It wasn’t exactly an accident. But let’s say my lack of experience with procedures — a sexier sounding word I quickly learned doctors use to describe aesthetic surgeries for which you willingly volunteer — is what led me to AirSculpt, which according to Aaron Rollins, a cosmetic surgeon and founder of Elite Body Sculpture, is “fat removal — not liposuction.”
What exactly is the difference? “Liposuction means taking a cheese grater to your flesh and scraping,” Rollins explains. “[With AirSculpt], instead of scraping, the specially developed cannula [a small stainless steel tube that is inserted through an opening in the skin and removes subcutaneous fat] corkscrews back and forth much like a jackhammer drill into wood, and the tiny holes in the cannula suck up any ‘sawdust’ — or breadcrumb-size fat cells — from the drill hole. No scraping means no inflammation in the muscle, fascia, or dermis.” In short, the proprietary cannula used during the procedure disrupts the fat cells in a minimally invasive manner and subsequently sucks them out. Bye, bye.
And before I really dive into the nitty, gritty of my newly whittled waistline, I 100-percent raised my hand to take on this “assignment.” You see, I had hit what I like to call “second puberty,”, which is that period in your life around the time you turn 30 when the joy you experienced in your 20s catches up with you — the tequila you drank with wild abandon on Tuesdays, or those late-night cheeseburgers and bottles of wine you ordered at your desk while you were working your way up the corporate ladder like an eager little beaver. (And no, this is not a medically approved term, but for any person who has experienced it, "second puberty" is a real and depressing thing.) As someone whose metabolism offset many of the decisions I’ve made over the past ten years or so, I didn’t see this metamorphosis coming. And it hit me like a Mack truck when I finally admitted to myself that I could no longer rely on my genes…nor fit into my jeans. Things went from bad to worse when I discovered that sleep, diet, and exercise are as essential to adulting as doing your taxes and paying the rent. And even when these things are done regularly, they don’t exactly make a dent in your 30-plus body overnight. Sure, I hit barre class instead of the bar more regularly, but I wanted instant gratification after sweating it out four days a week.
That said, I’ve never been one to opt for the quick fix when it comes to beauty. I fully respect others’ decisions to make tweaks at the hands of a board-certified doctor via lasers, fillers, and other perfectly reputable and acceptable in-office treatments, but I’ve shied away from them myself. I went from zero to 60 in seconds, however, when I stumbled upon AirSculpt. No needles, no stitches, no general anesthesia, very minimal scarring (we’re talking the size of the average freckle), and I could, according to patients’ testimonials, return to work and even go so far as to teach yoga or meet my friends for sushi (both things real people said on the recording that played while I waited on hold to speak to a receptionist at the AirSculpt office in New York City) immediately following the procedure. Raw fish wouldn’t be my first choice after witnessing my fat cells “being plucked like berries from a bush,” as Rollins describes his patented method that took 10 years to develop, but hey, to each their own.
I couldn’t sign on the dotted line fast enough. I was excited — no, euphoric — to get back into the body I recognized as my own before “second puberty” reared its ugly head. I did my homework by speaking to Rollins at length prior to the big day. He assured me that my waist was a “home run,” and that I wouldn’t experience fat popping up in weird places should I gain weight post-procedure. “Only your body knows where [weight] will go, but it’s typically evenly distributed through your network of fat cells and shows up in the places you have the highest concentration of fat cells. It’s not all going to one place,” he said.
I also consulted other editors much more experienced with cosmetic surgery than I, and asked David Shafer, a New York City-based plastic surgeon, for advice. In his opinion, there weren't any additional risks to AirSculpt as compared to other liposuction techniques (such as Smartlipo and Power Assisted Liposuction), but there weren't exactly a ton of differences either, as these aforementioned procedures also target “small or localized areas of fat” and make similar claims about less downtime, swelling, and bruising. According to Rollins, however, the game changer for AirSculpt is in that exclusive cannula that never comes into contact with the dermis and moves approximately 1,000 times a minute (much faster than a surgeon could ever manually move a traditional cannula). “Dermal inflammation causes scar tissue and scar tissue in the dermis causes that lumpy, bumpy cottage-cheese look,” he explained. “AirSculpt doesn’t touch the dermis. The cannulas are made to avoid it and even have dermal protection because one side is flat with no holes.”
The day of the actual event, I celebrated with a slice of greasy pizza and a fountain soda like it was the last supper. A decision I instantly regretted when Rollins pulled out a purple marker and drew a roadmap across my midsection — marking my left love handle (an area he has affectionately dubbed a “jeans catcher”) with a plus sign because it was extra “juicy.” He also pointed out my “bunny tail,” which is a pocket of fat that hovers above your tailbone. “By removing two inches of tailbone fat, it gives you more booty pop and a cleaner, more proportioned appearance,” Rollins said. And who would say no to better assets sans squats? Rollins routinely recommends patients do a “combo,” which is like a “Happy Meal” (a fairly ironic simile) for body contouring. “You want to do combinations so you hit one cosmetic unit,” he explained. “A cosmetic unit involves doing neighboring areas at the same time so you don’t have a noticeable line between what has been sculpted and what hasn’t.”
After a few before pictures for posterity (and your viewing pleasure here on Allure.com), it was off to the operating room where I could select my music of choice (I went with Sara Bareilles, because nothing says sayonara love handles like “Love Song”). Karaoke is also available while you’re on the table if a patient is so inclined. (I spared the doctor and his team the agony of listening to me recite the lyrics to “Brave” and watched enraptured as the entire process unfolded instead.) After the area was numbed via a needle-free jet injector (a device that uses high pressure to push numbing fluid through the skin), and two holes the size of a No. 2 pencil lead were created using a two-millimeter dermal punch on either side of my body, Rollins employed a laser to melt the fat cells and tighten the skin before sucking the cells out using the cannula and vacuum pressure. I watched as all my vices (booze and sugar) flowed out of my waist in a macaroni- and cheese-color liquid and into a clear plastic jar. Aside from a peculiar vibrating sensation, there was zero pain. And I’ve probably bled more during a facial than I did during AirSculpt. In under an hour, he removed about two beer cans worth of fat. I was later able to hold the vial like a trophy.
The fat extracted can also be transferred to other areas (the two most popular spots being the butt and breasts) via a next-generation procedure he calls PowerBBL. This “closed-loop system” essentially plumps places that need some extra padding using your own freshly sucked-out fat. “It’s just like using Facetune, you point the cannula where you want to make something bigger and push the foot pedal,” he says of his power injection system that doesn't use a standard syringe to reinsert the fat, which can damage fragile cells. “Women want breast enhancements, but not that quote-on-quote Vegas style. We can take the fat out of the waist or arms and inject it into the breasts safely while the patient is awake, with basically no recovery time.” (Instead of the boob and booty job, I let Rollins keep my fat as a parting gift.) After being strapped into a sleeveless spandex suit with a wide Velcro waistband reminiscent of Spanx, or something a dolphin trainer might wear at SeaWorld, with essentially giant maxi pads shoved into said suit to collect any drainage, I was sent on my way with a bag of supplies. There were more super size maxi pads, Band-Aids, Bacitracin, a piece of foam cut into a whale tail shape to cushion my tailbone, and what looked like puppy pads. Yes, puppy pads. I would quickly learn why those were a necessity.
By the time I slid into the Uber wearing black sweats pulled over my suit, I could feel the numbing fluid dripping down my backside. (This is where the puppy pads for humans come in.) Once I was home, I lined my couch with more puppy pads and promptly fell asleep, hoping that I would wake up ready for downward dog (like the yoga instructor who AirSculpted her arms) instead of non-stop Shavasana. Instead, I was still leaking numbing fluid, which, according to Rollins is fantastic because it reduces swelling and leads to faster results. I wasn’t in horrific pain, but I wasn’t exactly comfortable either.
I also admit that I approached this entire procedure like it was on the same level as microdermabrasion (which it most definitely is not), so the intensity of the recovery was a bit shocking in comparison. Sure, Rollins and his nursing staff told me what to expect post-procedure, but I clearly blocked out any mention of leakage and focused solely on the fact that my love handles were eradicated. The fact that I was essentially wearing a sausage casing in the middle of July in a city made of concrete also had something to do with my irritation. That said, after 24 hours, I was able to shower, throw on a black pool cover-up, and power through the rest of the week…bitching and moaning along the way. Rollins dutifully followed up via phone a few days later and assured me that getting a suit a size larger would make things much more pleasant and noted that suffering after surgery doesn’t necessarily have to be part of the experience. Rookie mistake.
After that tweak was made, the second week in the bigger suit sailed right along and I had multiple tent dresses in rotation. The third week in which you only wear the spandex suit at night was a breeze. By week four, the bruising was gone and I was back in barre class feeling better than ever. I was more motivated to workout because those diet- and exercise-resistant pockets of fat were essentially erased and I could finally focus on the areas I could fully control — like the center of my stomach, which according to Rollins, could look significantly less bloated and more toned if I laid off the wine and candy. Every day my waistline continued to shrink as the swelling dissipated. I felt more motivated than ever to skip that second glass of wine and ignore the cheese platter. (I’ll never look at macaroni and cheese or bunnies the same ever again, and that’s perfectly fine with me.)
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While I previously believed procedures should remain a secret, I could not shut up about AirSculpt. Everyone from close family to complete strangers wanted to know everything and how quickly they could have it done. It’s become my new favorite party trick because nothing stirs up conversation quicker than fat removal and before/after photos. While Rollins admitted that AirSculpt can be a slippery slope because after you “remodel the kitchen,” you start looking around at other areas of the house that could use some sprucing up, I can say that my waistline three months out (which is about how long it takes to see full results) was fully worth the puppy pads and SeaWorld suit. As for the price, AirSculpt is based on the individual and the time it takes to treat the areas in question, but the cost hovers around $10,000. “We can do anyone 18 and over, regardless of size, from ankle to chin,” said Rollins of his ability to reshape multiple areas while a person is awake and potentially participating in karaoke. “I don’t believe in doing any fat removal or body sculpting under general anesthesia or twilight because it causes pain and downtime and you can’t even get the patient into the appropriate position if they are asleep,” he added. It’s definitely not cheap and certainly an investment to make renovations to your temple. But beating “second puberty” in 45 minutes, in my opinion, is priceless.
Keep reading for even more first-person cosmetic surgery experiences:How Lip Injections Changed My Makeup RoutineI Got a Non-Surgical Nose Job, and Here's What HappenedThe Anti-Aging Treatments Pain Scale You Need to Know About
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