Can’t shift those love handles?  Diet not working?  Sick of your cellulite?  What about those new machines that freeze or fry your fat away?

Anything to do with cellulite or fat removal is bound to be a good money spinner.  When it’s a procedure that doesn’t involve diet and exercise, it’s assured of getting considerable media attention.  Cellulite is a problem encountered by more than 90% of women of all ages, fat and thin, and most of us are overweight.  So should we be rushing out for our non-invasive “liposculpting” or is this yet another weight-loss scam targeting some of our most vulnerable consumers?

There are quite a few high-tech body sculpting devices, which either cool or heat the dermis, that claim to be successful at permanently removing cellulite and fat.

So what are these “body sculpting” devices and do they work?

The heating device includes massage and infrared technology, which raises skin temperature to about 50-70 degrees.

Sponsors of the cooling device, called cryolipolysis, claim that it “targets and breaks down fat cells” by reducing their temperature to about -70 degrees, “the dead cells are then removed naturally by the body through the liver” and that it is “effective and painless” taking “two to three weeks” for these cells “to leave the body through the urine”.

Despite the claims made for these devices, neither of them help you lose weight.  Even so,  the media and websites continue to promote them as “non-invasive procedures” claiming that they are a painless, easier solution to liposuction and everything you need to remove fat and to “reduce the appearance of cellulite”.

But research tells a different story.

The evidence for the “cryolipolysis” is a pig experiment and some uncontrolled and observational data on humans; mostly not blinded, with poorly measured outcomes.  The FDA recently approved one device for “cold-assisted lipolysis”, based on these studies.

Lipolysis is merely the reaction that breaks down stored fat into glycerol and fatty acids, which then go back into circulation, to be stored in other fat cells.  This response does not result in any weight loss and may even produce potentially dangerous changes in circulating blood lipids inflammation due to the damaged or dead cells. Both of these were shown to occur in the published experiments.

Treatments cost about $2000.

For “liposculpting” heating devices, several studies have been published that concluded that the device is “mildly effective in reducing the cellulite grade and so, improving its orange-peel appearance”. The FDA has approved them on that basis.

Hand-held devices cost upwards of $300.

In the January 12 issue of the Government Gazette, the first notification relating to a body sculpting device appeared.  It also included the recently introduced “reason” for the determination, which states that the sponsor had three months to amend the claim in its Public Summary from “cosmetic skin contouring” to “collagen contraction”.

There are more than 20 devices on the ARTG, with several currently under investigation, and other devices that sponsors claim “are not classified as a medical treatment under the TGA”.

With many women eager to try anything they see on TV, no matter how preposterous or optimistic the claims are, some pharmacies are also selling these devices.

Remember fat is not “lost”: it must go somewhere else in the body. So, would women like to see the appearance of their cellulite temporarily reduced or their fat mobilised?

Maybe so, but to me is seems a very expensive, uncomfortable and potentially dangerous procedure with a very poor results.

*Loretta Marron, a science graduate with a business background, was Australian Skeptic of the Year in 2007.