There are tools that heat and burn fat, cool and freeze fat, or contract muscles.

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The goal of body contouring isn’t to lose large amounts of weight, but to strengthen and improve your body’s underlying support tissue and shape. This can be especially helpful for people who’ve already lost weight or for anyone who is close to their intended level of fitness but wants a little extra help making their body look its best. There are a lot of different tools that can help with this process.

There are tools that heat and burn fat, cool and freeze fat, or contract muscles. They use radio frequencies, ultrasound technology, magnetic energy and shock waves. And, by pairing and optimizing these systems, a skilled practitioner can help you change your appearance and even build some new muscle.

Heating systems

Systems like Exilis Ultra and the Vanquish ME heat fat and skin to kill the fat cells and tighten the skin. They may have different ways of heating and each method has different strengths, but the end results are similar. The biggest limitation of heating systems is that the temperature must be kept at or below 43 degrees Celsius – the hottest temperature the skin can tolerate.

Cooling systems

Systems like CoolSculpting work by pulling fat into an applicator cup and freezing it. Kate Dee, M.D. and owner of Glow Medispa in West Seattle, says these systems really work well. However, when the amount of fat is reduced, there’s still loose skin left over, because the cooling treatment doesn’t help tighten the skin.

Magnetic waves

A new system called Emsculpt uses magnetic waves, like those used in an MRI machine, to force muscles to contract about 20,000 times in 30 minutes. The treatment was designed to build muscle, but the researchers quickly discovered that it also killed nearby fat cells.

The treatments only target skeletal muscle and not the smooth muscle of the organs. It’s FDA approved for use on the abdomen and buttocks, however, applicators have not yet been developed for other parts of the body like the arms and thighs.

Dee hopes more applicators will be available soon. “Personally,” she says. “I’d like to have Michelle Obama arms, but that’s just not going to happen right now.”

Athletes, especially long-distance runners and fitness buffs, have been especially pleased with their Emsculpt treatments because it builds muscle while it kills fat.

Dee also sees women whose rectus muscles split during pregnancy and childbirth as another group that may benefit from this treatment because the creation of new muscle can help reduce the separation.

The system does, however, have limitations. “It’s not real ideal for people who are obese,” Dee says. “They need to lose the fat first before they are able to strengthen the muscles. If they don’t, it’ll probably be harder to see any difference.”

Which system to use?

“Everybody’s different, right?” Dee says. “Treatments should be customized. Some people have more loose skin and a little bit of fat and some people have more fat or want to get rid of a bump. So, when people want to do their back or the ‘banana roll’ under the buttocks, we often use Emsculpt in combination with one or more of the other devices. It just depends on what their needs are.”

Dee goes on to say how well the systems work together. “When you give a heat treatment,” she says, “you’re trying to damage the fat cells and afterward about 10 percent of those cells are stunned and partly damaged and trying to decide if they should go into apoptosis, also known as cell death. Then if you hit them with another modality you can send even more of them into apoptosis.”

Finding a skilled practitioner to help through the fat-burning, muscle-building, body-sculpting process is crucial. Here’s to hoping more applicators are developed soon. In the meantime, we’ll be over here dreaming of warmer temperatures, tank tops and Michelle Obama’s arms.

Glow Medispa is a progressive, growing medical spa with locations in West Seattle and Magnolia. Glow Medispa offers expert skin care advice, services and procedures in a supportive, calm and relaxing environment.