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Once, the only way to remove stubborn fat and cellulite, other than by dietary methods or exercise, was by undergoing liposuction surgery - a bit scary for some but usually a safe and effective treatment.
'The procedure is not without risks,' says Dr Joseph Chung Hon-ping, division chief and consultant for plastic and reconstructive surgery at Queen Mary Hospital, who recommends patients discuss the procedure with their plastic surgeon before making a decision. 'Patient evaluation includes physical, psychological, medical and aesthetic issues.' Chung emphasises that patients should avoid smoking, ingesting herbs, vitamin E and drugs that may increase the risk of bleeding before surgery.
During the mid-1990s, laser lipolysis became available - a safe method of removing double chins, cellulite around the knees, ankles, waistline, arms, thighs and abdomen. The procedure is painless and involves tiny tubes containing laser fibre that penetrate the skin and emit energy, causing the fat cells to rupture and drain. This treatment causes little bruising and promotes skin tightening with minimal side effects. A local anaesthetic is still required, but the patient is awake and comfortable during the procedure.
A third method is growing in popularity - 'body sculpting'. Not the gruelling exercise form of body sculpting, but liposculpture - a technique similar to laser lipolysis but is able to work faster while removing more fat. Liposculpture uses fine instruments with more refined techniques and is said to be 'the most advanced technology' approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, delivering a dual wavelength laser tip to the targeted body fat. It does this while stimulating collagen formation which improves the skin's firmness and smoothness without damaging the surrounding tissues. This frees the fat by using photo thermal heating via a laser tip which easily penetrates the skin leaving only small wounds with less risk of significant scarring than in other procedures, according to Mioggi Professional MediCentre (MPM).
Annie Chan underwent this procedure after she had tried all kinds of creams and exercises to remove excess fat from around her thighs, causing her to look 'pear shaped'. 'I tried yoga and running in the past,' says the 32-year-old married businesswoman. 'I was embarrassed about my pear-shaped figure and was too embarrassed to go swimming. I was a size four on the top and size six on the bottom half of my body.'
Chan decided on the treatment after consulting her doctor. 'A detailed consultation is required before every treatment,' says MPM's Dr David Lam. He says the treatment is not suitable if the patient is pregnant, breastfeeding or has a chronic illness. 'Most of the people who come to me for liposculpture have done quite a lot of diets and exercises trying to keep themselves in good shape, [but] they still find some stubborn fat in particular body parts that they were unable to get rid of.
'Hong Kong women usually find unwanted fat in the abdomen, upper arms and thighs.' Lam says the average amount of excess fat that can be taken off in one session with the MPM liposculpture treatment is about one to two litres from the abdomen and waist areas and 1.5 to three litres from the thighs.
Chan says there are three steps to the treatment after receiving a local anaesthetic. 'The first was the laser fibre [that penetrates the skin] and I was told it helped to burn the fat. This took half an hour. During step two, I saw the fat being sucked out and appear in a clear bottle. Then I was treated for sagging skin with a laser.' She had to wear a dressing for 24 hours and had to wear special underwear for several weeks. 'It felt sore for a week but not too uncomfortable,' she says, 'but I was able to go back to work the next day'.
She says her husband didn't even notice the tiny scars on her thighs from the laser incisions.
Lam insists this treatment is not the answer to obesity: 'For obesity, a balanced diet and workout plan should always be a first choice.'
Chung adds that those with a systemic disease and particularly cardiovascular disease or thrombosis should avoid any liposuction treatment.