Non-surgical skin tightening has become a popular way for patients to improve their appearance and self-confidence without undergoing surgery and recovery because it is a quick, comfortable treatment with no downtime and no scars.
Radiofrequency has been used for non-surgical skin tightening since 2001; however, it has only recently gained widespread recognition, thanks to high-profile celebrities who rave about the benefits of their RF treatments. If you’re new to the idea of non-surgical RF treatments to improve your appearance, you might be wondering if they’re safe.
In a nutshell, yes—as long as you work with an experienced provider, such as a board-certified cosmetic surgeon who uses approved technologies. However, the more you know, the better decisions you can make about your treatment options, so we’ve gone over this topic in greater depth below.
What exactly is radiofrequency?
Radiofrequency is a type of energy that is measured in wavelengths per second or “frequency.” The frequency of all types of energy, from the sound waves emitted by your iPod to sunlight, the heat emitted by your body, and gamma rays, are classified on the “electromagnetic spectrum.”
One category on this spectrum is radiofrequency (RF), which includes many of the common energy types we use every day, such as WiFi signals, radio and TV waves, and microwave ovens. The radiofrequency energy used in skin tightening is around 450 kilohertz, which is at the low end of the radiofrequency range. To put it in context, the wavelength used in RF skin tightening is approximately 100 million times slower than visible light and over 1 billion times slower than an X-ray. Aside from the physics lesson, RF energy is quite calm when compared to the entire electromagnetic spectrum.
How does radiofrequency tighten skin?
Like any form of energy, RF has the capacity to produce heat—and while each brand-name application uses a slightly different technology, all work by heating the skin’s deeper layers to induce new collagen and elastin production and encourage cell turnover, helping skin become firmer, thicker and more youthful-looking.
An advantage of using RF to heat tissues, as opposed to lasers (which use higher-frequency light waves), is that the lower frequency of RF can safely penetrate to a deeper level, helping to improve skin tone and structure, even lifting tissues. Lasers for the most part work to improve the skin’s surface. Moreover, RF can safely treat more patients with different skin tones without risking permanent discolouration.
Of course, the safety and efficacy of non-surgical RF or any treatment depend on the experience and skill of the person providing that treatment (more on that later).
Radiofrequency in FDA-cleared non-surgical tissue tightening is highly controlled for your safety
The radiofrequency used in non-surgical treatments is not the same as the radiofrequency emitted by your microwave, cell phone, or radar equipment—the radiofrequency used in skin tightening treatments is highly controlled. FDA-approved technologies employ equipment that enables the practitioner to monitor and control the device during treatment to ensure that targeted tissues reach the optimal temperature to induce new collagen production and cell regeneration without overheating.
Clinical studies have shown that RF procedures for skin tightening, whether for vaginal rejuvenation, facial skin tightening, or body contouring, have an excellent safety profile.
What are the risks associated with radiofrequency treatments?
Along with effectively lifting and tightening tissues without surgery or downtime, one of the most significant advantages of RF treatments, when performed correctly, is that post-procedure recovery is quick and simple. Depending on the treatment, side effects are typically minor and transient, consisting of mild and temporary swelling, redness, and tingling. In addition, RF treatments can be performed safely in conjunction with injectables, microneedling, or other minimally invasive treatments.
When it comes to non-surgical skin tightening, always go with an experienced, qualified provider.
As low-risk, convenient, and effective as non-surgical RF treatments are, use the same level of caution when selecting a provider as you would for cosmetic surgery. If performed incorrectly, RF, like any concentrated dose of energy, poses a risk of burns. You can almost entirely eliminate this risk by selecting a provider with extensive knowledge and experience in cosmetic laser and energy treatments, as well as specific training and experience in the treatment application you are considering.
A board-certified cosmetic surgeon is more likely to have the skill and experience to perform RF treatments safely and effectively, as well as to offer radiofrequency technologies that have been thoroughly tested for radiofrequency administration safety.
A highly experienced physician’s assistant or registered nurse who meets the above criteria and works under the supervision of a board-certified cosmetic surgeon may also be qualified to provide treatment. Inquire with a provider about the number of times they have performed the treatment you are considering for your specific issue and skin type. During your consultation, they should also be able to show you before and after photos of their own patients.