A few years ago, if you wanted to banish a double chin, you had only one real option: going under the knife. Your choices were liposuction, laser liposuction, or a surgical neck-lift — all of which required significant downtime. Today, however, you have an entirely new set of options — CoolMini, Thermage, Vela III, and Kybella — most of which can be performed in 30 minutes or less and have your neck looking better in a few weeks. The question is, do they really work?
I decided to try Kybella with Manhattan-based dermatologist Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, M.D., to find out. Alexiades-Armenakas was one of the lead investigators in the FDA trial of Kybella, the fat-blasting injections that launched last year. It has been touted as the biggest thing to hit the beauty world since Botox. Kybella uses deoxycholic acid, a naturally occurring molecule in the body that helps break down fat. Injecting it causes fat cells to be destroyed, taking a few weeks for the body to expel the fat.
Related: 5 Moves to Reduce a Double Chin
The initial reports on Kybella promised a series of injections with minimal pain, a few days of swelling, and a better chin starting within a month. That’s basically the way it goes, except there are several key details to fill in — the pain factor, the potential for crazy swelling, and the fact that you may not see a difference until you have several treatments. Kybella does affect each patient differently, so I compared my results with Hannah F., age 30. Here’s the scoop on what Kybella is really like.
Patient 1: Me, early 40s. Genetic double chin. Three treatments, but conservative — only one vial applied the first time and fewer injections.
Patient 2: Hannah F., 30. Double chin owing to weight gain. Three treatments, but more injections and the full amount of Kybella applied.
You are looking at an average of 20 to 30 injections each visit. A numbing cream and a pain reliever applied first are the key to minimizing any pain. The injections are done at different points around the chin.
Patient 1: There is a burning sensation that happens right after the injections and lasts about 10 minutes. It’s not horrible, but it’s unpleasant. Ice packs and fanning skin with a magazine help slightly, but basically I just have to wait until it passes.
Patient 2: I wouldn’t say it was painful, but it wasn’t nothing. I would say it was pain I could sustain knowing what the outcome was. It was a little sting that lasted a few minutes. The swelling is what was the most uncomfortable feeling — hot to the touch as I could feel my skin swelling up.
When Kybella launched last summer, there were articles that suggested that the swelling would last only a few days and wouldn’t be especially noticeable. The fact is, downtime depends entirely on the patient. For example, Patient 1 and Patient 2 were completely the opposite.
Patient 1: While the average swelling lasts for a week, mine lasted two weeks. My neck looked much worse than it did to begin with (think “bullfrog neck”). While I had little to no bruising, the swelling was very disconcerting because the whole reason I was getting Kybella was to have my neck look better, not worse. After two weeks, I could see it going down slowly, and by the end of four weeks I could see an improvement from before. I definitely advise doing this procedure in the fall and winter, when you can wear turtlenecks — that’s the only thing that allowed me to go out in public.
Patient 2: I could feel my neck swelling for a day and a half. It was hot and very uncomfortable, but I felt like that meant it was working, so I was actually excited. I stayed home for two days and then I was able to cover it with scarves for a few days after that. I did have bruising the first time all around my neck. I went back to Macrene, and she used a device that helps with bruising. They were gone by that afternoon. After three days, I didn’t need scarves and looked like I did before the treatment. Then it got better after that.
Related: 7 Ways to Eliminate a Double Chin
Patient 1: The results after a month were very minimal, which is most likely a result of the fact that I used only one vial and fewer injections to see how I would react first. Most patients get between two to four treatments. The patients in the clinical trials did six treatments (the max) spaced at least a month apart, with 79 percent reporting satisfaction with the procedure and 68 percent showing a Grade 1 improvement. The second treatment was both vials, and the third was more injections.
I didn’t really notice a difference until after the third treatment. That’s when you could really see that it was better. Not perfect, but noticeably better. Come fall, I will do a fourth, but I need to be able to wear turtlenecks to hide the swelling. For many, the key is to combine Kybella with a treatment like near-infrared skin tightening, which Alexiades-Armenakas uses for those with loose skin. “I start with Kybella to get rid of the fat and move to near-infrared to tighten,” she says.
Patient 2: A month after the first treatment, I noticed a lot of change. The second treatment was a breeze. I was shocked I was able to go and see people that evening and not notice any swelling. A month after the third treatment, I was thrilled. My double chin was totally gone. I feel like this is the way I supposed to look and I feel fabulous. I am definitely satisfied with all aspects of treatment. I am so glad I did it.
Kybella can cause side effects that include nerve injury and trouble in swallowing. Most patients, however, just deal with swelling and some bruising.
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