The Lipo-laser: does it work?

We are now starting to see ads in Orlando for a new fat-melting treatment, a laser beam that melts fat after shining the beam on the the skin. Known as the “lipo-laser”, or more properly, the Zerona, the manufacturer claims that its use can result in the loss of inches of fat – without surgery, injections or other invasive procedures.

The laser used in this machine, is a 635 nm wavelength diode – the very same laser that is commonly used in many hand-held battery-powered laser pointers. According to the manufacturer’s website, the laser power is listed variably in different parts of the webpage, between 7.5 milliwatts and 14 milliwatts, which again is only slightly more than the typical 5 milliwatt laser pointer. (By way of comparison, most lasers used for ablative skin resurfacing treatments are in the neighborhood of 30 watts or more, or four-thousand times more powerful.) Thus, this new machine falls into the category of “low-level laser therapy”.

The FDA has approved this device – in the same category as an infra-red heating lamp – according to the FDA’s own 510(k) document posted on the laser manufacturer’s website. N.B: it’s not currently approved as a fat melter.

Neira and associates have been enthusiastically promoting the use of low level lasers to help with liposuction for several years. They claim that use of this type of laser leads to a deflation effect on the individual fat cells, resulting in the contouring effect.

This claim is certainly controversial. A study published in the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal, performed by the well-respected Plastic Surgery & laser group of Brown, Rohrich, Kenkel, Young and associates at UTSW, carefully duplicated the Neira protocol for laser fat treatment. However, they found no appreciable difference with this laser treatment, comparing the fat before and after treatment under a scanning electron microscope. Zip. Zilch. Nada. There was no effect whatsoever on the fat in the treated area, and certainly no evidence of any fat-cell deflation.

I have no personal experience with the new Zerona machine, and while I would love to have a non-invasive method to treat fat, the physics of the device make it hard to believe that the beam could possibly penetrate through the skin down to the underlying fat with enough energy to do anything.

I’ll need to see better evidence from independent researchers before I can accept and recommend this treatment. To me, it seems like waving a laser pointer over the skin, and somehow expecting the fat to magically disappear. Caveat emptor.

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