Radio Frequency (RF) Skin Tightening

Overview

What is radio frequency (RF) skin tightening?

Radio frequency (RF) skin tightening is a nonsurgical skin treatment to firm sagging skin. The procedure can give you a more youthful appearance.

How does radio frequency skin tightening work?

Radio frequency devices use safe levels of low-frequency electromagnetic waves to generate heat. This heat penetrates deep into your skin’s layers. There, it stimulates new skin cell production (regeneration). The treatment also stimulates the production of collagen and elastin. These proteins give skin cells more strength and flexibility. As a result, sagging skin regains its firm shape and feel.

How common is radio frequency (RF) skin tightening?

More than 188,000 Americans received some type of skin tightening procedure in 2020. This type of nonsurgical facelift works on all sexes and skin tones. And there’s very little risk of skin discoloration (hyperpigmentation). It’s most effective on younger people who are just starting to show signs of aging. It’s not as effective on severely sagging skin.

Who gets radio frequency (RF) skin tightening?

People who don’t want the extra expense, pain or recovery time of cosmetic surgeries may choose radio frequency skin tightening. The procedure:

  • Improves skin tone, texture and firmness.
  • Minimizes the appearance of sun damage.
  • Provides a more youthful appearance.
  • Reduces the effects of aging skin like wrinkles, fine lines and saggy skin.

What does radio frequency (RF) skin tightening treat?

Healthcare providers use radio frequency skin tightening treatments for:

Procedure Details

Who performs radio frequency skin tightening?

Many providers perform radio frequency skin tightening procedures. These include dermatologists, plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons. You can also get the treatment at a medical spa (medspa or medispa) from a licensed aesthetician (skin care specialist).

What happens before radio frequency skin tightening?

During your consultation, your provider examines your skin and learns more about your treatment goals. They may take pictures so you can see before-and-after results. You should let your provider know if you have an active skin disease, are getting any skin treatments or are pregnant.

What happens during radio frequency skin tightening?

Radio frequency skin tightening is an outpatient procedure. It takes about one hour, depending on the treatment area. You go home soon after the procedure.

During the procedure, your provider:

  1. Cleans and sterilizes your skin.
  2. Moves a hand-held radio frequency electrode device over the treatment area.

The treatment area may feel warm. And you may experience tingling vibrations or mild discomfort. You should alert your provider if you feel an uncomfortable burning sensation.

How long does radio frequency skin tightening take to work?

It takes time for your skin to produce new skin cells, collagen and elastin. You should see changes to your skin tone and appearance within two to six months. If you don’t get the desired results, your provider may recommend another treatment. Some people need two to six treatments.

How long does radio frequency skin tightening last?

Your skin is always aging. But with proper skin care, the effects of radio frequency skin tightening may last for one to three years.

Risks / Benefits

What are the benefits of radio frequency skin tightening? 

Radio frequency skin tightening can give you the results of a facelift (rhytidectomy) without the need for surgery. Other benefits include:

  • Gradual, natural-looking skin changes.
  • Fast, relatively painless procedure.
  • Less expensive and invasive than cosmetic surgeries.
  • No peeling skin or scarring.
  • Speedy recovery with no missed work or activities.

What are the risks of radio frequency skin tightening?

Radio frequency skin tightening is a relatively safe procedure. You may have some mild redness and swelling (edema) after the procedure. These side effects should go away within 24 hours. 

In rare instances, extreme heat from radio frequency treatments can cause burns. It’s important to choose a healthcare provider who has experience with radio frequency treatments. Your provider should only use radio frequency devices approved for use on the skin by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These devices have safety features that lower the risk of burns.

Recovery and Outlook

What is recovery like after radio frequency skin tightening?

Depending on the size of the treatment area, your recovery should be easy. You may be able to return to work after the treatment and resume activities within a day. You can wear makeup immediately after the procedure.

When to Call the Doctor

When should I call the doctor?

You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:

  • Redness or swelling that lasts for several days.
  • Skin rash or unexplained skin changes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you get other treatments at the same time as radio frequency skin tightening?

Depending on your treatment goals, your healthcare provider may recommend getting other nonsurgical cosmetic procedures during the same appointment. These treatments include:

Do radio frequency skin procedures increase your risk of cancer?

The World Health Organization (WHO) lists radio frequency waves as potentially carcinogenic. This means they might increase your risk of cancer. However, studies haven’t found a link between radio frequency waves and cancer in people.

Microwave ovens, TVs, computers and smartphones use radio frequency waves. The radio frequency waves for cosmetic skin procedures are extremely low. At present, this skin treatment doesn’t appear to increase your risk of cancer.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Radio frequency (RF) skin tightening can give you a more youthful appearance without the need for a surgical procedure like a facelift. Heat from a radio frequency device penetrates deep into your skin. It stimulates the production of collagen, elastin and new skin cells. The procedure firms sagging skin, making you look younger. Your healthcare provider can discuss the different nonsurgical and surgical cosmetic treatments that can help you get the results you seek.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/04/2023.

References

  • American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) Association. Many Ways to Firm Sagging Skin. (https://www.aad.org/public/cosmetic/younger-looking/firm-sagging-skin)  Accessed 2/4/2023.
  • American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS). Non-Surgical Skin Tightening. (https://www.americanboardcosmeticsurgery.org/procedure-learning-center/non-surgical-procedures/skin-tightening/)  Accessed 2/4/2023.
  • American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS). So, Are Radiofrequency Treatments Really Safe? (https://www.americanboardcosmeticsurgery.org/are-radiofrequency-treatments-really-safe/) Accessed 2/4/2023.
  • American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). 2020 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report. (https://www.plasticsurgery.org/documents/News/Statistics/2020/plastic-surgery-statistics-report-2020.pdf) Accessed 2/4/2023.
  • American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). How laser and radiofrequency treatments rejuvenate your skin. (https://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/blog/how-laser-and-radiofrequency-treatments-rejuvenate-your-skin) Accessed 2/4/2023.
  • Araújo AR, Soares VP, Silva FS, Moreira Tda S. Radiofrequency for the treatment of skin laxity: mith or truth. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4631236/) An Bras Dermatol. 2015 Sep-Oct;90(5):707-721. Accessed 2/4/2023.
  • Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP). Radio Frequency Facial Treatment Information for Estheticians. (https://www.ascpskincare.com/updates/blog-posts/radio-frequency) Accessed 2/4/2023.

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