Like many, I put on a few lockdown pounds – we’re on average five pounds heavier than pre-pandemic says the NHS . I wasn’t overly bothered, but when news came that a painless laser had launched that you could practically snooze under while it zapped your belly fat – or any fat for that matter - I was intrigued.
I’m often called on to test treatments - could the Emerald Laser (so-called because it emits green light) live up to its claims to instantly and painlessly shed inches? Its makers, Erchonia, says that people drop an average of six inches (15.2cm) after 12 30-minute treatments.
The Emerald Laser's arrival came hot on the heels of model Linda Evangelista’s disastrous but very rare complication from the fat freezing treatment Coolscuplting. It’s one of the most popular non-surgical fat loss treatments but carries a rare side-effect of causing fat to harden and become more obvious in the treatment area rather than dissipating (known as paradoxical adipose hyperplasia or PAH). This is what apparently happened to Evangelista. Not surprisingly, interest in alternatives to fat freezing was peaking.
Cosmetic surgeon Dr Munir Somji has one of the first Emerald Lasers in the UK and I went to see him at his DrMedispa clinic in Knightsbridge, London. The gadget has been so popular, he’s just bought one for his Essex clinic too. He’s evangelical about the laser as a wellbeing treatment that, rather like a cryotherapy chamber , increases your metabolic energy. “I tell my patients that it’s a wellbeing laser that also makes you slim,” he says. “You’ll have more energy for daily life, more energy to do some exercise and your mind will also become more engaged too.”
What is the Emerald Laser and how does it get rid of fat?
It’s a low-level laser light therapy (LLLT) machine that uses electromagnetic energy calibrated at the exact wavelength to home in on fat cells. I did wonder whether it would make a beeline for the mayo I'd just had in my sandwich, but apparently, it will ignore the fat in your lunch as well. It works by making a tiny temporary pore in the fat cell membrane, emulsifying the fat which then leaks out and is then sept up by the lymph and processed by your liver. At DrMedispa you can bolt on a manual lymphatic drainage massage to help it along.
What you don’t use as energy is excreted. My pee might smell a little different and poo may be a little yellow afterwards, Dr Somji tells me (but only because I asked). I need to make sure to drink lots of water to help it move through my system.
Dr Somji recommends one to two sessions per week. If you're already slim, he says, it may target any dangerous visceral fat around the organs that you may be harbouring without knowing (sometimes known as TOFI, thin outside, fat inside). I probably had some of that I could lose.
What is the difference between Emerald Laser and Coolscuplting?
Dr Somji explains: “It’s a non-thermal laser so there’s no chance of burns or freezing, it’s completely safe. It shrinks the fat cells that it treats. So rather than destroying the fat cells like other devices such as fat-freezing, which can lead to very rare but serious complications such as paradoxical adipose hyperplasia, this machine has zero risk with this side-effect.”
Coolsculpting (cryolipolysis) works by freezing and killing off the fat cells permanently and takes up to three months to see a difference. Ditto 'laser lipo', which heats fat cells enough to destroy them.
Coolsculpting does involve pain (it’s intensely cold) and sometimes bruising and works more slowly. It takes around 12 weeks to see the effects. Get The Gloss co-founder Sarah Vine has great results with Coolscuplting for her double chin and contributor Christa D'Souza used it to zap her back fat. It works on a specific area, so you may have to go back to treat a larger area. Results are permanent, although Dr Somji explains it won't stop you from growing new fat cells. The Emerald Laser doesn't destroy fat cells, rather it empties them.
Unlike Coolsculpting, which isn’t suitable if you have a BMI of more than 30, the Emerald Laser is FDA-cleared for ‘reduction in overall body circumference in patients with small pockets of fat and a BMI of up to 40’. Dr Somji also uses it after liposuction (surgical fat removal) to improve results.
“It’s a very appealing idea because it’s pain-free and without side-effects," says Alice Hart-Davis, journalist and founder of The Tweakments Guide. She adds, "It sounds a bit too good to be true.
“The company small print does stress that the treatment needs to be accompanied by a 'healthy lifestyle' - because of course fat cells are very expandable, that's what they do, to store energy for lean times. So if you overeat after the treatment, your shrunken fat cells will merrily fill themselves back up....”
Dr Somji did stress to me that the laser had to be treated as one of many lifestyle changes if you want to see lasting weight loss results. However the instant 'piling it all back on' is a bit more nuanced, he says because the fat cells become "more efficient."
What does that mean? "Your metabolic rate increases," he says, "so even if you do eat a bit more, as your metabolism has been increased, you will burn that off a little quicker and you are less likely to put on more fat."
In the clinical trials with the laser, the participants lost inches without changing their diet.
So what do the clinical trials say?
People who tried it lost around 10cm around the middle in the space of a month. In a double-blind placebo-controlled trial, 53 adults with a BMI between 30 and 40 tested either the laser or a placebo (LED) three times a week for four weeks. The laser group lost on average 10.52 cm off their hips, waist, and upper abdomen combined while the placebo group lost virtually nothing (1.80cm). The effects continued in the weeks after treatment as the fat continued to be metabolised, with an average of 15.21cm lost in total.
There are also some results for cellulite reduction too, for which it's received FDA approval (meaning it lives up to claims. More than half of those using the laser in a similar trial saw an improvement in cellulite appearance.
Dr Somji tells me that it’s had interesting early results on people with migraines and even PTSD.
What happens during an Emerald Laser treatment?
The procedure is very quick and faff-free. I didn’t have to get changed, I simply hoiked up my top, shuffled my waistband down a bit and lay under an arch with ten green lights on which made rather pretty dancing patterns on my skin. I couldn't feel a thing. I put on the safety glasses and nodded off until the practitioner came to turn me over after 15 minutes to treat any back fat. And then I was done. It really is a lunchtime quick fix, providing that your lunch doesn’t involve Krispy Kremes.
Dr Somji tells me that he is usually bouncing off the walls for a couple of days after a treatment – and feels quite hungry. Afterwards, I felt energised although not particularly peckish, thank goodness.
What results did we notice?
I didn’t take any before or after measurements (I’d convinced myself I wouldn’t see a difference) but when my waistband started to feel a bit looser over the next day or two I went back for a second session. This time, the therapist measured me before and after and, surprise, two centimetres had gone from my waist. Four centimetres had departed from my hips, but by contrast, I’d put on two centimetres around my lower ribcage. How so? Dr Somji again: “Around the rib cage there are lymph glands, which expand as fat is flushed away from the body." He reassures me that this is temporary.
Overall I was happy especially as I noticed that four pounds had also gone when I stepped on the scales a few days later (although who knows how much of this was down to the laser) and that they seemed to have stayed off a month on.
I compared notes with Georgia Seago, Editor of Aesthetic Medicine magazine. She lost 11cm in one session (remember, this is over three measurements around the middle).
“I did actually see pretty significant centimetre loss on my waist, mid-waist and hips immediately after one treatment,” she tells me, “but I would echo what Alice said about how quickly this ‘loss’ can reverse. You need to be making other efforts towards weight loss to make it worthwhile. My therapist also explained that some people might not see any result at all initially but then measure at a loss a little later.
"As with all of these treatments, there are many variables, you’re not guaranteed results and if you do get them, it can be hard to know what to attribute them to. I think it’s a very interesting development in body contouring and especially good for those with a really low pain threshold, as it’s literally pain-free compared to every other body tech I’ve tried which have had varying degrees of ouch!”
Where on the body can the Emerald Laser treat?
What if you want to target your chin, your calves or your cankles or bingo wings? The Emerald Laser can be used for specific areas too by repositioning the diodes. Because the energy is more diffused, the device is not so ‘position dependent’ says Dr Somji, unlike Coolscuplting which is more targeted and can create indents.
What does The Emerald Laser treatment cost?
Prices vary depending on the clinic location, but clinics will charge anywhere between £2-£2500 for a programme of six to ten sessions. At Dr Medispa it’s £300 per session or £2500 for a course of ten.
Who is the Emerald Laser not suitable for?
There are no regulated contraindications, however, since there are no long-term evaluations on certain conditions, it’s not recommended for use if you are pregnant, have a pacemaker, or have photosensitive epilepsy or areas of known cancer.
Deep abdominal fat can be the hardest to shift and the least healthy to hold on to, and most of us know what it's like to have a few stubborn pounds that just won't go. For this, laser fat reduction works well and it's useful in giving a health resolution a motivational kickstart. As Dr Somji says, it can't be the only change you make if you want to see results, but it's a great helping hand that surprised me with its effectiveness.
While some trial results on its effects beyond fat loss are yet to be seen, it’s clear that lasers are really are rather clever these days. Now they just need to make one that stops you from opening the fridge.
Victoria Woodhall is Get The Gloss Editorial director follow her on Instagram @vitoriawoodhall