What to Know About Skin Tightening

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on May 12, 2023
3 min read

Wrinkles and sagging or crepey skin naturally appear as your body ages. Skin loses its ability to produce elastin and collagen, which contribute to your skin’s elasticity and firmness. 

In recent years, a number of nonsurgical procedures have been developed to help tighten the skin on the face or elsewhere on your body using radiofrequency, ultrasound, and lasers. While these treatments are nonsurgical, they should only be performed by a licensed professional and under the supervision of a doctor. 

The following treatments use devices to deliver targeted energy to heat deeper layers of your skin and stimulate collagen and elastin production. 

Ultrasound skin tightening. A micro-focused ultrasound is used to send heat deep into your skin, up to 5 millimeters below the surface. This can tighten and lift skin on your face, neck, and upper chest, reducing the appearance of wrinkles.

Results from your ultrasound therapy can take up to 6 months to appear, but they may be visible after only one treatment. 

Radiofrequency (RF) therapy. As with ultrasound skin tightening, a handheld device is used to send heat into your skin to trigger collagen production. Unlike ultrasound, radiofrequency targets the outer layer of your skin called the epidermis. It is FDA-approved to treat the face, neck, body, and hands. RF treatments can be combined with microneedling to treat deeper layers of skin. In either case, results appear gradually. 

While many people see results from only one RF treatment, it may take from two to six treatments to achieve the desired results. Results can last up to three years with the right skincare regimen.

Laser treatment. Here, handheld lasers send heat deep into the skin, destroying the epidermis to reach the underlying dermis. Laser treatments have proven to be particularly effective on the skin of the belly and upper arms. Most people receive from three to five treatments.

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL). Multiple wavelengths of light are delivered to deep layers of your skin. In most cases, multiple treatments are required. 

IPL is often combined with radiofrequency. The RF treatment enables the doctor to target deeper layers of your skin. The IPL allows them to treat a larger amount of skin and a variety of skin conditions. IPL treatments are usually not recommended for persons with tanned or darker skin.

All of these procedures are performed in a doctor’s office and should take less than an hour. You should be able to resume normal activity within a day of treatment and can treat mild discomfort with over-the-counter painkillers. Their side effects are generally mild and may include:

  • Redness
  • Numbness
  • Bruising
  • Discomfort‌

There are several alternatives to the non-surgical treatments above. You may prefer to use creams or receive dermal injections.

Botox (Botulinum Toxin Type A). When injected into certain muscles, botox keeps them from contracting. This makes your skin appear smoother. Results take up to 3 days to appear and last several months.

Soft Tissue Fillers. These injections include fat, collagen, and hyaluronic acid. They plump your skin and smooth wrinkles. The effects are temporary.

Over-the-counter and prescription topicals. Topical creams and ointments generally produce mild improvements at best. Look for products that contain retinoids such as adapalene, tazarotene, or tretinoin for the best results. While it can take several months, many people notice an improvement in fine lines and wrinkles after continued use.

Other ingredients that may help treat or prevent wrinkles include:

Finally, applying moisturizer to your skin will also help plump it up, making it look younger. Using sunscreen regularly will also help you prevent skin damage.