Airsculpt Logo


Education Topics

What is Body Sculpting and How Does it Compare?

Are you striving to achieve a well-defined and toned body? If so, you've likely come across the term "body sculpting" in your pursuit of the perfect physique.

Body sculpting is a reasonably common term, but it can refer to several types of treatments. Although there is a lot of jargon in the cosmetic industry, once you cut through the clutter, it becomes clear what each different brand name represents. 

This resource guide will explore what body sculpting entails, its pros and cons, techniques, and answers to other frequently asked questions. 

What Is Body Sculpting?

Body sculpting, or body contouring, broadly refers to any cosmetic procedure that can enhance and redefine the shape and appearance of various body areas. 

The term loosely refers to noninvasive or minimally invasive techniques focusing on various body goals. These include removing stubborn fat deposits, toning muscles, tightening or removing extra skin, and improving overall body aesthetics via a fat transfer.

Whether you want a slimmer waistline, toned arms, or sculpted abs, body sculpting offers a range of treatments to help you achieve your desired results. However, it is important to know that body contouring is not a weight-loss solution. Instead, it mainly focuses on shaping and addressing specific areas needing refinement. 

Candidates for Body Sculpting 

Body contouring procedures are generally safe for individuals with good overall health and realistic expectations. However, meeting with a qualified practitioner is key to determine if you are an ideal candidate for the specific technique you are interested in.

What are the Different Types of Body Contouring?

Nonsurgical Body Contouring 

Body sculpting can refer to both noninvasive and invasive procedures. Nonsurgical body contouring includes various lipolysis techniques, which reduce fat cells by indirectly damaging them from outside the skin. Among the several lipolysis methods are:

  • Cryolipolysis uses freezing temperatures to destroy fat cells.
  • Injection lipolysis involves deoxycholic acid injected into target areas to break down fat cells.
  • Laser lipolysis uses laser energy to indirectly break down fat cells (for example, Zerona® or SmartLipo).
  • Ultrasound lipolysis (or cavitation) uses ultrasound waves and heat to target fat cells (for example, truSculpt®).
  • Radiofrequency (RF) devices emit targeted energy waves via flat pads called applicators to induce fat cells to empty their contents over time. 

Other types of noninvasive body contouring techniques outside of the fat removal field include:

  • Muscle-stimulating technology like Emsculpt uses electromagnetic waves that cause contractions, increasing the treatment area's muscle tone and strength.
  • Nonsurgical skin tightening includes a variety of techniques, like RF, ultrasound, or laser, to tighten skin. 
  • Dermal fillers, which can be injected into the face or other areas like the hands to restore lost volume, smooth away wrinkles, and remove other blemishes. 

Surgical Body Contouring 

This category loosely refers to both minimally invasive and fully invasive body sculpting techniques. Most prominent examples aim to remove excess fat, tighten or excise loose skin, or both in one treatment. 

Here are a few of the main types of surgical body contouring examples: 

  • Lifts and tucks: These invasive treatments tighten or remove extra skin, often needed after significant weight loss. If desired, these procedures can also include fat removal if desired. Examples include a tummy tuck, facelift, breast lift, arm lift, thigh lift, and double chin surgery.
  • Liposuction: Liposuction removes stubborn fat using small suctioning devices called cannulas. 
  • Fat Transfers: After removing fat, plastic surgeons can transfer that material to an area like the buttocks or breasts to enhance volume. 
  • Implants: Patients who do not have enough extra fat for a transfer can still achieve an augmentation using implants. 
  • Cellulite Removal: Although creams and nonsurgical options exist, most effective cellulite solutions require a surgical approach to provide meaningful outcomes. 

Surgical vs. Nonsurgical Body Contouring: Pros and Cons 

Body contouring can refer to many different procedures depending on the part of the body being treated and the technique chosen. 

Invasive body contouring surgery can enhance the overall shape and silhouette of the target areas, from head to toe. Dramatic results can be provided in a single treatment, and the changes should be long-lasting. Unfortunately, removing vast amounts of tissue involves the creation of a large incision, which usually leads to scarring. However, this exchange is one many patients are happy with as long as their desired result is achieved.

Noninvasive body contouring is more limited in scope regarding the different areas that can be treated. This limitation is mainly because the flat pads, called applicators, that emit the energy through the skin only come in a set number of shapes and sizes. Injectable treatments, meanwhile, are only approved for specific areas of the body. Despite being less customizable, nonsurgical procedures offer the benefits of practically no recovery time, less risk, and no incisions. 

Benefits of Surgical Body Sculpting

Despite coming with added risks, surgical body contouring offers more dramatic, long-lasting results, among other advantages:

  • It requires only one session in most cases
  • It can be customized much more than nonsurgical procedures 
  • Dramatic changes can be delivered almost right away
  • Even with weight gain, newly achieved proportions tend to be maintained
  • Risks are minimized if performed by a qualified plastic surgeon 
  • Minimally invasive techniques can avoid the need for general anesthesia 
  • Long-lasting to permanent results 

Benefits of Nonsurgical Body Sculpting

Nonsurgical body sculpting is a generally risk-free option that also has several other advantages:

  • It requires no general anesthesia or entry points and produces no scars.
  • It requires minimal downtime, so you can return to work without taking time off.
  • It produces few or no side effects.
  • It yields gradual results, so the treatment is discreet.
  • The results will be long-lasting if you maintain your weight.

What Are The Risks of Body Sculpting?

Regarding nonsurgical body contouring, risks are far less pronounced but still present. Usually, side effects are minor if they do appear, the most common being swelling, bruising, redness, rashing, and pain. More severe side effects like long-term pain or an increase in the amount of fat in the treated area are quite uncommon.  

Meanwhile, all minimally invasive body sculpting procedures come with risks similar to any other surgical treatment. These may include temporary redness, swelling, bruising, numbness, or discomfort at the treatment site. More serious complications, like infection or scarring, may occur in rare cases. Choosing a reputable practitioner and following their post-treatment instructions is essential to minimize risks.

Other rare potential side effects include:

What is the Recovery Process Like?

The recovery process varies depending on the specific technique used and the extent of the treatment. Noninvasive procedures generally have minimal downtime, allowing you to resume your regular activities immediately. However, for more invasive procedures, such as liposuction, there may be a recovery period of several days to weeks. During this window, you may experience swelling, bruising, and discomfort.

The best way to ensure a seamless recovery is to follow your surgeon’s instructions to a tee. This process includes wearing compression garments for the prescribed period, taking daily walks to facilitate circulation, and avoiding putting pressure on areas that had fat transferred. 

Are Body Sculpting Results Permanent?

Body sculpting treatments can provide long-lasting results; however, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle to preserve the outcomes. While surgical methods like liposuction permanently remove fat cells, gaining weight in untreated areas is still possible if proper diet and exercise are not maintained.

Nonsurgical body contouring results can be long-lasting as well, but only if paired with a healthy diet and exercise regimen. Because these treatments indirectly contour the target body part through the skin, as opposed to physically removing fat cells or tightening an area, the results can quickly reverse.