If someone told me there was a medical device that could build muscle and burn fat on my body's most stubbornly pudgy spots, I'd think they were nuts. But then I tried it for myself….and boy, was I wrong. My butt became lifted and round in a way that I was never able to achieve, no matter how many squats or lunges I did, and I suddenly, magically, had abs! Who knew?
And what's the name of this aesthetic device? Emsculpt, and it's super-powered next-gen little sister, Emsculpt Neo. Read on to find out what, exactly, they do and the Emsculpt results you can expect.
What Is Emsculpt — and How Does It Work?
"Emsculpt is a non-invasive body contouring treatment that builds muscle and sculpts the body," explains New York City-based dermatologist, Dendy Engelman, M.D., of the trailblazing technology packed into this FDA-cleared device. Launched in 2018, the machine is approved to use on those seemingly immune-to-exercise spots, including the buttocks, thighs, arms, and legs.
By using high-intensity focused electromagnetic technology (HIFEM), Emsculpt deeply and intensely stimulates the muscles, to "allow you to achieve fitness goals that otherwise remain out of reach," says author and cosmetic dermatologist, Paul Jarrod Frank, M.D. He adds that when used, it triggers 20,000 muscle contractions in the targeted area in just one 30-minute session, essentially tricking your body into thinking you just did 20,000 crunches or squats to tone and strengthen the area. (It's no surprise Drew Barrymore and her celeb friends are also fans of the treatment.)
EmSculpt is pain-free, but because of the severity of the contractions, you may feel slightly sore afterwards, comparable to an intense workout, experts say. Throughout the treatment, there are five break periods with a tapping sound, which is actually "releasing the lactic acid in your muscles" so, no, you won't actually feel sore the next day like you would if you actually did 20,000 crunches, says Dr. Frank. And the best part? There aren't any known side effects of Emsculpt (like PAH, a known side effect of CoolSculpting), so you can try the treatment worry-free.
What About Emsculpt Neo?
Fast forward to late 2020 with the introduction of the Neo, an updated and slightly more powerful version of EmSculpt, which activates around 24,000 contractions versus Emsculpt's 20,000.
While it retains the OG device's HIFEM technology and still uses a handheld applicator, the Neo also throws in the addition of something called radiofrequency fat reduction. (Think of it as the equivalent of lifting weights plus a crazy intense SoulCycle class.) Here's how radiofrequency works: "The muscle temperature quickly rises by several degrees, which prepares muscles for exposure to stress," explains New York City plastic surgeon, David Shafer, M.D., comparing it to a workout warm-up. "Thenn, in less than four minutes, the temperature of the subcutaneous fat reaches levels that cause apoptosis, which is when the fat cells are permanently damaged and slowly removed from the body." Over the next two months, the damaged fat cells are naturally flushed out of the body, similar to the way Coolsculpting works.
A typical course of treatment is one session every week for four weeks, which cosmetic dermatologist Kenneth Mark, M.D., says "are the equivalent of 12 to 16 weeks of a high-intensity workout program." We know, it sounds too good to be true, but derms can't stop singing Neo's praises, which is why it made InStyle's list of the best, non-invasive, cutting-edge beauty treatments of 2021.
Who's an Ideal Candidate?
Both Emsculpt and Emsculpt Neo are hyper-targeted and designed to target smaller surface areas (it's most commonly used on the upper thighs.) The devices are not considered a replacement for liposuction and are intended for those who are close to their goal weight (it can be used to treat patients up to a BMI of 35, Dr. Shafer says) but just can't seem to lose those final few pounds, or have a stubborn pocket of fat they want to target in a specific area. It's also great for athletes and those looking to elevate their muscular strength to enhance their workout performance, Dr. Engelman says.
According to Dr. Shafer, the devices have "broad patient appeal" because the appointments are quick and don't require any downtime — I continued with errands and meeting friends for dinner after every treatment without any lingering discomfort or pain.
One caveat: You cannot use this device if you have any metal implants such as a pacemaker or an IUD, Dr. Engelman says.
How Much Is Emsculpt?
All in, you can expect to shell out $3,400 for four sessions of the Neo, or around $850 for one, and $3,000 for the OG at about $750 per session, but prices will vary depending on where you live and who you go to for the treatments.
I Tried Emsculpt Neo On My Butt and Abs — This Is What It Felt Like
Intrigued — and to be honest, skeptical — of the Neo's buzz, I did the recommended course of four weekly treatments, on both my butt and stomach. The appointments were simple: I laid down on the leveled doctor's chair and a handheld applicator was placed directly on top of my abs for 30 minutes. Then to treat my butt, my doctor switched over to two applicators — one on each butt cheek. The handheld tool immediately warmed up and every few seconds (it also softly makes a tick sound, so you can prepare yourself), I could literally feel my abs and butt contracting and releasing. Underneath the surface, my body was working overtime building muscle and burning fat.
To sum up my own experience with Emsculpt Neo (the newer, souped-up version) in a word? Weird. The Neo wasn't painful, but I could literally feel my abs and butt contracting and releasing. The contractions were definitely intense and towards the end of each 30-minute treatment, I was ready to wrap it up. The handheld tool's warmth felt nice, but as the intensity increased, I broke a sweat as if I were actually working out. After the first session, I could feel my abs in a way that I never had before, almost as if I could feel them strengthening deep in my core. I also noticed that I was extremely thirsty throughout the day, which checks out, says Dr. Mark, because your body thinks you just put it through a HIIT workout.
When Do You See Emsculpt Results?
Just like other fat-melting devices, Emsculpt and Emsculpt Neo don't work overnight when it comes to fat loss, but you'll feel stronger after just a session or two.
"We know that muscle results appear faster than fat, so muscular results are evident after the second treatment," explains Dr. Mark. For fat loss, on the other hand, you can expect to see the full effect two months after the last treatment, he says. Dr. Mark adds that he personally noticed an improvement in his own body a week after his first session.
According to Dr. Frank, Emsculpt studies show a 15 to 20% increase in muscle growth and fat reduction in the treated area after a course of treatment. You should plan for four treatments, spaced a week apart, for the Neo, says Dr. Shafer, but for the classic Emsculpt, a minimum of four sessions scheduled two to three days apart is ideal.
"A lot of patients have noticed reduced fat, increased muscle strength, and even enhanced workout performance, like being able to complete more reps," says Dr. Shafer of the Neo. "Patients experience an average of 30% reduction in fat and an average of 25% more muscle mass" after four treatments.
How Long Does Emsculpt Last?
Since Emsculpt tones muscles, and the Neo strengthens and melts fat, the longevity of the results are slightly different. For me, Neo treatments didn't replace exercise, but rather served as a super boost of support for the work I was already putting in at the gym, which I believe sped up how fast I saw results (after one session), as well as how long they lasted (around eight months, my beloved ab lines started to disappear). They also gave me that extra oomph of confidence, knowing that I could slide into my (formerly) too-tight jeans and that I finally had ab lines at all!
"The fat cells are permanently gone," explains Dr. Mark, of what you can expect with the Neo. By damaging the fat cells, the Neo triggers the body to flush them out over the next few weeks, and adult bodies do not usually generate additional fat cells. "In that sense, it is permanent." However, with significant weight gain, "the residual fat cells could increase in size" causing the treated area to plump back up, "but that would take a significant weight increase," he explains.
Sadly, muscles require maintenance, and despite four sessions at 20,000 or more contractions, depending on the device, the results will wane over time. The timeline of visible results will vary from person to person, says Dr. Engleman, depending upon "the patient's diet, physical activity, and maintenance treatments," if they choose to continue the regimen.
"The muscle improvement could easily revert, similar to when you stop working out and muscle atrophies," says Dr. Mark, adding that the data shows muscle duration up to a year. As for maintaining those rock-hard abs and a slimmer silhouette, additional sessions will extend the duration of the effects for either device he says, but optimal maintenance is "determined on a case-by-case basis."