The ABCs of Cosmetic Surgery: Body Contouring Terms to Know


ABCS Body Contouring Terms to Know

Body contouring is a broad term that includes many technologies and surgical techniques. If you’re considering reshaping your contours, it’s likely you’ve also come across some specialized terms that cosmetic surgeons use to discuss body contouring procedures.

We’ve created this glossary to help you decode the words and phrases you’ll encounter. We hope it empowers you when it comes to discussing your needs with a cosmetic surgeon.

This glossary is not intended to provide medical advice or diagnostic information. If you are experiencing any concerning issues, please seek medical care from your cosmetic surgeon, general practitioner, or emergency services.

A | B | C | D | F | G | H | I | K | L | M | N | O | P | R | S | T | V


Also called a “tummy tuck,” abdominoplasty slims the abdominal area by tightening the muscles and trimming excess skin. In some cases, surgeons incorporate liposuction for fat reduction within the abdominoplasty surgery (a process called lipoabdominoplasty). This surgery is commonly performed after pregnancy or weight loss, when patients are left with a significant amount of sagging skin. Abdominoplasty may also include address of diastasis recti, when present. See “Mini Tummy Tuck” and “Diastasis Recti.”

Abdominal wall

The abdominal wall is composed of the tissue layers at the front of the stomach, which serve to place pressure on the organs inside the abdomen. The abdominal wall includes the tissues that protect the organs, horizontal and vertical muscle groups, connective tissue (fascia), and the skin.


Anesthesia is any combination of sedative, numbing, and consciousness-altering drugs administered during surgery to prevent patient discomfort. See “General Anesthesia” and “Local Anesthesia.”


The areola is the pigmented, round area around the nipple. Incisions for male breast reduction (gynecomastia surgery) may be concealed in its border, and areola size may be reduced as part of this or other breast surgeries. See Male Breast Reduction” and Gynecomastia.”

Arm lift

The arm lift, or brachioplasty, is a surgical procedure that remedies “bat wing” sagging in the upper arms through surgery. An incision is made along the inner arm, and the excess skin is removed. See “Brachioplasty.”

Belt lipectomy

Belt lipectomy is a surgical procedure that removes excess sagging skin and tightens the lower body. This same procedure may be referred to as a body lift. See “Body Lift.”

Body contouring

Body contouring refers to the sculpting of skin and fat using various surgical and non-surgical techniques, including liposuction, surgical tightening, cellulite reduction, and injectables. These procedures should be performed by a skilled cosmetic surgeon who holds board certification. Body contouring should not be confused with weight loss: body contouring procedures are intended to provide aesthetic reshaping rather than a change in physical weight.

Body lift

A body lift surgery removes excess skin and tightens the belly, buttocks, hips, and thighs after weight loss. Many people seek this procedure after bariatric surgery has helped them to lose a significant amount of weight. A body lift often includes a tummy tuck, outer thigh lift, and buttock lift; other procedures may be incorporated depending on the patient’s needs.


A brachioplasty, also called an arm lift, is a surgical procedure that removes excess sagging skin from the upper arm through an incision along the inner arm.

Brazilian butt lift

In a Brazilian butt lift, liposuction is performed first to remove fat from the hips, thighs, abdomen, or flanks. It is then purified and re-injected into the buttocks to add volume. The combined power of sculpting away unwanted areas of fat and using that fat to create more shapely buttocks allows cosmetic surgeons to significantly improve lower body contours.


A cannula is a thin, hollow tube used in liposuction. First, the cannula is inserted through a small incision and moved back and forth to break up fat. The cannula is connected to a tube that leads to a vacuum-like device, which then suctions fat from beneath the skin through the cannula. A very thin cannula may also be used to inject dermal fillers into the face. See “Liposuction.”


Cellulite is the dimpled appearance of skin occuring in 85-90% of women. While it is especially common in the buttocks and thighs, cellulite dimpling can be found on many parts of the body. It is caused by collagen bands, or septae, that tether the skin to the muscle. Cellulite can occur independent of skin laxity or excess fat; its cause is unknown, but thought to be hormonal, since men are far less likely than women to experience cellulite.

Circumferential body lift

Another term for the body lift, the circumferential body lift may include a tummy tuck, as well as surgical lifts in both the buttocks and thighs. The goal of this procedure is to reduce excess skin.

Collagenase clostridium histolyticum-aaes

Generally referred to by the brand name QWO™, this new injectable has recently been FDA-approved to reduce the appearance of cellulite in the buttocks of women. Administered as an injection to the cellulite dimples, it is thought to work by dissolving the collagen bands that tether skin to muscle, which create the dimpled look of cellulite. It is estimated to be available at cosmetic surgeons’ offices beginning in spring of 2021.

Compression garments

Surgeons provide their patients with tight-fitting compression garments to be worn for a prescribed length of time after surgery. These garments increase the patient’s comfort, minimize swelling, and ensure that the incision is supported during healing to achieve optimal aesthetic results. After breast augmentation, for example, patients will wear a tight-fitting bra without underwire to support the implants.


Cryolipolysis is the process by which fat cells are prompted to undergo apoptosis, or cell death, after being exposed to a cool temperature for a certain length of time. CoolSculpting® devices rely on this non-surgical fat reduction method. Cryolipolysis results appear gradually over the course of a few months, unlike liposuction, which immediately removes targeted fat cells.

Deoxycholic acid

Deoxycholic acid is marketed under the brand name KYBELLA® as an injectable for reduction of submental fullness, or the double chin. As a non-surgical alternative to liposuction, this injection uses a chemical that naturally occurs in the body to aid in fat breakdown.

Diastasis Recti

Diastasis recti is an abdominal muscle separation that causes the central and lower belly to project forward, even in relatively slim patients. This can lead to back pain and gastric distress. The condition is caused when the fascia connecting the rectus abdominis muscle—a paired muscle at the front of the abdomen—is stretched and remains stretched, rather than gradually contracting back, after pregnancy or substantial weight gain. In either case, tummy tuck surgery is the most effective way to repair diastasis recti. See “Fascia” and “Tummy Tuck.”


Surgical drains are inserted into the surgical site and left in place for a period of time following surgery. They allow the liquids that naturally accumulate while you heal to leave the body, reducing both swelling and the risk of seromas.

Drainless tummy tuck

Some surgeons offer drainless tummy tuck surgery to patients who are good candidates for the modified technique, which employs specialized suturing. This technique is generally only recommended for patients with milder cases of skin laxity.


Fascia is the connective tissue between muscles in the abdomen; superficial fascia also sit below the skin. These fibrous tissues are tightened in abdominoplasty, or tummy tuck, surgery.

Fat grafting

Fat grafting is the removal of fat from one area of the body in order to add contour to another area. See “Fat Transfer.”

Fat injection

Fat injection refers to the use of a patient’s own fat as a dermal filler in the face, or as a body contouring tool in the breast or buttocks. See “Fat Transfer.”

Fat transfer

Fat transfer refers to the process of harvesting fat from one area, such as the hips, thighs, or abdomen; purifying the fat; and re-injecting the fat into other areas of the body for body contouring. Common areas where fat is re-injected include the buttocks, cheeks, and breasts.


In body contouring surgery, the flap is the skin that is surgically released from underlying tissues and repositioned on the body.

General anesthesia

General anesthesia is administered by an anesthesiologist to sedate a patient into a deep sleep. This prevents the patient from moving, feeling pain, or being aware of the surgery. Throughout the duration of general anesthesia, an anesthesiologist monitors the patient. After waking up from anesthesia, the patient may continue to experience residual effects, such as reduced pain and “loopy” behavior, which fade gradually. See “Local Anesthesia.”


Gynecomastia is the common condition of enlarged male breasts, which can be attributed to excess fat, excess glandular tissue, or a combination of both. While there are a number of factors that can contribute to gynecomastia, including hormone imbalance, most men do not know the cause of their enlarged breast tissue. See “Male Breast Reduction” and “Areola.”


A hematoma is an accumulation of blood under the skin after a blood vessel ruptures. Mild hematomas are common after surgery, but more severe hematomas accompanied by excessive pain and irregular bruising may require medical attention.

High-lateral tension abdominoplasty

A high-lateral tension abdominoplasty procedure places incisions both at the base of the abdomen and angling upward at about 45 degrees toward the waist to more evenly distribute the post-surgical tension throughout the tissues of the abdomen. This helps to create a natural-looking flat stomach. A traditional abdominoplasty places the tension only on an incision at the base of the abdomen, which can lead to a stretched and unnatural appearance. See “Abdominoplasty.”


The incision is the surgical opening a surgeon makes in order to perform surgery within the body. Surgeons discuss incision placement with patients ahead of surgery so that patients know what to expect in the recovery process and where scars will be located after healing.

Intravenous sedation

In intravenous sedation, a drug is administered by injection into a vein. As opposed to general anesthesia, which puts the patient into a deep sleep resembling a coma, the purpose of intravenous sedation is to relax the patient during a surgical procedure without putting them to sleep. For body contouring procedures, this may be combined with local anesthesia, for example. See “Local Anesthesia.”


Keloids are overgrown, raised scars that can form after surgery. Individuals who are prone to keloids should discuss the issue with their cosmetic surgeon; they can help determine risk and explain alternative, incisionless treatments.


Lipoabdominoplasty is the combination of liposuction with abdominoplasty, or tummy tuck surgery, and it allows the cosmetic surgeon to provide more complete abdominal reshaping. Liposuction can be performed during an abdominoplasty, a process which may reduce the risk of seromas and the need for drains.


Liposuction reduces fat in an area of the body. After inserting a cannula under the skin through a very small incision, the cosmetic surgeon breaks up the fat and then uses suction to remove the fat cells from the area beneath the skin. The fat cells are permanently removed, so patients who maintain their weight will have long-lasting results. Liposuction can be used on numerous body areas prone to stubborn fat, from under the chin to around the ankles.

Local anesthesia

Local anesthesia refers to the use of topical anesthetic agents, such as lidocaine, or a local anesthetic injection, such as a bupivacaine injection for a TAP nerve block in a tummy tuck surgery. When general anesthesia is not necessary, local and sometimes topical anesthetics may be used in various body contouring procedures, often in combination with oral medication, or sedatives. In the case of a TAP block, the local anesthetic injection is used in combination with general anesthesia to give the patient lasting pain relief to the surgical area after they wake up from general anesthesia. See “General Anesthesia” and “TAP nerve block.”

Lower body lift

A lower body lift is a combination of procedures meant to remove excess skin for a complete, new contour, often after weight loss leaves a patient with excess, sagging skin. A lower body lift usually includes an abdominoplasty (tummy tuck), surgical buttock lift, and thigh lift. This procedure may also be referred to as a body lift.

Lymphatic drainage massage

The lymphatic system requires body movement to drain. When exercise is inadvisable after surgery, post-surgical lymphatic drainage massage (also known as manual lymphatic drainage massage) can be used to stimulate the lymphatic system and promote healing.

Male breast reduction

Male breast reduction surgery treats gynecomastia by surgically removing excess fat, glandular tissue, and/or skin as needed based on the individual’s anatomy. A very small incision is made, and liposuction and/or a gland removal procedure is employed. See “Areola” and “Gynecomastia.”

Medial thigh lift

Also known as an inner thigh lift, medial thigh lift surgery removes excess skin in order to tighten the inner thigh and address skin laxity throughout the area that extends down to the inner knee. For patients with loose skin, i.e. after weight loss, this surgery can help alleviate discomfort and irritation that arises from friction between the thighs.

Microfocused ultrasound with visualization

Marketed under the brand name Ultherapy®, treatment with microfocused ultrasound improves skin elasticity over the course of 3 months following treatment by stimulating the body to grow collagen. This treatment can be used on the chest, neck, and face area, including the eyelids.

Mini tummy tuck

Patients with less significant abdominal sagging may not require a full tummy tuck incision across the length of the lower abdomen. The mini tummy tuck incision is located low below the belly button, just above the pubic hairline, for tightening muscles and skin in the abdomen.

Mommy makeover

The term “mommy makeover” refers to a set of cosmetic procedures that are performed simultaneously to achieve a full body recontouring. This may include a breast lift, breast augmentation or reduction, tummy tuck, and/or liposuction. The surgeon may suggest staging out treatment over the course of multiple visits, or may perform multiple procedures in one operation.

Non-surgical fat reduction

Non-surgical fat reduction refers to any fat-reduction procedure that does not require an incision. Non-surgical fat reduction techniques often have the benefit of requiring little or no downtime for recovery. These techniques, however, are limited in their capacity to change contours; patients who desire more significant reshaping may find liposuction more suitable. See “Cryolipolysis” and “Deoxycholic Acid.”

Outer thigh lift

The outer thigh lift is a surgery that removes excess sagging skin on the outer thigh. This procedure is often combined with a tummy tuck and buttock lift as part of a body lift, especially following dramatic weight loss. See “Body Lift.”

Paradoxical adipose hyperplasia

Also called the “stick of butter” side effect, paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (PAH) is a rare side effect of cryolipolysis in which the treated area, rather than metabolizing the fat cells, reacts to the treatment by expanding and hardening like a “stick of butter.” PAH can be remedied with liposuction, and the newest cryolipolysis technology may help to prevent this result. See “Cryolipolysis.”

Physical examination

A physical examination is required before any body contouring procedure to establish, in communication with your surgeon, your areas of concern and desired results. Your cosmetic surgeon can also show you photos of past patients with a similar body type and goals, allowing you to understand the kind of results you can expect from the treatment and the surgeon.


Plicating is the surgical term for folding and suturing tissue to tighten its surface. In a tummy tuck procedure, for example, tissue is folded into a “tuck” and then sutured to tighten the abdomen.

Radiofrequency (RF) therapy

Utilized in various non-surgical and minimally-invasive cosmetic technologies, radiofrequency (RF) therapy refers to the use of RF energy to treat mild to moderate skin laxity. The RF energy is applied either to the surface of the skin or just below it using a cannula-like device to stimulate collagen and elastin growth. Over the course of a few months following treatments, this gradually leads to firmer skin tone.

Rectus abdominis muscle

The rectus abdominis muscle is a pair of vertical muscles that sit on either side of the abdomen’s midline. In a condition called diastasis recti, these muscles can separate and fail to return to position; this may be treated with a tummy tuck. See “Diastasis Recti.”


Seromas are locations of excess fluid buildup that form after surgery. If you develop a seroma, your surgeon will need to drain the area. Advanced surgical techniques and post-operative protocols, such as the placement of a surgical drain, help to prevent this complication.

Skin contraction

Skin contraction refers to the natural tightening of the skin after surgery, pregnancy, or weight gain has temporarily stretched it. Having good skin contraction is helpful after certain surgical procedures, most notably liposuction.

Skin elasticity

Skin elasticity is the ability of the skin to “bounce back” to its original position after being stretched or moved. Elasticity naturally declines with age. To be a good candidate for liposuction, a patient should have good skin elasticity. If they do not, then a surgical procedure may be used to remove sagging skin.

Skin laxity

Skin laxity is the quality of looseness or drooping in the skin. Skin laxity can be treated with surgical lifts, which remove some skin, or newer radiofrequency therapies, which can treat mild skin laxity by promoting the skin’s natural collagen production.

Stubborn fat

In body contouring terms, stubborn fat is any body fat that is unresponsive to diet and exercise. Body contouring surgery is an effective way to remove these persistent fat deposits.


Surgeons use sutures of many different materials, absorbable and non-absorbable, both internally during surgery and to stitch the external incision site closed.

TAP nerve block

The transversus abdominis plane (TAP) nerve block is a localized anesthetic technique used in abdominal surgeries, including some tummy tucks. During the abdominal surgery, the surgeon utilizes ultrasound to precisely inject the TAP block between the correct layers of abdominal muscle. By reducing pain locally, TAP blocks may lead to the use of fewer oral pain medications.

Thigh lift

A thigh lift, or thighplasty, remove excess skin around the thighs, i.e. after weight loss. This procedure may be combined with liposuction if excess fat is present. The thigh lift may remove excess skin at the hips, outer thighs (this may be called an outer thigh lift or lateral thigh lift), and/or inner thighs (medial thigh lift). Incisions are placed near the groin.

Transverse abdominis muscle

This muscle sits below the rectus abdominis muscle, crossing the abdomen horizontally. See “Rectus Abdominis Muscle.”

Tumescent liposuction

Tumescent liposuction, also known as super-wet liposuction, refers to liposuction aided by the injection of an anesthetic saline solution before the surgeon removes the fat. The saline solution helps to firm the fat for easier removal; this can both reduce discomfort and speed recovery. After the injection, as with all liposuction, a small incision is made, and a cannula is used to both break up the fat and remove it via suction. See “Liposuction.”

Tummy tuck

In a tummy tuck procedure, incisions are made below the abdomen inside the upper bikini line, as well as near the navel, where they can be hidden in the belly button. The abdominal muscles are tightened, excess skin is removed, and the remaining skin is re-draped over the naval to create a natural-looking, flat stomach. Liposuction may be incorporated during the procedure as needed. Tummy tucks may also be used to treat diastasis recti, or abdominal muscle separation. See “Mini Tummy Tuck” and “Diastasis Recti.”

VASER liposuction

VASER liposuction uses ultrasonic energy, administered through a specialized cannula, to break up the fat before physically removing the fat with the cannula. Because less physical movement is required to break up the fat, patients experience less bruising and swelling with this liposuction technique than with traditional liposuction. See “Liposuction.”
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