Can This Quick Injection Mimic Liposuction?

Photo Credits: Zairi Azmal Bin Burham / EyeEm/ Getty Images | Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only

A quick injection that promises to eliminate fat deposits? Sign us up. The same injection promising to help with the appearance of stretch marks, scars and cellulite? We’re all-out sprinting. 

While it sounds super far-out there, the little-known treatment of carbon dioxide therapy—aka, carboxytherapy—may deserve a solid look, according to newer studies.

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As Huntington, NY plastic surgeon David J. Pincus, MD explains, the “therapy” was initially developed to minimize skin irregularity because of residual fat deposits after liposuction.

“Carbon dioxide, the invisible, odorless gas that is part of the air we breathe, is injected just under the surface of the skin using a fine needle,” he says. “According to many studies, it diffuses into the surrounding tissues and causes blood vessels to dilate. Wider vessels mean a stronger blood supply, which brings a rush of oxygen and nutrients to the treated area. Evidence shows the carbon dioxide kills fat cells by causing them to distend, the extra oxygen eliminates fluid buildup between cells, and the skin is stimulated to produce more collagen.”

The result, Dr. Pincus says, is fewer fat cells and firmer, younger skin. “Each injection feels like a strong sting—on a similar level of pain to electrolysis. Practitioners say that it’s more painful than most cellulite treatments but has a much stronger effect. You should notice a difference after one treatment, but a course of between four and six is recommended. Each treatment takes 40 minutes.”

Eugene, OR plastic surgeon Mark Jewell, MD says that while this is not a mainstream treatment (it’s also not FDA-approved) there is some evidence that it works and there are peer-reviewed articles available on the subject. An article published this past summer by Popular Science showed a similar consensus as Murad Alam, study author and vice chair of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, was quoted as saying he was “pleasantly surprised” that the treatment seemed to do something. “But we didn’t see the really large changes that some other investigators are reporting. We didn’t see persistence.”

Washington, D.C. dermatologist Farhaad Riyaz, MD offers a similar summary: “It’s a procedure that’s more commonly performed in central America and is rarely performed here in the States,” he says. “In studies, any improvement is transient and is no longer visible after six months.”

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