What Is Liposuction? The Ultimate Guide to Cost, Options, and Results

BY: Editors |Jan 29, 2019

Doctor preparing for surgery

Any discussion about fast ways to lose fat inevitably touches on liposuction. But what is liposuction, anyway? You may have vague ideas about the fat-removal procedure, yet it is an immensely complex subject.

For instance, there are surgical procedures that use laser light and nonsurgical procedures that also use laser light, and they're both often referred to as laser lipo. It can be overwhelming, but we're here to help you sort through the noise.

To get started, click on one of the links below:

Surgeon washing hands before surgery

What is liposuction?

Traditionally, liposuction is a surgical procedure during which a surgeon suctions out fat from areas such as the stomach, thighs, and arms through a tube inserted into small incisions. Within the family of surgical lipo techniques, the most common is tumescent liposuction, which temporarily plumps the surgical area with a diluted solution of anesthetic. The anesthetic is then suctioned out along with the fat.

Who is eligible for liposuction?

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, ideal candidates for lipo:

  • Are adults
  • Are within 30% of their ideal weight
  • Have firm, elastic skin
  • Do not have life-threatening illnesses or medical conditions
  • Do not smoke

A consultation with a plastic surgeon will be able to give you a better idea of whether or not you’re a candidate.

What's the liposuction recovery time?

It's about 1–3 days for light activity, but it may take weeks or months for swelling to fully subside.

Does liposuction require anesthesia?

Typically, local anesthetic will be used for small volumes of fat, and general anesthetic for larger volumes. Intravenous sedation may also be used. Your doctor will determine which option is right for you.

How much does liposuction cost?

The cost of liposuction can vary, but generally surgical liposuction prices are in the thousands. It all depends on the size of the patient, the number of areas treated, and the city in which the procedure takes place (Los Angeles may be more expensive than Phoenix, for example). Search our site for liposuction deals near you.

What areas can be treated with liposuction?

  • Abdomen and waist
  • Thighs
  • Hips and buttocks
  • Back
  • Cheeks, chin and neck
  • Upper arms
  • Inner knee
  • Chest area
  • Calves and ankles

Liposuction cannot treat obesity, nor can it treat cellulite.

Woman with slim thighs

What is laser liposuction?

The words "laser lipo" may refer to surgical laser lipo or nonsurgical laser lipo. Let's focus on the former, first.

Surgical laser liposuction is performed with a laser that liquifies fat. Doctors insert the laser fiber into the treatment area, then suction out fat after it's melted. Instead of suturing the incisions, they often simply apply surgical dressings, letting fluids continue to drain away naturally. The most common form of laser liposuction is Smartlipo.

Who is eligible for laser liposuction?

Laser liposuction candidates are similar to traditional liposuction candidates. Again, a doctor can help you determine your specific eligibility.  

What's the surgical laser liposuction recovery time?

According to the Smartlipo manufacturer, you should be able to resume normal activities in a day or two.

Is there anesthesia?

There is usually only a local anesthetic, which means no "going under."

How much does surgical laser liposuction cost?

Surgical laser liposuction costs in the thousands of dollars, just like with traditional lipo. Click here to check for deals on laser lipo.

What are the treatment areas for laser liposuction?

The treatment areas for Smartlipo and other laser liposuction procedures are similar to the treatment areas for traditional liposuction, including legs, arms, abdomens, and buttocks.

What's the difference between surgical laser lipo and traditional lipo?

They each have advantages and disadvantages, so instead of worrying about the type of machine the doctor uses, worry about the doctor's qualifications and experience. And always ask to see before and after photos of real patients. (Click here to read what a real plastic surgeon wants you to know before you get surgery.)

woman getting nonsurgical laser lipo

What is nonsurgical laser lipo?

Nonsurgical, or noninvasive, laser-lipo treatments send laser light into the body to get rid of fat, but they don't require incisions or downtime. Here is what happens during a treatment:

Step 1: Lasers penetrate through the skin and down to the fat cells.

Step 2: Once the laser light hits the fat cells, it creates tiny holes in the fat cells' membranes, causing the fat cells to release their stores of fatty acids, glycerol, and water into the bloodstream.

Step 3: The fat cells shrink in size, which results in a slimmer, more contoured physique.

Step 4: The body transfers the fat-cell waste to the lymphatic system for disposal.

Step 5 (optional): Clients use a body-vibration machine after a laser-lipo treatment to help the body get rid of the waste.

Common nonsurgical laser lipo devices include i-Lipo and Zerona. Read more about the treatments here.

What's the nonsurgical laser lipo recovery time?

None, clients can resume normal activities right away.

How much does nonsurgical laser lipo cost?

Nonsurgical laser lipo treatments can cost as low as $30 each, depending on your city.

What are other common noninvasive fat-reduction options?

  1. Ultrasonic cavitation: This treatment uses ultrasound waves, instead of lasers, to create holes in the fat cells' membranes and shrink them.
  2. VelaShape: This treatment uses four technologies—radio frequency (RF), infrared (IR) light, vacuum suction, and mechanical massage—to contour bodies. Vacuum suction and massage rollers draw the skin up so the RF and IR light can better penetrate down to the fat cells. RF and IR light also create holes in the fat cells in order to shrink them. RF may help smooth cellulite by increasing collagen production.
  3. CoolSculpting: CoolSculpting works a little differently. It uses cooling panels to freeze fat cells until they die. The body then eliminates the dead fat cells themselves from the body. With the other treatments, the fat cells stay in the body in their shrunken form. With CoolSculpting, they are permanently removed from the body.

Can you gain weight after lipo?

Yes, you can still gain fat back after liposuction if you don't exercise and maintain good eating habits. That goes for both surgical and nonsurgical liposuction.

In addition, the treatments themselves work best on people who are already relatively fit and just want to address problem areas that seem to elude the effects of exercise.

So if you want to lose weight and keep it off, it's best to pair a liposuction procedure with a healthy diet and a sustainable fitness routine.


Sources for this article include the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, as well as the manufacturers of i-Lipo, Zerona, and Smartlipo.

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