What Is Radiofrequency Skin Tightening?

Over time, your skin will show signs of age. It’s natural: Skin loosens up because it starts to lose proteins called collagen and elastin, the substances that make the skin firm. The result is wrinkles, sagging, and a crepey appearance on your hands, neck, and face‌.‌

There are numerous anti-aging treatments available to change the look of older skin. Dermal fillers can improve the appearance of wrinkles for several months. Plastic surgery is an option, but it is expensive, and recovery can take a long time. 

If you’re looking to try something other than fillers but don’t want to commit to major surgery, you may want to consider skin tightening with a type of energy called radio waves. 

How Does Radiofrequency Skin Tightening Work?

Radiofrequency skin tightening, or RF treatment, is a non-invasive procedure that some doctors do in their office. The doctor will use a wand that is connected to a machine that creates radio waves. They will pass the wand over your body to apply radio waves to your skin.

The waves give off heat that prompts your skin to produce more collagen and elastin. The treatment also speeds up cell turnover, so the skin gets firmer and thicker over time. 

The process can take approximately 30 to 90 minutes, depending on how much skin you are having treated. The treatment will leave you with minimal discomfort.    

You may see these treatments called by the brand names Thermi, Exilis, Profound RF, and Thermage, among others.

What Can Radiofrequency Treatments Help?

Radiofrequency skin tightening is a safe, effective anti-aging treatment for a number of different parts of the body. It is a popular treatment for the face and neck area. It can also help with loose skin around your belly or upper arms‌.

Some doctors offer radiofrequency treatments for body sculpting. They may also offer it for vaginal rejuvenation, to tighten the delicate skin of the genitals without surgery.

What's Good to Know Before Getting Radiofrequency Skin Tightening?

Safety. Radiofrequency skin tightening is considered safe and effective. The FDA has approved it for reducing the appearance of wrinkles.

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Effects. You may start to see changes to your skin right away. The most significant improvements to skin tightness will come later. Skin can keep getting tighter up to six months after the radiofrequency treatment. 

Recovery. Normally, since this procedure is completely noninvasive, you won’t have much of a recovery time. You may be able to go back to normal activities right after the treatment. 

In the first 24 hours, you may see some redness or feel tingling and soreness. Those symptoms disappear pretty quickly. In rare cases, people have reported pain or blistering from the treatment.

Cost. The price of radiofrequency skin tightening varies. The cost will depend on the size of the area you wish to have treated. The average cost is $2,000, but it can be more if you are having a large area treated‌.

Number of treatments. Most people only need one treatment to see full effects. Doctors recommend following an appropriate skin care regimen after the procedure. Sunscreen and other skin care products may help make the effects last longer.

Appropriateness. You should speak to your doctor if you have questions about whether radiofrequency skin tightening would be right for you. They can talk to you about your medical history and what you want to accomplish with treatment. Your doctor can tell you if you will benefit from the treatment.‌

How Long Does Radiofrequency Skin Tightening Last?

The effects of radiofrequency skin tightening are not as long-lasting as the effects from surgery‌. But they do last a significant amount of time.

Once you’ve had the treatment, you shouldn’t need to repeat it for a year or two. Dermal fillers, by comparison, need to be touched up several times per year.   

There are radiofrequency devices you can buy to use at home. These are not as powerful as the ones a doctor has, and the results may not be as noticeable or long-lasting. 

Some of the home devices recommend you use a special gel to protect your skin when using them. You can ask your doctor if they would be a good choice for you‌. 

If you are considering a radiofrequency skin tightening treatment, you should look for a trained and certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon. They will tell you if you are a good candidate for the treatment. They can also tell you what to expect when you get your procedure done. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on May 19, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology Association: “MANY WAYS TO FIRM SAGGING SKIN.”

The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery: “So, Are Radiofrequency Treatments Really Safe?”

American Society of Plastic Surgeons: "2018 Average Surgeon/Physician Fees," “What are female genital radiofrequency and laser treatments?”

Cleveland Clinic: “Skin.”

Consumer Guide to Plastic Surgery: “Thermage – A Growing Body of Evidence.”

DermCollective: "At-Home Skin Tightening Machines: Do They Work and How to Choose One."

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