Fat freezing, a treatment that can eliminate people’s fat cells, is becoming a hot new revenue opportunity for doctors’ offices and spas looking to capitalize on Americans’ willingness to open their wallets for a trimmer physique.
Dermatology clinics and medical spas are increasingly offering a procedure called CoolSculpting to shrink love handles, flabby tummies and jiggly arms. Doctors’ offices are eager to offer the treatment because it represents a way to meet the fast-growing demand for fat-reduction services that don’t require surgery. It is also, they say, a way to get new types of customers in the door, including men.
Revive Medical Spa, the cosmetic arm of a dermatology practice in Fayetteville, Ark., began offering CoolSculpting almost two years ago, after its owner, Dr. Lance Henry, decided it would meet his patients’ demand for nonsurgical fat reduction.
Revive began with one CoolSculpting machine and added a second so clients could have two target areas treated at once. Anne Scott, Revive’s spa director, said it stays busy with fat-freezing clients. “CoolSculpting has allowed our business to grow both in reaching new clients and in revenue,” she said, although she would not give specifics.
Suzanne Kilmer, founder of the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of Northern California, which participated in early testing of the treatment, said her center has four CoolSculpting machines and does 300 to 400 treatments a month. “The four machines go all the time,” said Dr. Kilmer, who is on the advisory board of Zeltiq Aesthetics, the company that developed the treatment. (Zeltiq was acquired in April for $2.4 billion by the pharmaceutical behemoth Allergan.)
CoolSculpting, promoted heavily on television, uses a technique known as cryolipolysis — fat freezing, or “controlled cooling” — to eliminate fat cells without the risk and time out of work required by surgery. During the treatment, clients recline while a clinician affixes a plastic suction cup — sort of like an upholstery attachment to a vacuum cleaner — to the targeted area. The cup — its size and shape vary, depending on the part of the body being treated — is attached by a hose to a machine that hums as it sucks the tissue into the cup and cools it.
Treatment lasts 35 minutes to an hour, depending on the targeted area. The effects are seen over a period of weeks after treatment, as the body eliminates the dead fat cells. It can take two to four months to see full results.
CoolSculpting was initially cleared by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010, based on a 2007 study that found “clinically meaningful” changes in 60 patients after treatment for the reduction of love handles. Six months after treatment, ultrasound measurements found an average 19 percent reduction of the targeted fat layer. Zeltiq said in regulatory filings it has improved its systems since then.
The procedure is not covered by insurance, and costs an average of $625 per treatment, according to Zeltiq. A course of procedures, typically treating different areas of the body, can run $2,000 to $4,000. An investor presentation in January estimated that a practice averaging two patients a week, with four treatments each, could expect “gross profit” of $200,000 a year.