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Body Contouring, Body

What Is Body Contouring and Which Procedure Do I Need?

What if you could get your body confidence back, wearing your favorite bathing suit again without feeling self-conscious? If you're like most people, you feel like you will never get to look that good ever again. But body contouring can make that dream a reality.

The problem is, most people don't know where to start. There are so many lifts, tucks, and suctions out there, it makes finding the one you need overwhelming. That's probably why you are reading this article; you just want to know which procedure will deliver the results you want.

While we recommend you make this decision with your plastic surgeon, this article will briefly explore the most popular body contouring procedures so you can determine which one may best fit your needs.

What Is Body Contouring?

Body contouring refers to a group of treatments that sculpt and reshape the body to enhance your figure and proportions. These procedures usually work by reducing unwanted fat and/or tightening loose skin. In select circumstances, fat can be added selectively to certain areas such as the buttocks to further improve your figure.

As we age, fat accumulates beneath the skin, and the skin, along with the supporting tissues, loses elasticity. Weight loss can accentuate the skin's loss of elasticity. For others, body contouring can help 'shape up' trouble areas like the abdomen, love handles, and thighs.

4 Types of Body Contouring Procedures

1. Noninvasive (Non-Surgical) Fat Reduction Procedures

Noninvasive fat reduction procedures reduce unwanted fat without surgery or downtime. Desired outcomes are often dependent on several factors including the amount of fat that needs to be removed and the current state of your skin's elasticity.


CoolSculpting is a procedure that uses controlled cooling to freeze off your fat cells. It is FDA approved and is a safe, proven, and effective way to reduce excess fat without surgery or downtime. It is considered the gold standard for nonsurgical fat reduction procedures and has a greater than 90% market share. Notably, the treatment is also comfortable for the vast majority of patients.

On average, CoolSculpting patients experience about a 15- 20 percent reduction in the thickness of subcutaneous fat in the treated area. Clinical studies measuring the results with ultrasound and MRI imaging have corroborated this statistic.

The best CoolSculpting candidates are men and women who have not gone through childbirth but have a modest amount of excess skin and abdominal fat. It's even more effective if you have good muscle tone and skin elasticity.

Women who have had children can also benefit if they have a minimal-to-modest loss in skin elasticity and good muscle tone. But they need to understand that it will only improve their contour, it will not improve their skin quality. CoolSculpting does not tighten or lift loose or sagging skin.

Patients who are not eligible for surgery due to health issues are also good candidates for CoolSculpting.

More than two million men and women have benefited from the body-shaping results of CoolSculpting.

Learn more about CoolSculpting here.


SculpSure is a promising new non-invasive fat contouring treatment. As of April 2016, there is limited information available regarding its real-world safety, effectiveness, and underlying science.

We recommend caution if you encounter anyone aggressively promoting this treatment. There just isn't enough proof at this time to know if it works as advertised.

Other Non-Invasive Body Contouring Procedures

The remaining noninvasive fat reduction technologies such as Vanquish, Liposonix, Trusculpt, and Zerona are plagued by poor or inconsistent results. Patient discomfort is also a recurring issue for many of these options.

Two More Quick Questions


2. Noninvasive (Non-Surgical) Skin Tightening Procedures

Noninvasive skin tightening procedures attempt to tighten loose skin without surgery. There are a number of devices available today for this purpose. Most devices use a form of radiofrequency energy (RF), while others rely on ultrasound, light, and/or vacuum technology. They go by various names including Ultherapy, Thermage, Titan, Exilis, Venus Freeze, Pelleve, and countless others.

These noninvasive skin tightening devices generally work by heating up the skin and support tissues to a high enough temperature (eg. 43-45 degrees C) to induce the body to form new collagen thereby resulting in some tightening of the skin. It is beyond the scope of this article to compare specific devices, but Ultherapy is considered by most the gold standard for noninvasive skin tightening.

Noninvasive skin tightening procedures generally work to some degree, but the results vary from patient to patient and are typically mild. Having realistic expectations is important. These treatments are are best suited for younger patients with limited amounts of skin laxity and are not substitutes for surgical lift procedures. Patients expecting or needing a surgical lift without surgery are typically disappointed.

3. Liposuction

Liposuction remains one of the most frequently requested surgical cosmetic procedures. That's because it works, plain and simple.

Liposuction removes unwanted fat beneath the skin through a tiny quarter-inch opening in the skin. It can remove more fat than non-invasive treatments like CoolSculpting. Therefore, patients experience a more dramatic degree of improvement. The best part, Liposuction is not nearly as invasive as other surgical procedures.

The best candidates for LipoSuction are very similar to those with CoolSculpting; men and women who have not experienced childbirth and have good skin and muscle tone, with a modest amount of excess subcutaneous abdominal fat. Women who have had children can experience great results from Liposuction as long as they understand skin quality will not be improved.

Liposuction does not lift or tighten skin, although for some people, the skin may naturally retract somewhat following the procedure.

4. Abdominal Lifts and Tucks

This fourth category of body contouring procedures is the most invasive, requiring surgery. However, it's the best option for those who have loose abdominal skin, weakened abdominal muscles, excess fat, or a combination of those. Women who have gone through childbirth, older people battling sagging skin, and those who have gone through significant weight changes make the bulk of these types of procedures.

If you are one of these people, these procedures will help to remove excess skin, tighten any weakened abdominal muscles, as well as remove excess fat. If you want the best results and optimal improvement to shape, contour, and firmness of your abdominal area, a lift or tummy tuck may be your best option.

All patients, and surgeons too, want the least amount of scars with the most improvement to shape and contour. In some circumstances, a skillful surgeon may be able to accomplish that feat. But as a general rule, there is a tradeoff between the amount of scarring and the improvement to shape.

You should discuss this with your doctor, and make the best decision based on your needs, desired results, and the surgeon's skill.

There are several variations in surgical abdominal contouring procedures:

The Standard Tummy Tuck (lipoabdominoplasty)

The tummy tuck, sometimes referred to as a "full tummy tuck," is the golden standard abdominal contouring procedure, and the most frequently performed.

If you suffer from loose skin, stretched out muscles, and excessive fat, this will probably be your best option.

Your surgeon will make a full bikini line incision, keeping the scar hidden behind the bikini line. Then, they will remove all the excess skin and fat from the lower abdomen, between the belly button and pubic area. Liposuction will be performed in the upper abdominal area, and the abdominal muscles will be repaired.

For most patients, there is a decrease in waist size by 2-to-4 inches.

Mini Tummy Tuck

What if your upper abdominal area doesn't have issues? Enter the mini tummy tuck, a procedure that is less extensive than the full version.

This option is for you if you have excess fat, moderately loose skin and/or mild muscle laxity in the lower abdominal area, yet has firm upper abdominal skin and healthy muscle tone.

Your surgeon will make a limited bikini line incision and remove a small amount of excess skin. Excess fat is removed using liposuction. The muscles in the lower abdomen, below the belly button, may be tightened if need be.

Only a few patients are good candidates for a mini tummy tuck.

Limited (Mid or Modified) Tummy Tuck

A limited, modified, or mid tummy tuck is very similar to a mini tummy tuck. However, it does involve a longer incision. For patients with greater degrees of lower abdominal skin laxity, this procedure can offer better results.

More Extensive Tummy Tuck Options

The Extended Tummy Tuck

The extended Tummy Tuck is also known as the 'fleur-de-lis' abdominoplasty. This version of the tummy tuck includes an additional incision. The 'fleur-de-lis' is best for patients who require more aggressive options for excess skin throughout the abdomen and trunk, particularly in the lower chest and back. In addition to the bikini line incision, a full midline incision allows for more comprehensive skin removal.


This procedure is similar to the full tummy tuck, but a flankplasty involves an incision three quarters around the lower trunk. The longer incision is needed when a patient needs to take care of sagging flanks in addition to the abdominal area.

Patients with excessive skin along the lateral trunk and flank regions will be the best candidates for a flankplasty surgery.

Belt Lipectomy

The belt lipectomy is also similar to a full tummy tuck, but for this procedure, the incision goes all the way around the patient's lower trunk. This allows for a removal of a "belt" of lower trunk fat as well as the excess skin. Anyone with a significant amount of excess skin around the abdomen, trunk, hips, and buttocks are a potential candidate for a belt lipectomy.

Patients who get a belt lipectomy usually experience dramatic improvement, especially those who have lost a considerable amount of weight.

Extended Belt Lipectomy

As the name implies, this is a more aggressive version of the belt lipectomy, including an additional full midline incision. This procedure is usually appropriate for patients who have lost a large amount of weight and are seeking the most dramatic improvement, removing sagging skin from the abdomen, trunk, flank, hip, and buttock regions.

The 'Reverse' Tummy Tuck

The reverse tummy tuck is best for patients who have residual excess skin primarily in the upper abdominal area. It's called a reverse tummy tuck because the incision is not made along the bikini line. Instead, the surgeon makes a bra-line incision and removes fat and excess skin from the upper abdomen. This procedure is often performed in conjunction with a breast lift, to bring out even more beautiful results.

How do I determine the best abdominal contouring procedure for me?

While we do our best to provide helpful information on our website and blog, they are only designed to be starting points in your plastic surgery journey. Reading articles online is no substitute for a consultation with a qualified plastic surgeon.

To figure out what procedure may be the best for you, you really need to schedule a consultation with your surgeon and allow him to guide you to the right procedure for your particular circumstance. Of course, you can schedule a consultation with Dr. Fan, or you can take our online self-assessment to see if you are a good candidate for body contouring procedures.

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About the Author

Dr. Larry Fan is a Harvard educated, Board Certified Plastic Surgeon in San Francisco, CA. He is a Master Artist who is known for creating beautiful, stunning, and natural results. Dr. Fan has been named One of America's Top Plastic Surgeons for the past 10 years running and has received several national awards for his work in Plastic Surgery. He has successfully performed more than 10,000 cosmetic procedures of the face, breasts, and body over a 20 year period. Dr Fan has been an invited speaker at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American College of Surgeons, and has been featured in national media outlets such as CNN, NBC, and ABC.

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