Sagging skin in the neck and face, along with facial wrinkling, are common problems associated with ageing. Radio-frequency facial skin-tightening devices promise to reduce wrinkles and skin laxity, improving the skin's appearance without the pain and downtime of surgery or other invasive procedures.
How Does It Work?
In "Lasers and Lights Volume II," Macrene R. Alexiades-Armenakas MD and Michael S. Kaminer MD explain that radio frequency devices heat the dermis, the deepest skin layer, without damaging the epidermis, the top layers of skin, to provide a clinical improvement in skin laxity with minimal risks and shorter downtime.
The three most popular manufacturers that have FDA-cleared radio frequency products are Solta Medical (formerly Thermage), Alma and Syneron.
In 2002, ThermaCool by Thermage was the first FDA-cleared radio frequency device for the treatment of wrinkles. The original device was a monopolar device coupled with a surface-cooling technology that provided heat to the dermis while protecting the skin's surface. This treatment was known to cause a burning sensation in the skin, and local anesthetic was often used to alleviate patient pain. In 2009, the company released the Thermage CPT device, which claims to use a vibrational technology that makes the treatment more comfortable.
Although Alma is best known as a laser company, its Accent product is a radio frequency device, not a laser. The Accent combines bipolar and monopolar hand pieces, claiming to provide multiple depths of heat at a greater level of comfort.
The eLaser by Syneron combines radio frequency technology with laser technology, providing skin-tightening results along with hair removal and the removal of port wine stains, distended capillaries and other red marks on the skin. Because it includes the laser, it has a risk of burning and scarring for darker skin types. This is a common warning when using lasers on darker skin types that does not occur with devices that are only radio frequency, such as the Thermage and Alma devices.
Benefits to using radio-frequency treatments for skin tightening and rejuvenation include minimal risk and quick recovery.
The procedure is completely noninvasive.
Radio frequency is safe for all skin types. Most laser treatments are contraindicated for darker skin types.
Radio frequency treatments have less down time than ablative laser treatments that can cause redness lasting from six weeks to months in certain cases.
Between 2002 and 2006, a study conducted by the Maryland Laser, Skin and Vein Institute on more than 600 consecutive patient treatments listed the most common side effects for radio-frequency facial-tightening treatments as redness and swelling in the treated area, usually lasting less than 24 hours. Some patients experienced swelling lasting as long as one week.
The study used the Thermage ThermaCool device and concluded that, "Side effects are infrequent, self-limited, and minor, comparing favourably to other nonablative devices utilised for facial rejuvenation."
Although many of the published studies show no long-term side effects, the FDA does list some adverse reports claiming that long-term scarring occurred following some procedures. As with any medical procedure, risks and expectations should be thoroughly discussed with a qualified health-care provider.
As the technology for radio-frequency skin tightening continues to improve with more comfortable and more effective treatment options, the demand for invasive procedures with greater risks may diminish. Perhaps the promise of no-pain wrinkle reduction and facial rejuvenation for long-term results and younger-looking skin is actually on the near horizon.