What are fat-dissolving injections?
I know, this sounds far too good to be true. But we’re living in the future now, folks, and there really is an injection out there – a flab jab, if you like – that will quite literally dissolve fat. The secret ingredient is deoxycholic acid, which is naturally produced by the body and is a constituent element of bile. It works by breaking down fat cells, which can then be carried out of the body through the lymphatic and renal systems. You’ll see deoxycholic acid being used almost interchangeably with sodium deoxycholate in the formulae of these injections, the latter is the salt form of the acid and differs only in that it is more soluble in water.
The treatment is recommended for stubborn, localised fat deposits. So, if you have a double chin that won’t go away with diet and exercise, then fat-dissolving injections are a great option for you. Fat-dissolving injections are not designed for treatment of larger areas though; so, if diet and exercise aren’t doing anything to address your overall body fat levels, you might want to consider something that covers a larger area, such as fat freezing.
Are fat-dissolving injections safe?
Understandably, there’s been some healthy scepticism when it comes to injecting a fat-dissolving acid into the body. You wouldn’t want it dissolving anything else, would you? The first formulation of fat-dissolving injections (phosphatidylcholine) was withdrawn from use over a lack of data certifying its efficacy and safety. The second generation of formulations, the one that’s used today (deoxycholic acid), is backed up by clinical studies and has a good safety record.
However, do bear in mind that, used incorrectly, deoxycholic acid will not only munch through fat, but also other tissue in its path – in medical circles, this is known as ‘non-specificity’ – so it is vital that you only entrust this treatment to someone who knows precisely what they’re doing. And if you’re offered the original formulation (phosphatidylcholine) then please run a mile – you would be putting something untested in your body, which is never a good idea.
Do fat-dissolving injections work?
The degree of success is “highly dependent on use of the correct formula and injection technique, as well as proper patient selection.” (That quote is from an academic paper about the use of phosphatidylcholine, but it’s true for the newer formulation too.) Factor in the safety concerns I talk about above, and this is one tweakment where you really can’t afford to compromise on the quality of your practitioner. The quickest way to stay safe is to use someone I trust and have listed on this site, but if that’s not possible then really make sure to do your homework and follow all my safety tips on this site.
How do fat-dissolving injections work?
The science behind this doesn’t make for easy reading if you don’t have a medical degree and a dictionary to hand. In broad strokes, deoxycholic acid is a ‘secondary bile acid’ whose role it is to break down cells so that their contents can pass through the body’s digestive system. It does this by compromising the integrity of cell membranes, allowing the interior of those cells to be broken down in the process known as lysis. This creates a lysate (i.e. a fluid containing the contents of these broken-down cells) which can be processed through the body and excreted as waste via the lymphatic and renal systems.
You’ll notice that I didn’t say fat cells in that explanation – that’s because you need to be really aware that deoxycholic acid doesn’t know how to specifically target fat cells, so it will happily dissolve muscle or skin if that is where it is injected. This is why it’s really important to find an experienced and knowledgeable practitioner whom you can trust with a substance that, in the wrong hands, can be as dangerous as any other acid.
Do fat dissolving injections hurt?
During the actual treatment, you’ll receive a number of injections using a syringe. If you find needle injections painful, you can ask for some numbing cream beforehand to desensitise the surface of your skin. Once the needle’s in, the injection of the product itself is surprisingly pain-free, notwithstanding that this is acid going into your tissue. To make sure there’s no discomfort, your practitioner will either use a fat-dissolving formulation that includes a local anaesthetic
A few hours after the treatment, the injected area will become swollen (‘basically, I looked like a bullfrog, for weeks,’ said one of my friends), and often pretty painful. One academic paper cited ‘intense pain’ as par for the course, but most people I’ve talked to that have had this done wouldn’t go that far. Expect moderate pain (like a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10), but be aware you might be one of the unlucky ones. The swelling can take around four weeks to come down, but the good news is that the pain doesn’t last as long as the swelling.
Where can you have fat-dissolving injections?
The active ingredient in fat-dissolving injections will pretty reliably dissolve fat wherever it may be, because all fat is built the same. However, these injections are only designed for small areas of stubborn fat. Double chins, wobbly jowls, and ‘bingo wings’ are all good candidates. It can and has been used for treating ‘love handles’, but over a larger area you would need more injections and it would be followed by a month’s worth of swelling that would make a muffin blush. Remember, too, that this is dangerous stuff that’s being injected into you, so the more you have put into you, the more likely you are to experience a negative side effect.
How much do fat-dissolving injections cost?
Expect to pay upwards of £1500 for this treatment from a reputable practitioner. Bear in mind that you’re paying not only for the safety record of your practitioner, but also their ability – the efficacy and results are highly dependent on the skill of the practitioner administering the treatment.
There’s also a good chance you’ll need more than one treatment to see the full results. Some people need a course of 2-3, others up to 8 – it depends on how stubborn your stubborn fat is. I’d definitely discuss this eventuality with your practitioner and what effect it would have on the pricing structure.
How long do fat-dissolving injections take?
The procedure itself doesn’t last that long at all. If it’s a small area you’re having treated, then expect to be in the chair for 15 minutes or so. However, for your first appointment please set aside ample time for the consultation so you can really delve into your practitioner’s qualifications, track record, and establish whether this is the right treatment for you.
You also won’t see the results immediately – the body has some work to do before then – so you can only expect to see results after four to six weeks. While some people get the full results from a single session, more often than not you’ll need a course of treatment to get the final result you’re after. Three sessions, 6 weeks apart, is by no means unheard of, so you could be looking at a few months before you see the results you want.
How long do fat-dissolving injections last?
Here’s the best news: it’s permanent! While there’s some speculation that these injections may only shrink fat cells, the prevailing theory is that the fat cells are completely destroyed. This is the ideal, of course, because the creation of new fat cells is far more effort for the body than filling up and stretching out ones that have just shrunk, which all means that – bar some serious overindulgence and unhealthy living – you can say goodbye to those fat deposits for good.
Are there any side effects to fat-dissolving injections?
Yes, quite a few, I’m afraid. It obviously varies from person to person, but I’ve never heard of anyone not experiencing the following to some degree:
- Swelling – and we’re talking severe swelling. It appears within a few hours of treatment and lasts a few weeks, so this is the big one to bear in mind, particularly since you’ll probably need to have a few rounds;
- Localised heat at the injection site and redness (erythema) – everyone gets this, but it’s not too bad. It sets in within a couple of hours of treatment, however the worst of it will subside after a few days;
- Pain – expect at least a moderate level of pain for a couple of weeks after treatment, but bear in mind there are medical studies that report intense pain;
- Itching – the level of itchiness is distracting, but not maddening, and it goes away when the swelling goes down;
- Bruising – this doesn’t happen to everyone, but as with any procedure involving needles there’s a risk of bruising which should subside within a week.
The following side effects are much rarer than the above, but you need to be aware of them:
- Hardening of the treated area – along with the swelling, you may find the area becomes unnaturally hard (as in the underside of your chin could feel as firm as the back of your hand), however this is temporary and disappears after a few weeks, around the time the swelling goes down;
- Inflammatory nodules – these are small growths of tissue that can crop up at the injection sites and feel a bit like tiny bits of gravel, they’re invisible to the naked eye and don’t hurt or cause discomfort, but they are noticeable to the touch;
- Numbness – again, a rare one, but it can happen and is more prevalent in treatment of double chins, however you’ll regain sensitivity in the same time it takes the swelling to go down.
For anyone who missed my earlier rant, please keep in mind that the substance used in these injectables will eat its way through any tissue it comes across – fat or otherwise – so, if used incorrectly, it could go seriously wrong and result in necrosis (tissue death) of other bits of you. This isn’t a side effect of the treatment, more a consequence of choosing an inexperienced and unskilled practitioner; so choose wisely…
Where can I get fat-dissolving injections?
Talking of choosing wisely, it’s clear that this treatment can be dangerous if performed incorrectly. To avoid disaster, choose a practitioner who adheres to all the guidance in my article on staying safe. There are risks inherent with any procedure, but stick to skilled and experienced practitioners like the ones I list on this site and you can at least minimise that risk.
Remember that the practitioner influences not only the safety, but the success of this treatment, too. You want to choose someone who’s been doing this for a long time and has honed their technique to perfection. This way you minimise the likelihood that you’ll have to go back for more rounds than absolutely necessary, which can prove costly both in terms of money and unwanted side effects.
Are Belkyra fat-dissolving injections the same as Kybella?
Yes. Belkyra is the registered trademark name used in Canada and the EU for a formulation based on deoxycholic acid which is produced by pharmaceutical giant Allergan. The medical name for this formulation is ATX-101 and its name in the USA is Kybella. There’s no difference to the product.
Is Belkyra/Kybella available in the UK?
As of summer 2021, yes, it is finally available in the UK.
What is it like to have fat-dissolving injections?
Expect a thorough consultation. One of the key elements of success with this treatment is proper patient selection and, given the risks associated with the procedure, your practitioner should conduct a full investigation of your medical history. If I went to a practitioner and they sped through the consultation, warning bells would start sounding and I’d politely make my excuses so I could get out of there sharpish.
The treatment itself isn’t a terrible experience, provided you don’t have a problem with needles. The number of injections you receive in a session will depend on the formulation being used and the size of the area being treated. Belkyra is injected using multiple injections across a 1cm grid, so even for a small area like under the chin you could be looking at 20 injections. Of course, the larger the area, the more injections you’ll need. If this is a concern for you, check ahead with your chosen practitioner to see which technique they use before shelling out for a consultation. Generally, the treatment is pretty painless, especially with the use of local anaesthetic (which is the standard).
Where things get less pleasant is after the treatment. Fat-dissolving injections promote an inflammatory response in the body, so you get all the goodies that come with inflammation – redness, heat, swelling, itching, and pain are all to be expected. (See the section above on side effects for more details.) The inflammatory response can last up to six weeks, particularly the swelling and pain, so you’re in for the long haul. You’ll also generally need more than one session, which means multiple periods of inflammatory response.
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom, because at the end of it all the fat loss is permanent. That’s pretty rare for a non-surgical option. It’s definitely a case of ‘no pain, no gain’ but the trade-off could be worth it if you’re able and willing to endure the downtime.