Melanie Driscoll doesn't look like someone who would be getting cosmetic surgery.
She is small-built, about 5 feet 5 inches, and is of normal weight. But Ms. Driscoll chose to try out a new procedure on a stubborn spot of belly fat as a gift to herself after her 40th birthday.
A client at the Skin Center Medical Spa, Ms. Driscoll tried out a new noninvasive procedure called CoolSculpting, which representatives for the technique say reduces fat. On a recent Thursday, Ms. Driscoll, a full-time mother of three, received the treatment at the spa's Shadyside location.
CoolSculpting, which is done entirely on the skin's surface without needles or surgery, was developed in 2008 by dermatologists Dieter Manstein and Rox Anderson at Massachussetts General Hospital. It sprang from an idea that scientists in the 1970s had when they noticed that children who eat Popsicles or suck on ice cubes can develop dimples in their cheeks. Dr. Manstein said that fat cells die when exposed to cold, but the effect is more pronounced in adults.
Dina El-Sherif, a spokeswoman for Zeltiq Aethetics Inc., the company developing CoolSculpting, said the procedure differs from most fat-loss options, which try to burn, rather than freeze, fat. Still, Dr. Manstein, said the procedure is not a replacement for a healthy lifestyle or a solution for obesity. He said he sees it as an alternative option to liposuction or plastic surgery.
"It also gives a motivational encouragement to patients, at the same time, to improve some lifestyle changes," he said.
When Ms. Driscoll, who was already a client at the spa for skin procedures, spoke to the aestheticians about trying CoolSculpting, she said it was the first time anyone had called her belly fat "perfect" for the procedure. Like most ideal candidates, Ms. Driscoll considers herself relatively fit.
"I'm not looking to lose any more weight anywhere else in my body, but I've got this stubborn spot in my stomach area," she said.
The procedure received FDA approval for use on side flank areas in 2010 and for the abdomen in May. It has not yet been approved for use on arms or thighs. It launched in 2009 in Hong Kong and came to Pittsburgh in 2011. Product representatives said 60 patients were used in the trials submitted to the FDA for approval.
Kasey Chester, an aesthetician who performed the procedure on Ms. Driscoll, began by placing a gel pad on the target area, followed by a large suction applicator -- which looks a bit like an iron vacuuming up the skin. The applicator sucks up about "two coffee cups' worth of tissue," according to Dr. Manstein. Ms. Chester warned Ms. Driscoll that she might feel some slight discomfort as the machine sucked in her skin. Ms. Driscoll said the sensation was "unusual" but not painful.
After pulling the targeted area into the applicator, Ms. Chester turned on the cooling part of the machine. Spokespeople for the product say it cools to 19.4 degrees Fahrenheit and freezes fat cells, thereby killing them and reducing fat in that area. Over the hour, Ms. Driscoll said she felt her skin turn very cold and then numb. Ms. Chester said the clients experience some numbness, bruising or redness after the procedure, but that if she wanted to, Ms. Driscoll could go to the gym the same day.
CoolSculpting representatives said patients are expected to see a 20 to 25 percent reduction in fat in two to four months. Dr. Manstein said that when fat cells are crystallized, they die and the body removes them naturally, reducing the pouch that clients want reduced. But if patients do not maintain a stable weight, they are likely to put on fat in new parts of their body after the treatment, he said.
Jake Richter, 32, an attorney from the South Side, received the treatment a little more than a week ago at the Skin Center's Pine location. He said he hasn't yet seen results but that the procedure made him more excited to take care of his body.
"Just in the week and a half since I got it, I've renewed my commitment to exercising routinely and trying to watch what I eat more closely," he said.
Leo McCafferty, a plastic surgeon in Pittsburgh, oversaw a panel on noninvasive fat-reduction procedures such as CoolSculpting in May. He said it is safe and effectively reduces fat but is not an alternative to liposuction or a healthy lifestyle. He recommended that interested patients consult with a medical doctor and a plastic surgeon.
"I think it's important for patients to get a lot of opinions and not just look at directed consumer marketing," he said. He added: "The caveat is that it is not a magic wand."
Ms. El-Sherif said pricing for CoolSculpting differs based on the location offering it, but a one-hour procedure ranges anywhere from $600-$1,500 depending on the target area size. Smaller patients such as Ms. Driscoll usually have a single one-hour, one-time treatment. But Mr. Richter's procedure took four hours, because he had both sides of his waist done as well as his abdomen.
In the Pittsburgh area, the Skin Center and Aqua Blue Medical Spa both offer CoolSculpting. Dr. McCafferty said his practice is in the process of acquiring CoolSculpting.
Sanjena Sathian: email@example.com or 412-263-1408. First Published June 26, 2012 4:00 AM