When it comes to non-invasive body contouring, we often hear about procedures that are ideal for people who are generally in good shape but have a stubborn area that seems to be immune to diet and exercise. I have a pretty consistent workout routine and eat fairly well, yet my lower abdomen never seemed to get the message. Basically, I’d fall into that ‘relatively fit but frustrated’ category.
When BTL’s Emsculpt® hit the market in late 2018, I, like so many of my fellow beauty editors, was intrigued by the fact that the device could essentially mimic the effects of 20,000 crunches in 30 minutes — sans sweat. I was even more intrigued in late 2020 when BTL announced Emsculpt Neo®, an updated take on the toning treatment that pairs the OG device’s high-intensity focused electromagnetic technology (HIFEM) with radiofrequency (RF) fat reduction for even better results.
So, you can imagine my delight when I was invited to try Emsculpt Neo® with Arash Akhavan, MD, a board certified dermatologist and founder of The Dermatology & Laser Group in New York City. In February, I underwent the recommended treatment protocol on, yes, my stubborn lower abs, and, nearly three months after my final session, it’s time to talk about results. Keep reading for my experience with Emsculpt Neo® — from how it works and who it’s best for to what to expect before, during, and after treatment.
What Is Emsculpt Neo®?
First things first, let’s talk about the technology itself. As we briefly discussed above, the original Emsculpt® employed HIFEM to induce supramaximal muscle contractions to build muscle and sculpt the abdomen, arms, buttocks, and thighs. Patients came in for four 30-minute sessions in a two-week span and would see increased muscle development at the treatment area (about 16 percent, according to BTL). The hyper-contractions also led to fat burn (to the tune of around 15 percent).
With that in mind, you might be wondering what’s different about Emsculpt Neo®. “Emsculpt Neo® builds on the original Emsculpt® device in two key ways: the addition of radiofrequency energy to permanently destroy more fat, as well as improved use of HIFEM energy to build even more muscle than before,” Dr. Akhavan explains. “This results in larger growth of muscle and higher fat loss than any other device available.” Manufacturer studies show an average of 30 percent reduction in subcutaneous fat and a 25 percent increase in muscle after four treatments.
Emsculpt Neo® can be used to tone and contour the same areas as its predecessor, and the procedure is customizable. While the HIFEM and RF energies can be deployed simultaneously, patients can also opt for one without the other. For example, it’s possible to get the effects of a butt lift without sacrificing volume (or going under the knife). “In areas such as the buttocks, the fat burning component is typically not used so that patients can get a non-surgical butt lift,” Dr. Akhavan notes. The result? “A more firm, toned, and lifted buttock without a reduction in size,” he adds.
Who Is a Candidate for Emsculpt Neo®?
Emsculpt Neo® is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on patients with a BMI (body mass index) up to 35, and Dr. Akhavan says “almost anyone” can benefit from building muscle and burning fat. It should be noted, however, that it is not an option for anyone with metal or electronics (think: copper IUDs, pacemakers, etc.) in their bodies.
My pre-pandemic workout regimen included a few boutique fitness classes a week, walking as much as possible (I live in NYC), and trying to eat well (sweet tooth be damned). Since the start of the pandemic, cultivating a daily exercise routine has helped keep me sane, and it has also served as a way to offset the effects of my sweet tooth that seems to get, well, sweeter with each passing news day. My workouts have been split between cardio (running and bouncing on a small rebounder) and sculpting (yoga, light weights, and mat pilates), and I’ve generally noticed more tone and definition everywhere except my low abs.
During my virtual consultation, Dr. Akhavan confirmed that I was a candidate for the entire Emsculpt Neo® experience (HIFEM and RF), which would permanently remove excess fat and sculpt. While that sounded great, what stood out to me the most were the functional benefits he spoke of. “The coolest part of treatment is that, in addition to its amazing cosmetic benefits, it also works to actually strengthen the muscle groups being treated,” he shares. That means patients who treat their abdomen are truly strengthening their core (hi, longer planks!), while those who treat their buttocks are able to squat and deadlift with stronger glutes.
What Is the Emsculpt Neo® Treatment Protocol?
At Dr. Akhavan’s practice, Emsculpt Neo® patients come in once a week for four weeks. If you are keeping count, that’s four treatments in a one-month span. Each session is 30 minutes and involves strapping a paddle-like device around the treatment area (in my case, the lower abdomen). Once it was secure, my technician, Alli, would gradually turn up the power until it reached full strength.
If you’ve read reviews of the original Emsculpt® treatment, you likely heard that it was pretty much painless — aside from getting used to the way the constant contractions feel. In my experience, Emsculpt Neo® isn’t all that different, though the RF adds a warming effect. According to Dr. Akhavan, patients who have previously had Emsculpt® may find the contractions to be a bit more intense with the new device. Personally, they caused my feet to lift and my voice to jolt, but they didn’t hurt.
While I wouldn’t say that it was the most comfortable half hour of my life, the sensation was entirely manageable (shoutout to Alli for chatting with me through every treatment, which absolutely kept my mind off things!).
“Emsculpt Neo® has the least side effects of any cosmetic device we use in our office,” Dr. Akhavan says. When the paddle came off, I found that the area beneath it was red and sweaty because of the RF. By the time I got home, it had always subsided. In addition to the redness that can last up to 24 hours, Dr. Akhavan explains that “patients commonly experience mild soreness in the area for one to two days, similar to what you would experience after exercise.” Essentially, you may feel like you just finished a good workout, and most people “welcome this sensation as evidence that the device is ‘working,’” he notes.
Dr. Akhavan and Alli also cautioned me that I might be more thirsty and tired than usual for the first 24 hours (it is a detoxifying treatment, after all), and I should not be surprised if I look and feel bloated. I didn’t notice any fatigue, but I did find myself guzzling water. As for the bloating, I definitely experienced puffiness throughout the four weeks of treatment and for several weeks after.
When Do You See Results from Emsculpt Neo®?
Patience is key when it comes to enjoying the results of Emsculpt Neo®. While you’ll see an increase in strength and muscle tone within a few weeks of the final treatment, the fat loss improves over the course of three months.
I personally noticed a marked improvement in strength and stamina around the three-week post-procedure mark. Seemingly out of nowhere, I was running farther and faster without extra effort. During these workouts, my posture is more upright and engaged — even as the miles wage on — which I can only attribute to treatment. Planking also feels easier.
Aesthetically (as you can see in the before and after photo above), my waistline is slimmer, my abs have a bit more definition, and my stomach is flatter. As Dr. Akhavan explains, the fat cells have been permanently destroyed (yay!), but the increased muscle needs to be maintained. “Any muscle that is built in areas that are toned is just like the muscle gained by exercise and will need to be maintained with further sessions or with an improved exercise regimen,” he shares.
If I’m being honest, the functional benefits of Emsculpt Neo® have been the most rewarding for me. While regular exercise and a healthy diet are obviously crucial to long-term success, maintenance Emsculpt Neo® treatments are also encouraged. “For our patients, if feasible, we recommend a single session once every two months to maintain and even improve their results,” Dr. Akhavan says. I haven’t scheduled a follow-up yet, but I do plan to pay Dr. Akhavan and his team another visit soon.
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