The tightening and contouring technology is booming lately — and for good reason.
The popularity of non- and minimally invasive treatments has surged in the last two years, and with it, a renewed focus on overall skin improvement. This is partially owed to the advancements in technology and thank goodness for that, because six week period downtime does not sound like an attractive option anymore.
And since more patients are looking for less invasive treatments that address multiple concerns at once, radio-frequency treatments (or RF, for short) have once again become a top request at aesthetic clinics.
Here’s everything you should know about the benefits, side effects, and costs of this face and body treatment before you book.
What is Radio-frequency?
The term “radio-frequency” refers to the thermal energy that’s delivered to the skin by a device with the intention of causing micro-injuries, which trigger the creation of new collagen. Radio-frequency treatments can be performed on the face and all over the body, and it’s known to tighten, firm and lift the skin with little to no downtime.
“[Many] procedures in cosmetic medicine are based on the concept of a ‘controlled injury’ to the skin,” says Newport Beach, California-based board-certified dermatologist Tony Nakhla, M.D. In the case of radio-frequency, he says, radio waves pass through the skin’s surface to heat up the underlying tissue and cause a controlled burn. This triggers the body’s innate healing process, resulting in the production of the skin’s natural structural components like collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid. After the skin heals, the result is a tighter, firmer, and lifted complexion. RF can also be used to contour the face and body due to its skin-tightening and fat-reduction capabilities.
The treatment itself isn’t new — as double board-certified oculofacial plastic surgeon Robert Schwarcz, M.D., points out, it’s been around for 20 years — but it has evolved considerably over the years. Dr. Hartman refers to its current technology as “the most-innovative method” of treating skin laxity and crepe-y skin.
Who is Radio-frequency For?
“Patients of all ages are now more interested in RF than ever,” says Newport, California-based board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon Stefani Kappel, M.D., and that she recommends radio-frequency treatments for those over the age of 20.
Radio-frequency can provide different benefits for different age groups: during their 20s, Dr. Hartman’s patients typically seek RF to treat acne scars and skin texture, while applications for skin tightening of the face, jawline, and neck become more popular in and after patients’ 30s. Some older patients opt for RF treatments to delay, forego, or enhance the outcomes of facial surgeries.
Dr. Hartman also points out that RF treatments can be used on all skin tones and types without the risk of both hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation — a rare and versatile attribute that sets it apart from other lasers and broadband light treatments.
What Are the Benefits of Radio-frequency?
Tightening & Lifting
Though efficacy will vary depending on the patient, modality used, and body part treated. One benefit of RF that Dr. Kappel notes is collagen banking, or pre-emptively mitigating the natural decline in collagen production that occurs with age. “We start to lose 10 percent of our total collagen stores each decade, [so] younger patients will often do RF treatments to increase their collagen reserves,” says Dr. Kappel. This increase in collagen production means patients’ complexions appear more tightened and lifted.
She adds that the collagen-boosting benefits improve over time, as the skin’s fibroblasts — the cells in connective tissue that typically stiffen and becomes less efficient with age — remain accustomed to creating collagen. Dr. Hartman agrees that this prolonged tightening and lifting effect can be so pronounced that it can improve outcomes post-cosmetic procedure or even persuade a patient to delay or forego the decision to go under the knife altogether.
While plumper-looking, tighter skin is most common goal with RF, it can also retexture skin when combined with micro-needling. This can reduce the appearance of acne scarring on the face or stretch marks on the body.
The possibility of intentional fat reduction — especially when combined with skin tightening — allows for contouring of the face and body.
Board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, M.D., who is based in New York City, explains, “[RF] raises [the treatment’s] temperature, and then within four minutes, the heat causes apoptosis, which means the targeted fat cells are permanently damaged and naturally filtered out by the body.”
Which Device is Best For Me?
There are many types of devices that can deliver this type of thermal energy.
For instance Forma by Inmode is a non-invasive, sub-dermal heating technology designed specifically to remodel and rejuvenate tissue. The RF current flows uniformly between electrodes to provide a comfortable thermal experience. Built-in temperature controls allow for the attainment of clinically proven optimal temperatures and the exclusive capacity for prolonged exposure at therapeutic temperatures.
Where as Morpheus8 is a fractional device for use in dermatologic and general surgical procedures for electrocoagulation. The Morpheus 8 combines needling with radio-frequency for tightening through dermal contraction. The RF energy is delivered through bipolar arrays of pin electrodes, and results in localised heating and coagulation of the tissue that is in direct contact with the pins. Fractional coagulation promotes remodelling while untreated tissue between the pins promotes faster healing.
BodyFX combines radio-frequency with suction. BodyFX and MiniFX target adipose tissue in large and small body areas and assist in the improvement of the appearance of cellulite. Radio-frequency provides precise and optimal heating of the skin for body shaping. Negative Pressure Massage applies gentle vacuum pressure allowing for maximal treatment depth.Clinical studies with histologies indicate volume reduction and contraction.
BodyTite, FaceTite and AccuTite can be referred to as a radio-frequency assisted liposuction procedure that utilises the RF energy to tighten relaxed and loose skin and remove fat. The RF energy provides sub-dermal adipose coagulation resulting in tissue remodelling. It is an advanced technique combining skin laxity treatment and fat remodelling for patients who prefer non-surgical approaches.
When choosing between devices one needs to consider the degree of laxity, the area of the body being treated and the downtime permitted by your schedules. But we will leave that up to the professionals.
Each provider will also have their preferred devices — in some cases, an entire army of them — so it comes down to the trust you place in your provider and your long-term commitment to their recommended treatment plan.
Does Radio-frequency Hurt?
Because RF works deeper into the layers of the skin, it is more uncomfortable than going for a chemical peel but less painful than fractional laser. In most cases, a topical anaesthetic is a sufficient for of numbing for minimally and non-invasive RF procedures, but in some cases dental blocks and and nitrous oxide is offered to patients.
What Are the Side Effects & Risks?
“Any area where the skin’s natural protective layer is compromised, we can experience a bit of a breakout.” Says Equipment Specialist, Kleoni Venter from Johannesburg. “It does not usually last long. Hygiene plays a very important role post procedure with regards to this, patients are advised to not touch there skin if micro-injuries have been caused”
Unintended Fat Loss
As always, the efficacy of the device used is largely user-dependent, which is why it is so important to seek out experts in the field. In some cases, when delivered incorrectly, RF can cause unintended fat loss, dermal shrinkage, and deflation of the face, according to Dr. Talei. “This can happen from over-aggressive heating, heating of the wrong (i.e., deeper) layers, or repeat treatments causing repetitive cycles of healing and fibrosis, which stiffen the deeper layers of tissue.”
What is Aftercare Like?
Downtime and aftercare depend on the type of treatment you receive and the degree of invasiveness the procedure entailed. When the radio-frequency is applied alone, it can often feel soothing and warm and require absolutely no downtime. But when delivered with micro-needling, the healing process will be more extensive – the healing process can take anything from 2-10 days and redness and swelling will dissolve within the first 48 hours. The experience of dryness within the first week is also completely normal, but downtime is usually kept to a minimum with RF devices.
Your physician will run through the post-procedure do’s and don’t for maximum results. The intensity of aftercare will depend on the combination of treatment that has been performed (i.e., radio-frequency vs radio-frequency with micro-needling).
“On day four or five, you can usually return to your normal routine for morning and night in terms of cleansing, hydrating, and serum, as well as your preferred sunscreen,” Dr. Shamban says. “I suggest easing back into the more aggressive and advanced-level exfoliating ingredients, active acids, or retinoids.”
She clarifies that it is still recommended that you avoid any chemical peels or lasers for a minimum of two to three weeks following the treatment. Patience, here, is key. “There is time to get back to all the good stuff,” she says, “but let the benefits of the treatment settle first.”
How Much do Radio-frequency Treatments Cost?
Cost varies from about R1 000 to R12 000 depending on the treatment area and device used, with some devices requiring only single sessions and others performed in a series of two to four. Talk to your physician about your goals and budget and they can help you select the option that works for you.
(Resources: Adjusted from article “Everything You Need to Know About Radio-Frequency Skin Treatments” by Jessica Orisman, Allure.)
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