FDA Approves Fat-Busting Laser, But Do Results Last?

A laser that can trim inches off the waistline has just received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be marketed within the United States.

The device, called Zerona and manufactured by Erchonia Medical Inc., is intended to remove unwanted fat without the need for surgical procedures such as liposuction.

"This isn’t a procedure that treats obesity or is a miracle cure, it’s just is an alternative or an additional procedure to traditional liposuction," said Dr. Gregory C. Roche, a plastic surgeon in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., who has conducted research on Zerona.

How it works

The laser liquefies fat within fat cells and causes the cells to release their contents, which are then naturally removed from the body, Roche said. As a result of the collapsed fat cells, the volume of the waistline, hips and thighs is reduced. After the fat is removed, the cell basically dies, he said.

A clinical trial of Zerona, sponsored by Erchonia, involved 67 subjects who received either the laser treatment or a sham treatment for two weeks. The study was completed in 2008 and published in the December 2009 issue of the journal Lasers in Surgery and Medicine. (The sham treatment included a red light-emitting diode, or LED, which looked similar to the laser treatment.)

The Zerona laser reduced the circumference of the patients' waists and hips by about an inch (2.5 centimeters), according to the study. Patients also lost a bit less than an inch (about 2 cm) from each thigh. Roche helped conduct the trial, but said he did not receive compensation from Erchonia.

Do the results last?

However, about two weeks after the procedure, the patients who received the Zerona treatment regained an average of 0.31 inches (about 1 cm) across their waists, hips and thighs summed together. The researchers aren't sure what caused this increase in volume, it could have been from swelling or from the addition of new fat cells, Roche said.

In his practice, Roche said he has seen some dramatic results, including patients who have lost 15 inches (38 cm) from their waist, hips and thighs combined. He said all of his patients have lost at least 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) across these areas combined.

However, Roche cautioned that not all patients are happy with the results, as is the case with all cosmetic procedures.

"You have to be careful that people don't get overzealous and think that this is going to cause a weight loss or size change," Roche said. "What you're going to get is change in your contours when you use this procedure, [changes in] your shape, and that can be very dramatic depending on your body style and type," he told MyHealthNewsDaily.

Roche said Zerona is also a good tool to use along with liposuction.

The procedure, which lasts about 40 minutes, should be done at least six times every other day to be effective, according to the company website. If more than 72 hours lapses between treatments, the fat cells may take up the fat again, the website says.

An advantage of the Zerona procedure is that it offers patients who might not be candidates for surgery, for instance, if they have diabetes, a chance to slim their bodies, Roche said.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.