Trimming the Fat: Is Liposuction Right for You?

plastic surgeon marking womans body for surgery

Key Points

  • Liposuction is one of the most popular plastic surgeries; it has transformative potential for the right patients.

  • Liposuction is a surgical procedure and includes risks — just like any other surgery.

  • A successful liposuction surgery ultimately depends on the patient.

  • Liposuction can deliver highly satisfying results if you research surgeons, ask questions, get second opinions, have realistic expectations, and closely follow your pre- and post-op routine.

The precursor to liposuction first appeared in the 1920s — yes, the 1920s. French surgeon Dr. Charles Dujarrier performed a procedure to make the legs of a French dancer more toned and shapely. The process was an unmitigated disaster. Not only did Dujarier remove too much tissue, but he also tied the sutures too tightly. Gangrene set in, requiring the amputation of one of the ballerina's legs.

That botched surgery set the field back almost 50 years, and didn't recover until the 1960s. Recover it did — and in a big way. In 2021, Americans underwent 491,000 liposuction procedures. That's a whole lot of people who were convinced that liposuction was right for them.

The question this article poses is this: Is liposuction right for you?

What Is Liposuction?

Liposuction, lipoplasty, or body contouring surgery is a cosmetic procedure to remove excess fat deposits from specific body areas. These areas include the abdomen, thighs, buttocks, hips, arms, chin, and neck. Liposuction seeks to improve body proportions by sucking the fat (lipids) out.

According to the Mayo Clinic, liposuction removes fat from specific areas of the body and "[a]lso shapes these areas. That process is called contouring."

This procedure sculpts the body by targeting fat accumulations often resistant to diet and exercise. While liposuction can provide numerous benefits, it's essential to understand its potential side effects and risks before considering it.

Top Benefits

Liposuction has many potential benefits, but every patient's experience is different and unique. It's imperative to have realistic expectations about what liposuction can achieve. It effectively addresses areas with stubborn fat deposits that remain despite efforts to lose weight through healthy lifestyle choices.

Liposuction improves body proportions and creates a more sculpted appearance so people achieve their desired aesthetic goals. Liposuction delivers almost instant results. Even with post-surgical swelling, there's noticeable fat loss in many patients. This instant removal of stubborn fat gives the patient greater self-confidence and self-esteem, which increases during the healing process.

A woman is pleased with her liposuction results.

Risks and Potential Side Effects

While liposuction usually leads to positive outcomes, it's still a surgical procedure that carries the risk of side effects. Those risks include:

  • Swelling and Bruising: These side effects are common and can persist for several weeks. Compression garments minimize swelling and bruising.

  • Pain and Numbness: As with recovery from any surgery, expect some pain and discomfort afterward. Prescribed medications manage these symptoms during recovery. The disruption of nerve endings may cause temporary numbness as well.

  • Risk of Infection: Infection is another standard post-surgery risk. Proper wound care and following post-operative instructions minimize this risk.

  • Irregularities and Scarring: Skin irregularities in texture and contour may cause dissatisfaction with the outcome, and while liposuction incisions typically heal with little or no scarring, it occasionally happens.

  • Blood Clots: Liposuction carries a minimal risk of blood clots. Since this is a potentially life-threatening complication, you must be aware of the possibility — no matter how remote. Walking and staying hydrated during recovery reduces this risk.

Who Is Most at Risk for Complications?

Although liposuction is generally considered safe, some patients may be at higher risk for complications. This doesn't mean they can't undergo liposuction but are at higher risk. Patients with pre-existing medical conditions and those who are obese are at higher risk of complications.

Patients with poor skin elasticity, smokers, and those using blood thinners or other medications that affect blood clotting are also at higher risk. Patients with a history of complications from other medical procedures, those with allergies and sensitivities, and senior citizens are more prone to complications with liposuction, too.

What To Expect

Most liposuctions are outpatient procedures, taking one to three hours. After placing the patient under anesthesia, the surgeon makes small, inconspicuous incisions — often less than a half-inch long — near the areas to be treated and inserts a thin, hollow tube (cannula) into the fatty tissue. The cannula connects to a suction device that "vacuums" out the excess fat cells as the surgeon carefully moves the tube back and forth to break up the fat.

The surgeon uses skilled techniques to sculpt and contour the treated areas, creating more aesthetically pleasing body proportions. The goal is a balanced and natural-looking result. Before closing the incisions, the surgeon drains excess fluid and blood. Compression garments or bandages reduce swelling, support healing, and aid skin retraction.

Immediately after the procedure, patients go to a recovery area for observation until they wake up from anesthesia. This is a critical stage to ensure the patient's safety and well-being. The surgeon issues post-operative instructions, such as guidelines for managing pain, wearing compression garments, and taking prescribed medications.

Depending on the liposuction technique, these steps may vary. The choice of technique depends on the patient's needs, the surgeon's expertise, and the desired outcomes.


Follow-up appointments with the surgeon are necessary to monitor progress, address concerns, and ensure the healing process is proceeding as expected. The surgeon removes the dressings after up to 72 hours. You must wear a compression garment for up to six weeks to promote healing.

You can shower about 24 hours after the procedure. Avoid sleeping in a position that places undue pressure on the liposuction site for three weeks. Most patients miss one or two weeks of work following liposuction and mustn't exercise for two or three weeks. Total recovery averages six weeks.

Is Liposuction Right for You?

Determining if liposuction is the right choice requires careful consideration of your goals, expectations, and overall health. Liposuction isn't a "weight loss plan" or a substitute for weight loss due to a healthy lifestyle.

The ideal candidates target specific areas of fat deposits that resist diet and exercise. They're generally in good health, have realistic expectations about the procedure's outcomes, and are committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle after the surgery.

Consider this checklist when deciding if this surgical procedure is right for you.

  • Health and Skin Elasticity: Are you in good general health with no significant medical conditions that could increase the risks of surgery or recovery? Candidates with good skin elasticity achieve smoother, more even results because their skin adapts to the new contours after fat removal.

  • Stable Weight: Are you close to your ideal weight and have had a stable body weight for several months before the procedure? Do you want to target localized fat deposits resistant to diet and exercise, such as the abdomen, thighs, hips, flanks, arms, chin, and neck?

  • Realistic Expectations: Do you have realistic — not idealistic — expectations about results? This procedure enhances body contours and proportions but doesn't achieve drastic weight loss or the perfect figure or physique. While liposuction incisions are small and discretely made, scarring can occur.

  • Non-Smokers: Do you smoke? Smoking impairs the body's ability to heal and increases the risk of complications. Candidates who don't smoke or intend to quit before or after the procedure are better suited for liposuction.

  • Mental State and Social Support: Do you have a positive mental and emotional condition, pursuing liposuction for your reasons and not to meet someone else's expectations? Do you have a support network of friends and family to aid in the recovery period when you have restrictions on physical activity?

  • Commitment to Healthy Lifestyle: Will you adopt a healthy lifestyle after liposuction to maintain your results, including a balanced diet and regular exercise routine? Are you willing to follow post-op instructions, including wearing compression garments, taking prescribed medications, and attending follow-up appointments?

    Surgeon discusses options with a patient

Seek Professional Guidance

Begin your liposuction journey by consulting a qualified plastic surgeon for a complete assessment. The surgeon assesses your risk factors, conducts a thorough medical history and physical examination, and discusses your goals and expectations. Carefully consider all factors and ask questions during your consultation with a qualified plastic surgeon. The only "dumb" question is the one you didn't ask that you should've.

During consultation, your surgeon evaluates your suitability for the procedure, discusses your goals, explains the process in detail, and outlines the potential risks and benefits. A reputable surgeon also provides before-and-after photos of previous patients to give you a realistic idea of what to expect.

You must follow your surgeon's pre-operative and post-operative instructions to minimize risk. Maintain a healthy lifestyle and attend all follow-up appointments. Open communication with the surgeon is critical to addressing your concerns and ensuring a safe and successful outcome.

Find the Right Plastic Surgeon

Select a surgeon certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS), the only board specializing in the certification of plastic surgery recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. Your surgeon must not only have the required credentials and licenses but also the necessary experience and a history of successful liposuction procedures.

Do your research before settling on a surgeon. Read online reviews and, if possible, talk to previous patients. They can give you a realistic, unbiased look into what working with the surgeon is like. Don't be afraid to seek second opinions.

Although liposuction is a well-established, widely accepted, and typically safe procedure, it's still surgery. The decision to "go under the knife" isn't one to take lightly. You owe it to yourself, your health, and those you love to take the process seriously and choose carefully.

A Study To Remember

A July 2023 British study reinforces the importance of researching when seeking a doctor, surgeon, or specialist in any medical specialty. The Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery study looks at cosmetic practitioners administering botox and dermal filler injections.

The findings indicate that a whopping 68 percent of these practitioners lack the necessary medical credentials to perform those injections. Although this study generates particular reasons for concern for UK residents, it also reminds every prospective patient of the importance of knowing your medical professional!

Success Depends on You

Liposuction can be a transformative procedure for people seeking to eliminate stubborn fat and achieve their desired body contours. Like any surgical procedure, it carries potential risks. Ultimately, the right choice depends on your goals, health status, and willingness to commit to post-operative care and recovery.

The keys to success are establishing and maintaining realistic expectations, doing your research, choosing your surgeon carefully, asking questions, and following all your surgeon's instructions closely — both before and after the procedure. If you're a suitable candidate and take the necessary steps, your chances of sculpting a more appealing physique through liposuction are very good.

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