we have not seen a significant advancement involving this procedure in the past 25 years.  Besides the addition of tumescent fluid (fluid that is injected into the areas of liposuction to minimize bleeding/bruising), ultrasound assistance and power assistance, liposuction has not changed much since the days of Dr. Fischer.  Yes, the liposuction machines are more efficient and the cannulas used for aspirating fat have improved, but looking a little deeper you see that, for 25 years, there were no changes that were truly innovative.

This tends to provoke confusion in patients because many practitioners, including  gynecologists, dermatologists and even plastic surgeons, tout their impressive “new” liposuction techniques.  NEWS FLASH:  there are no new techniques in liposuction, only variations of same techniques that have been used in the past.  As an American Board of Plastic Surgery board-certified plastic surgeon I pride myself on my ability to offer natural and desirable liposuction results for my patients.  This is not only due to my surgical abilities but also due to my patient selection process. Contrary to common practice in this country, not every patient is a candidate for liposuction.  But even my approach to liposuction utilizes the experiences of many plastic surgeons before me…thus it would be disingenuous to imply that it is “new”.

But as with most things in the field of medicine (and life), give it enough time and something truly innovative will come along.

Now enter laser technology.  Some very intelligent scientists and some fairly savvy businessmen thought it would be a good idea to attach a laser to the end of a cannula to assist with liposuction.  Early incarnations of this procedure were ineffective due to the constraints of technology and lack of power supplied to the laser.  This initially resulted in rather lackluster results.   Fortunately, in the past 3 to 4 years, we have realized the true innovation, as these devices now have the strength and precision to result in a real quality change from the standard technique.

How does laser liposuction work?  In short, the energy from the laser:

1.  Assists in liquefying the fat for aspiration.

2.  Reduces incidence and severity of bleeding and bruising.

3.  Most importantly, helps induce the skin to contract.

After thoroughly researching the laser liposuction devices on the market (and there are many), I chose the SmartLipo MPX system by Cynosure for my practice.  They have the longest track record with this technology and in my opinion, the wavelengths utilized in their devices are the most effective.  There are other devices on the market that work well, but none offer all the benefits of the SmartLipo MPX system.  In support of my findings, SmartLipo has the largest market saturation of any laser liposuction system, greater than 85%.

As someone who embraces innovation, I have to say that this device has transformed my practice.  Practicing cosmetic surgery in Aspen, Colorado comes with certain expectations.  My patients are very informed about advancements in the field of plastic surgery and actively search out the newest and least-invasive procedures.  Clearly, laser-assisted liposuction is one of those techniques and my patients are very appreciative that I have brought this technology to this area.  It is by far the most requested procedure in my clinic.  My clinic has now been certified as a training center, by the manufacturer of the SmartLipo laser equipment, and we are the only plastic surgery practice in the Western Slope with that certification.  It is my responsibility to help teach other surgeons and their office staff about this technology, proper techniques and appropriate applications.

I have omitted one important aspect of laser assisted liposuction with the SmartLipo MPX system that my patients really appreciate.  I mentioned how this procedure has minimal recovery time, is fairly painless, has little to no bruising and can actually tighten skin.  What I left out is that I perform this procedure in my office operating suite.  There is no need to go to a surgical center or hospital; no need to subject yourself to sedation or general anesthesia; no need to pay operating fees or anesthesia fees.  Laser liposuction is performed as an outpatient procedure in the privacy of my office, under local anesthesia, with minimal pain or discomfort.

A final note: I want to emphasize that laser liposuction devices are very powerful and can have undesirable results if not utilized by a medical professional with proper training.  Please take the time to research the surgeon that you would consider choosing for laser liposuction.  It is reasonable to inquire about their training and to request before and after pictures.  In the end, the technology is only as effective as the practitioner utilizing it.