During radio frequency (RF) skin tightening, providers use an electromagnetic device that generates heat to stimulate the production of collage, elastin and new skin cells. This nonsurgical facelift firms and lifts sagging skin. The results are temporary, but they’re similar to a surgical facelift.
Radio frequency (RF) skin tightening is a nonsurgical skin treatment to firm sagging skin. The procedure can give you a more youthful appearance.
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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.
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.
People who don’t want the extra expense, pain or recovery time of cosmetic surgeries may choose radio frequency skin tightening. The procedure:
Healthcare providers use radio frequency skin tightening treatments for:
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).
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.
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:
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.
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.
Your skin is always aging. But with proper skin care, the effects of radio frequency skin tightening may last for one to three years.
Radio frequency skin tightening can give you the results of a facelift (rhytidectomy) without the need for surgery. Other benefits include:
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.
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.
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
Depending on your treatment goals, your healthcare provider may recommend getting other nonsurgical cosmetic procedures during the same appointment. These treatments include:
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.
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