As a fitness and wellness editor and regular contributor to Charlotte’s Book, people expect me to be in good shape. And I am—for a mother of three looking down the barrel of her 40th birthday. I’ve worked hard for my toned legs and sculpted shoulders, but there’s nothing I can do about the excess skin on my abdomen that waves hello to me every time I get into plank position.
At least there’s nothing I can do in the gym, which is how I found myself seated across from Dr. Gervaise Gerstner one warm and sunny weekday. Dr. Gerstner, a dermatologist in private practice on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, is slim, blonde, and has a reputation in the city for being the perfectionist’s dermatologist.
A perfectionist’s solution to the (almost) perfect body is body contouring.
Yoga and Pilates-toned fitness fanatics look to Dr. Gerstner to CoolSculpt (a procedure using cryotherapy to destroy fat cells) that bit of bra fat hanging over the top of their strapless, size 2 Oscar de la Renta. “They are 1% shy of self-determined perfection but it really bothers them,” says Dr. Gerstner.
Whereas other doctors might turn these women away because the areas they want treated seem too small, Dr. Gerstner sees an ideal candidate. That’s because many non-surgical body contouring procedures are intended for use not on large pockets of fat, but on small areas that need minimal improvement. We’re talking about the minuscule bulges that remain resistant to green juice elixirs and dance cardio classes, but that still manage to ruin the line of your Jason Wu.
Body contouring treatments target those frustratingly resilient areas of fat.
Lauren Abramowitz, founder of Park Avenue Skin Solutions, says she sees plenty of perfectionist types in her office. Like Dr. Gerstner, Lauren has a great figure, and is herself a practiced yogi. (When I go in to see her, she’s sipping green juice and dressed in a flowy, bohemian-chic outfit that highlights her Chaturanga-toned arms.) “Areas such as the bra fat, inner thighs, very small lower abdomen area, saddle bag, and muffin top are amongst the most common areas that women find frustrating to reduce or get rid of with traditional diet and exercise,” Lauren says.
CoolSculpt, BodyFX, and Kybella are just a few of the options out there.
She reaches for BodyFX, a suction-assisted radiofrequency procedure that destroys fat cells with deep tissue heating and also helps generate new collagen to smooth and tighten skin. Her other favorite spot reducer? Kybella, a fat-melting injection, which Lauren has been using off label on the body since it was approved for use on the fat below the chin by the FDA in 2015. (Treatment start at $1,500 a session; 2-4 treatments spaced six weeks apart are generally needed.) “Combining Kybella and BodyFX make for a perfect marriage in fat reduction, skin-tightening, and body contouring,” she says.
Ultrashape is another popular treatment.
Meanwhile, Dr. Dennis Gross, a dermatologist and founder of 900 Fifth, uses UltraShape. It’s a non-invasive ultrasound treatment that attacks those stubborn bulges on his patients’ bodies. The technology is different form other body contouring systems in that it doesn’t rely on thermal energy to destroy fat. Instead, it uses hyper-targeted sound waves to shake and break open subcutaneous fat cells, the contents of which are later filtered through the liver andexcretednaturally by the body.
There’s no downtime or pain, and the company recently introduced a smaller handpiece to address spots like the inner thighs in addition to larger areas such as the tummy, love handles, and hips. (Treatment cost is $1,400; generally three treatments, spaced 3-4 weeks apart, are needed.) “If you can grab it with your hands, we can destroy it,” says Dr. Gross. He says that the technology, available in the U.S. since 2014, has “overdelivered” results for his patients.
For skin-tightening, Thermage is a great option.
I have a few small pockets of fat here and there, but they aren’t my chief concern. What really bothers me is the loose skin on my abdomen, which means I’m looking at procedures that can help tighten and firm the skin rather than treatments geared toward reducing fat deposits beneath the skin.
The not-so-great news? “We are still looking for better and better skin-tightening for the body,” says Dr. Robert Anolik, a New York-based dermatologist. He prefers using CoolSculpting for body contouring because of its consistent results. “We’ve made tremendous advances in fat reduction over the last few years. For skin-tightening I can treat people who have a little bit of skin laxity with Thermage, which is radiofrequency-based. More significant laxity and we still have to recommend plastic surgery,” Dr. Anolik says.
I wouldn’t call my tummy skin issues significant, so when Dr. Gerstner agrees to perform Thermage on my abdomen, I’m ready to celebrate. Gwyneth Paltrow, the mother of all wellness worshippers, credited Thermage for taking years off her face. Maybe it can do the same for my midsection? We schedule an appointment for a couple weeks later.
What can you expect with Thermage?
On the day of my procedure, I opt to take a mild sedative to help with discomfort associated with the treatment. And Dr. Gerstner’s medical esthetician Joanna Collado preps me by applying a grid to my stomach area. The lines help guide her during the procedure, which can take anywhere from an hour to two hours, depending on how many breaks you need to take between “pulses.”
For each pulse, the handpiece is applied to the skin. You feel heat, almost like you’re being touched by a small, increasingly hot iron. It’s not a comfortable sensation, but all patients respond to the treatment differently and experience different levels of pain (just like childbirth). After the procedure, the skin on my abs felt a little hot, like I had a mild sunburn, but that completely disappeared within a few hours.
Then came the big wait. Because Thermage works by encouraging collagen growth in the dermis, it takes time to start seeing signs of change. “Most tightening as well as slimming body procedures take three to six months (to see results) regardless if it is one treatment like Thermage or sequential treatments like SculpSure (a laser-based nonsurgical fat reduction treatment),” says Dr. Gerstner.
It’s now been three months since my procedure and I already see some change (most noticeably, less crepiness in the skin surrounding my belly button) so I’m excited to see where we end up in another three months.
Until then, I’ll be planking with my shirt on.
This article was originally published in August 2016.