Liposuction is a very commonly sought-after procedure that can reshape and slim down body contours and improve your proportions by removing fat deposits from essentially anywhere on the body. Liposuction is especially useful for targeting stubborn fat pockets and sculpting areas of the body that do not respond to weight loss and exercise.
Liposuction is a flexible technique that can be performed on its own, or in combination with other surgical procedures to fine-tune and enhance your appearance. For this reason, choosing a surgeon with a sense of artistry and specialty training in aesthetic plastic surgery is essential.
A good surgeon will listen to your vision for your body and discuss what techniques will give you the results you are looking for.
Dr. Ginger Xu uses her high level of technical expertise to make sure each person’s appearance aligns with their unique identity. Dr. Xu is a board-certified plastic surgeon with specialty training in aesthetic plastic surgery from Harvard. She is now based in the San Francisco Bay area.
The aim of liposuction is to remove fat deposits in a very precise, controlled way, to decrease the size of specific areas of the body and/or improve body shape through contouring.
Liposuction is a good option for people who want fat reduction of specific areas or “spot reduction.” It is especially useful for targeting stubborn fat that doesn’t go away despite weight loss and exercise.
Liposuction can also be used to help slim down the body overall, but natural weight loss through diet and exercise is the best way to obtain global, large-scale weight loss.
This procedure works best by fine-tuning the appearance of the body after a healthy weight has been reached and maintained through lifestyle changes. Liposuction alone or combined with other body contouring procedures can work well for many areas of the body including:
- Abdomen and waist
- Hips and buttocks
- Legs – thighs, inner knees, calves and ankles
- Upper arms
- Torso – back and chest
- Face – chin and neck
Liposuction is not:
- A replacement for healthy eating and physical activity
- An option for global, large-scale weight loss
- Treatment for cellulite
- Treatment for loose or sagging skin – this can look worse after liposuction
Dr. Xu can advise you of the most effective techniques to help you reach your aesthetic goals for your body.
Liposuction can be performed alone or in combination with essentially any other plastic surgery procedure. Some examples include:
- Breast augmentation
- Breast lift
- Breast reduction
- Male breast reduction
- Transgender top surgery – male to female
- Transgender top surgery – female to male
- Transgender body contouring – MTF
- Transgender body contouring – FTM
- Post-weight-loss body contouring
- Tummy tuck (Abdominoplasty)
- Mommy makeover
- Arm lift (Brachioplasty)
- Thigh lift
- Butt augmentation
Good candidates for liposuction:
- Have good muscle tone and firm skin
- Are close to a healthy body weight
- Are at a stable body weight
- Seek to reduce “problem areas” rather than overall fat reduction
- Know why they want surgery to change their appearance
- Have an idea of what they would like to achieve with their surgery
- Understand what the surgery involves
Liposuction can contour and fine-tune the appearance of many areas of the body. There are several types of liposuction that are discussed below but the most important factor in the quality of your results is not the type of liposuction equipment used, but how it is done. For this reason, the choice of a good surgeon is vital for a successful result. Your surgeon must be highly skilled and have the technical finesse and sense of artistry to contour your body to create aesthetic proportions and contours.
During a consultation, Dr. Xu can recommend an approach for your liposuction after she examines your body and has a good understanding of your vision and goals. The benefits and limitations of different liposuction techniques are described below.
Standard or traditional liposuction, also known as suction-assisted liposuction, uses a cannula to suction fat from an area. The cannulas are attached to a suction machine via plastic tubing.
Another machine pushes a solution into the problem area to increase the fullness of the area and make it easier and safer for fat removal. The solution is called tumescent fluid or tumescent solution. It contains sterile saline, medication to decrease bleeding and bruising, and a local anesthetic to decrease pain.
The fatty tissue is removed using the cannula which is passed back and forth through small incisions, and the edges of the treated area are smoothed to create a visually pleasing transition. After the procedure, you will be swollen from the tumescent fluid, and a compression garment is worn to help shape the area as it heals.
Ultrasound-assisted liposuction (also known as UAL) is a two-stage procedure. First, ultrasound energy is used to heat and break up the fatty tissue in the problem area which makes it more liquefied and easier to suction out. Then, standard liposuction is used to remove the fat using cannulas.
This method can be useful for harder or firmer fatty tissue that is difficult to treat, such as male enlarged breasts (gynecomastia). It can also be useful for revision treatments when people are not happy with the final results of a previous liposuction procedure or in areas of scars. In Hi-Def Lipo, UAL is used to create subtle shadows and contours mimicking muscle tone, for the illusion of pronounced abs or a six-pack in the abdomen.
Although this method is easier for the surgeon, a disadvantage is the potential for skin burn if the ultrasound is not carefully performed. Body sculpting with Hi-Def lipo also runs the risk of permanently etching an indentation into your soft tissues that may not appear natural in the long-term.
This is also known as Smartlipo® and is a two-stage procedure much like UAL, except that laser energy instead of ultrasound energy is used to first heat and break up the fat. Then, standard liposuction is used to remove the fat.
Smartlipo® is often used in the chin where mild skin tightening can also be seen. Like ultrasound-assisted liposuction, this method is easier for the surgeon but disadvantages include the potential for skin burn.
This form of liposuction is a two-stage procedure that uses vibrational energy to break up the fat before standard liposuction is used to remove the fat. It is beneficial for treating fibrous areas of the body such as the back, and it also reduces surgeon fatigue.
Liposuction is not a “quick fix” for people who are overweight or obese. Liposuction is most successful when used to treat stubborn fat deposits that are resistant after weight loss from a healthy lifestyle.
Liposuction is a flexible procedure with many applications. It can be used in many body types to target fat stored in many different areas of the body.
You and your surgeon must communicate and work together so you have a good understanding of the process that will give you the best results. The goal of a good surgeon should be to arm you with the knowledge to understand the factors affecting your liposuction procedure.
Dr. Xu can discuss how your age, body weight, and skin condition affects the choice of approach for your body contouring.
It is important you have a realistic understanding of:
- How your problem area will look after liposuction alone
- The limitations of the liposuction – such as the potential for fat removal to cause loose skin
- The potential need to combine liposuction with surgical techniques to give you optimal results
- Any short- and long-term effects such as scarring from incisions
- Any possible complications
Dr. Xu can explain the level of scarring you can expect from your liposuction surgery.
Dr. Xu encourages open and honest communication about your body, your lifestyle and what you want for the future. Photos of your desired look can help her understand your needs. Your medical history is also important, including any information about pregnancies, breastfeeding, weight loss, or other medical conditions.
Things to also discuss with Dr. Xu include:
- Why you want liposuction?
- Your future lifestyle goals
- What appearance do you hope to achieve?
- What sort of body shape or form you would like?
Dr. Xu understands the responsibility of transforming a person’s appearance to better reflect their identity and build self-esteem. Her top priority is understanding your vision and desires.
Once Dr. Xu has examined your body and your problem areas, she will recommend an approach to your liposuction/body contouring that will best suit your goals.
During a consultation, Dr. Xu will explain:
- The different types of liposuction/body contouring options
- Which options would best suit your needs
- What types of incisions will be needed
- How much scarring you can expect
- How other procedures (eg. tummy tuck, post-weight loss surgery) can fulfill your vision for your body
- Any need for further operations
- Potential complications or side effects
Once you and Dr. Xu have agreed on an approach to your liposuction or body contouring, Dr. Xu will book your surgery time and give you instructions on what to do before and after your surgery.
Dr. Xu will also let you know which medications you should and should not take prior to your surgery and what to do on the day of your surgery. It is important to stop smoking at least six weeks prior to surgery.
You may need to get a blood test or undergo additional tests depending on your medical history. Dr. Xu may also correspond with your primary care doctor to ensure you are in an optimal state of health prior to surgery.
In the weeks before surgery, recommendations to help you prepare include:
- Making sure you get enough sleep and rest
- Eating a healthy diet with adequate protein and nutrition
- Exercising or engaging in physical activity to strengthen your body
- Maintaining a positive state of mind
- Prioritizing your well-being and reducing stress levels
It is essential that you feel comfortable about your upcoming procedure and fully understand the process. Dr. Xu encourages her patients to ask any questions about their surgery or recovery.
After liposuction, you will feel mild to moderate discomfort. The amount of pain you feel depends on a number of factors such as:
- The type of liposuction used
- Whether you have had other surgeries completed at the same time (eg. tummy tuck)
- Your age
- Your health before the surgery
Prescription pain medications might be needed for the first few days. After this time, any pain should be relieved with over-the-counter or non-opioid medications.
Recovery from liposuction typically takes approximately one to two weeks. During this time, you should avoid lifting any heavy items. You should wear a compression garment as instructed to help mold the contour of the body area after liposuction.
Once bruising and tenderness have gone, you can return to normal activities. Most people can return to work after a week, but strenuous exercise should be avoided for four to six weeks. Ask your surgeon when you can return to the full range of activities.
If you have had a combination of surgeries, Dr. Xu can advise you of any additional recovery needs.
Your risk for complications will depend on the specific liposuction technique used, how much and from where the fat will be removed, and your starting body shape. Dr. Xu will make you aware of the potential issues before you have liposuction.
Your choice of surgeon is important because some potential complications of liposuction include:
- Irregular contours of the body part being treated
- Skin indentations – more likely if the liposuction cannula moves too close to the skin, especially in very thin people
- Skin burn – from overheating during ultrasound-assisted or laser techniques
- Loose skin once liposuction has removed the underlying fat – more likely if large amounts of fat are removed and less likely if the liposuction is combined with surgery to tighten the skin
- Shifts in body fluids – can occur if large amounts of fat are removed with liposuction
- Bleeding or bruising
- Nerve injury or numbness
If you are planning liposuction combined with surgical techniques (tummy tuck, breast reduction, etc.), Dr. Xu can advise you of any additional potential complications. The risk of some common complications from surgery can be decreased by following your doctor’s post-surgery instructions.
CoolSculpting® is an alternative to liposuction. It’s a non-invasive procedure to spot-reduce fat by “freezing” the fat between two paddles placed around a problem area. The recovery time for this technique is very short, with little downtime.
CoolSculpting® does not address any sagging or excess skin so it has limited usefulness for abdominal changes, especially after pregnancy or significant weight gain and loss.
From an aesthetic perspective, the technique is not precise and may not give the desired improvement. CoolSculpting® is a less predictable and less powerful technique than liposuction. Surgeons can only target fat that can be squeezed between the two paddles. Liposuction is more precise and gives the surgeon more control and finesse to contour the body according to your preferences and goals.
Liposuction typically occurs in one treatment whereas CoolSculpting® can require multiple rounds of treatment to see an effect. This can make the technique ultimately less cost-effective than liposuction.
Complications related to CoolSculpting® include fat necrosis or hardening and unpredictable unevenness in the appearance of the treated area.
Note, Dr. Xu does not offer CoolSculpting®.
To maintain your results after liposuction, you should maintain your body weight.
Liposuction permanently removes fat cells from the treated area and your body can no longer store fat as easily in that area. However, if you gain weight after liposuction, your body may change shape as the remaining fat cells enlarge and the treated area grows larger.
No, liposuction does not specifically improve the appearance of cellulite and may actually worsen cellulite dimpling as the skin becomes looser after fat is removed. There are some new experimental procedures being developed to treat cellulite but there is no gold standard yet, and the research is still limited.
Dr. Xu can advise you of other techniques which may improve the appearance of your skin and help you reach your aesthetic goals for your body.
In general, liposuction is safe when performed by a well-trained, board-certified plastic surgeon who has knowledge of the underlying anatomy and practices standard surgical technique.
In addition to general complications of liposuction, some extremely rare cases have occurred where surgeons performing liposuction in the abdominal area have injured the underlying bowel, and this can be potentially dangerous.
The cost of liposuction will depend on the extent of surgery required, how many areas are treated, and whether it is performed alone or in combination with other procedures such as tummy tucks, breast reduction or full mommy makeovers.
The combination surgeries are more complex and will cost more. The best way to understand the costs of surgery is to schedule a consultation with Dr. Xu, a board-certified plastic surgeon with a high level of technical expertise and the sense of artistry necessary to help people achieve their aesthetic goals.
Many people are unaware of the full scope and possibilities of plastic surgery. Dr. Xu will listen to your vision for your body, review the options that are available to you, and advise you on an optimal surgical plan that will best meet your needs.