Radiofrequency Facials: How RF Skin Tightening Works in 2022
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Smoother, tighter-looking skin? Yes, pls.
One of my favorite things about being a beauty editor is getting to test out all of the trendiest and buzziest facials and skin treatments that hit the dermatologists' office (hey, can't write about what you don't know, right?). So when I got the chance to try a radiofrequency facial, I immediately jumped on the opportunity. FYI, radiofrequency facials promise to smooth, tighten, and firm your skin (more details on that later), and from what I had heard, they work faster and more effectively than my trusty retinol—and without any serious downtime.
Sounds good, right? Almost too good? I know. So as both a skeptic and a firm-skin lover, I immediately booked an appointment at PFRANKMD by cosmetic dermatologist Paul Jarrod Frank, MD. in New York City to see if the treatment really is worth the hype. But before I can tell you all about my experience, let's get into the basics of radiofrequency first.
A radiofrequency facial is a non-invasive treatment that uses heat energy to create a controlled injury to your skin, which, in turn, prompts collagen and elastin production—the two key proteins responsible for skin firmness, tightness, and smoothness. As with any injury, whether it's a big cut or a tiny scratch, your body works overtime to heal the wound, churning out fresher, newer, tighter skin. So if you create a controlled "injury" to your face? Same result.
No! There are a bunch of different radiofrequency treatments, and depending on the level of energy they give off and the depth at which they penetrate skin, each one can provide different results, says Dr. Frank. Some radiofrequency facials are simply facials that you can get done at your local medspa, or at a skincare studio like FaceGym. These gentle radiofrequency facials work superficially for an instant—but short-term—sculpting effect (think: perfect for a little boost right before a big event, but not the best for long-term collagen building).
Other radiofrequency face treatments (like Thermage or Morpheus) are more intense. These in-office procedures should only be performed by licensed medical professionals in a dermatologist's or plastic surgeon's office (more on the exact process below) and because of their higher intensity, they're able to deliver more noticeable and longer-lasting lifting and tightening results.
Radiofrequency can do more than just firm though. When it's combined with microneedling (called "RF microneedling," for short), it's great at improving skin tone and texture, minimizing the appearance of pores and acne scars, and smoothing fine lines, says Dr. Frank. There are few different devices that combine microneedling with radiofrequency (talk to your doctor to find out what's best for your skin type and goals), but I personally tried one called Vivace and loved the brightening, tightening results.
This will fully depend on the type of treatment you have. Most patients say traditional in-office radiofrequency (without microneedling) feels like a hot stone massage for your face. It's fairly quick, requires little to no downtime, and is pretty painless, which is contrary to what many people think, says Dr. Frank.
In my experience, radiofrequency microneedling treatments like Vivace are more intense and come with a bit of pain. Before my treatment, I sat with a topical numbing cream on my face for about an hour. Once the numb feeling fully kicked in, my face was cleansed and wiped with alcohol (since microneedling creates tiny holes in your skin, it's super important to sterilize your skin first).
During the treatment, a handheld device was moved over my entire face three times in "stamping" motion. With each stamp, heat and sterile needles were pressed into my skin to stimulate collagen in deep skin tissue. And while this sounds torturous (heat! needles! what!), it's actually not that terrible. The first pass was painless, the second pass felt prickly, and the third pass was kiiiinda painful (especially around my upper lip and eye area), but each stamp was so quick that by the time you're like, "wait, WTF, this hurts?" it's suddenly over. From start to finish (not including numbing), the treatment took 30 minutes max.
Once the treatment was complete, a calming peptide serum was applied all over my face, and I was sent on my way with two important post-procedure rules. Rule #1: No touching my face or putting anything on it for the next 24 hours (remember the tiny holes? They stay open for a few hours, so you don't want them to get filled with bacteria). Rule #2: No active ingredients (like glycolic acid and retinol) for a few days, since RF microneedling can make skin temporarily more sensitive.
Immediately post-treatment, my face looked like got a bad sunburn. Luckily, the redness subsided within two hours, and then I just looked pink for the rest of the day. The second and third day, my skin looked back to normal, with just a little blotchiness on my cheeks and around my nose. On the fourth day? I was freaking glowing: M y pores looked teeny-tiny and my skin felt super smooth. Truly, I was in love.
One of the great things about in-office radiofrequency and RF microneedling is that the results are both immediate and long-lasting. After my treatment, Dr. Frank and his team explained to me that my skin would look great in a few days, and that I'd notice even more skin tightening and smoothing in the coming months, since the collagen building process takes time. "On average, the skin tightening results last about six months," says Dr. Frank.
In my experience, the best way to maintain those skin-tightening results is to incorporate collagen-boosting face serums (like the four below) that contain active ingredients like peptides, retinol, and growth factors into your daily routine.
While you'll def notice a difference in your skin after one treatment, most doctors recommend three radiofrequency or RF microneedling treatments spaced one month apart for the best results, says Dr. Frank. "By the third treatment, your skin will have an immediate glow that gets better over time." After your third treatment, a yearly maintenance appointment is recommenced to prolong the benefits.
Unlike laser treatments (like Fraxel or Halo) or chemical peels, radiofrequency and RF microneedling are safe for the majority of skin tones (including dark or tanned skin). The likelihood of experiencing adverse side effects like scarring or skin discoloration (especially if you see a licensed pro for your treatment) are minimal, and the downtime, as I experienced, is pretty minimal too. The only people that RF microneedling isn't good for? Those with active acne, cysts, or incredibly sensitive or reactive skin, since the treatment can make inflammation worse.
In-office radiofrequency is not cheap—expect to pay anywhere from $600 to $2,000 per session depending on where you live, the area(s) treated, and the device your doctor uses, says Dr. Frank.
Even though it's pricey, it's def worth it if you can afford it—especially if you're trying RF microneedling, since you're getting double the benefits. IMO, it's the perfect treatment for anyone who is dealing with acne scarring and hasn't had luck with topicals, or someone who wants smoother, healthier-looking skin, or is interested in building collagen so their skin looks firmer and smoother down the road.
Lauren Balsamo is deputy beauty director at Cosmopolitan, where she writes, edits, and produces all types of beauty content—from product reviews to personal essays and trend reports. She has covered beauty for nine years at Cosmopolitan and has contributed to Women's Health and Seventeen magazines as well. Follow her on Instagram.
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15 Natural Deodorants That *Actually* Workradiofrequency facials promise to smooth, tighten, and firm your skin uses heat energy to create a controlled injury to your skin which, in turn, prompts collagen and elastin production These gentle radiofrequency facials work superficially for an instant—but short-term—sculpting effect they're able to deliver more noticeable and longer-lasting lifting and tightening results great at improving skin tone and texture, minimizing the appearance of pores and acne scars, and smoothing fine lines fairly quick, requires little to no downtime, and is pretty painless With each stamp, heat and sterile needles were pressed into my skin to stimulate collagen in deep skin tissue. No touching my face or putting anything on it for the next 24 hours M y pores looked teeny-tiny and my skin felt super smooth. Truly, I was in love. "On average, the skin tightening results last about six months," says Dr. Frank. three radiofrequency or RF microneedling treatments spaced one month apart for the best results radiofrequency and RF microneedling are safe for the majority of skin tones (including dark or tanned skin) expect to pay anywhere from $600 to $2,000 per session the perfect treatment for anyone who is dealing with acne scarring and hasn't had luck with topicals