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HealthWatch: Using Heated Helium To Tighten Extra Skin

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There's an amazing new way to tighten that extra skin you're not so happy with.

Maybe you've lost weight or had babies or need a little nip and tuck on your arms. As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reported Tuesday, the new technique uses something that looks like a mini-flame thrower.

The "flame" is actually super-heated helium called plasma. That's useful because if you have liposuction to remove fat you're often left with extra skin that's hard to get rid of. The hot plasma can actually shrink the skin without burning.

skin tightening
A new procedure uses super-heated helium to tighten extra skin. (Photo: CBS2)

Here's how.

"Loose skin after two babies and working out there were just some areas that weren't getting tight enough," patient Tania Perez said.

"I'm very short-waisted. My abdomen has kind of always bothered me," patient Michelle Zweifler said.

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Both Michelle and Tania had similar tummy issues, just a little extra fat and loose skin. Michelle is a plastic surgeon, so she knows that liposuction is the best way to get rid of that extra fat, but then you're left with extra skin.

"I definitely don't want sagging skin afterwards. I want stomach to look flatter, not saggier," Michelle said.

So both Michelle and Tania opted for a new technique called plasma skin tightening. Plasma refers to the super-heated ionized helium gas.

"This type of energy allows us put a lot of heat without burning and that heat allows tightening," said Dr. Ryan Neinstein of Lenox Hill Hospital.

Here's how it works. After local anesthesia and numbing, Michelle had a little liposuction, then through the same small incision, Dr. Neinstein inserts the plasma generator. You can actually see the plasma through the skin. The heat generated causes the collagen fibers in the skin to contract, kind of like shrink wrap.

But how does that not burn the skin?

"The helium gas that is being converted to the energy is also scavenging the heat as if you're blowing hot air and 100 times more cold air all at the same time," Dr. Neinstein said.

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The skin-tightening technique works well on inner thighs, upper arms, flanks and even male chest issues. And on Tania's abdomen, you can see the extra skin before plasma and then just a week later the pinch test is much tighter.

"I feel confident. I feel the skin is tighter. I was about to give up wearing a bikini and now I feel I can do that again," Tania said.

And Tania went back to work the day after her procedure. The patient is awake under local anesthesia. You have to wear a compression garment like Spanx for a week or so and then you can go back to exercising.

As easy and safe as this is, it is still surgery.

The average cost is about $6,500 for liposuction and plasma.

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