Linda Evangelista Claims This Popular Cosmetic Procedure Left Her ‘Brutally Disfigured’

Supermodel Linda Evangelista says that CoolSculpting, a popular cosmetic procedure, did the opposite of what it claimed to do—and left her “permanently deformed.” In an Instagram post, Evangelista revealed new details about what happened and announced she is suing the company behind CoolSculpting.

“Today I took a big step towards righting a wrong that I have suffered and kept to myself for over five years. To my followers who have wondered why I have not been working while my peers’ careers have been thriving, the reason is that I was brutally disfigured by Zeltiq’s CoolSculpting procedure which did the opposite of what it promised,” Evangelista wrote in the post. “It increased, not decreased, my fat cells and left me permanently deformed even after undergoing two painful, unsuccessful corrective surgeries. I have been left, as the media described, ‘unrecognizable.’”

She went on to explain that she developed paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (PAH), “a risk of which I was not made aware before I had the procedures.” PAH has destroyed her livelihood, Evangelista wrote, but it has also “sent me into a cycle of deep depression, profound sadness, and the lowest depths of self-loathing. In the process, I have become a recluse.” 

Evangelista filed a $50 million lawsuit in New York federal court this week seeking damages for emotional distress and lost wages due to negligence on the part of CoolSculpting maker Zeltiq Aesthetics, CNN reported. She has reportedly not earned anything as a model since 2016 due to the effects of the procedure.

CoolSculpting is a nonsurgical fat-reduction procedure that works by freezing fat cells, which the body then eliminates through waste. The procedure may be an attractive option to consumers because it requires no downtime and allows for a targeted approach, the Mayo Clinic explains. Some common side effects of CoolSculpting can include discomfort during the procedure (such as tugging, numbness, or pinching), as well as temporary numbness, swelling, redness, bruising, and stinging after the treatment, the Mayo Clinic says.

But PAH is another possible side effect of the procedure, which occurs when fat tissue accumulates in a particular area. It’s characterized by “the formation of a large, painless, firm, partially mobile mass that develops at the treatment site,” researchers write in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal.

Although it’s rare, recent research suggests PAH may be more common than researchers originally thought. Looking at 16 reports of PAH after cryolipolysis (the technical term for the CoolSculpting procedure), researchers in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology argue that, “the continuing popularity and high volume of cryolipolysis procedures performed may suggest that PAH may not be a ‘rare’ adverse effect.” 

Experts don’t know exactly what causes PAH, but the researchers here theorize that the procedure may unintentionally “select” for particularly stubborn fat cells with natural advantages that allow them to survive the freezing process. Their investigation also found the rate of PAH was higher among men and among Hispanic and Latinx people who underwent the cryolipolysis procedure, but it’s not clear why.

Another recent study, published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, looked at side effects after more than 8,600 cryolipolysis cycles in about 2,100 patients in eight different facilities. Their results showed that PAH occurred in 0.05% to 0.39% of procedures, which is higher than the manufacturer’s estimate of 0.025%.

PAH is treatable in some patients, according to a small study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. In the study, the authors identified 11 patients who developed PAH after cryolipolysis, the majority of whom underwent other procedures that successfully treated the issue. Of those patients (including eight men and three women, all of whom were Hispanic), six were treated with surgical liposuction alone and one received liposuction with abdominoplasty. Of those who received liposuction, three required a second procedure. The authors note that corrective procedures may be more successful after six to nine months when the area affected by PAH has softened.

In Evangelista’s case, two corrective treatments weren’t successful. And the experience has left her with both physical and emotional scars. “With this lawsuit, I am moving forward to rid myself of my shame, and going public with my story,” Evangelista wrote. “I’m so tired of living this way. I would like to walk out my door with my head held high, despite not looking like myself any longer.”

Zeltiq’s parent company, Allergan Aesthetics, did not respond to SELF’s request for comment.

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