Still, it appears that for a modest degree of improvement in a trouble spot, the technique may be able to deliver. Avram said that the procedure, if it ever achieves FDA approval and becomes adopted, will most likely be for patients who have a stable weight and are in relatively good shape.
The device works by sucking in a small area of skin and cooling it for about an hour -- a process that Avram said is painless. Following the procedure, the fat does not disappear right away; in fact, it takes between two and four months to dissipate.
"It's a gradual process, which probably means it's a safer process," Avram said.
But if a patient waits enough, analysis of the fat tissues treated with the technique show that it does work. "In one study, it showed a 22 percent fat layer reduction," Avram said.
As for where this fat actually goes, Avram said it's still a bit of a mystery.
"The short answer is, we don't know," he said. "You would have to figure out a way to see how the fat is metabolized. Because it isn't an acute event, because it happens over time, there is reason to believe that this fat is being taken up more gradually. To me, if the fat removal happens over a long period of time, then in theory it should be safer."
If and when cryolipolysis does become an option for fat reduction, it will be not be the first minimally invasive technique that claims to help patients dissolve away the inches. Purported fat busters that harness ultrasound waves, lasers and injections are among the currently available options, and Avram said the field is growing.
"Increasingly, we're seeing devices being developed to remove fat in a non-invasive manner," he said. "But we're really at the beginning phases of this field."
McGuire said that as a rule of thumb, consumers should be cautious on these new techniques until they are approved and the results are in.
"As with all new therapies, a cautious, skeptical approach is wise, and realistic expectations are essential," McGuire said. "Don't rush to be the first person to try a new technique, since the undesirable side effects, and risks may not be identified initially."
As for the specifics of cryolipolysis, Avram said the precise temperature used in the treatment is a trade secret. But he said that those hoping to get rid of a few bumps and bulges should not try to take matters into their own hands.
"I wouldn't recommend that people jump out into a snow bank and expect to lose fat," he said. "If that worked, Alaska would be the thinnest state in the country.
"This is not something you want to try at home."