Non-ablative Radiofrequency Skin Rejuvenation

Daniel Judd BSc, MBiol

What is non-ablative radiofrequency skin rejuvenation?

Non-ablative radiofrequency skin rejuvenation is a relatively new skin rejuvenation technique that triggers collagen growth and tightens up sagging skin through the use of radio waves. Sitting at the far end of the electromagnetic spectrum which also includes visible light and x-rays, radio waves are created by an electrical device and conducted into the skin. Popular treatment areas include the face, neck and areas affected by stretch marks.

As a non-ablative and non-invasive technique, radiofrequency rejuvenation doesn’t cut into your skin or blast off layers of it. This makes it similar to techniques like red LED therapy and as such has fewer side effects and quicker recovery times.

How does it work?

One of the major causes of aged looking skin is the loss of collagen which is caused by a number of factors like UV light, pollution and age. Radiofrequency rejuvenation triggers the production of new collagen through localised heat damage. When radio waves enter the skin, they can interact with certain electrically charged particles and create an electric current. Electric currents generate heat when they encounter resistance (why your laptop heats up); in this case your skin provides the resistance and heats up as a result.

When the collagen already present in your skin heats up too much, it gets warped and reshaped in a process called ‘denaturing’. This denaturing is thought to cause the initial shrinking and tightening of the skin seen during treatment. Once your body detects this damage it produces more collagen in a healing response, causing longer term skin tightness, boosting elasticity and reducing wrinkles as collagen levels are increased from before treatment.

What is it like?

Radiofrequency rejuvenation techniques are typically very quick and can be done in under an hour. The exact procedure can vary based on the practitioner and the device they are using. The face will usually be cleaned to get rid of any makeup and oily debris, and then a topical anaesthetic may be applied as the treatment can be painful for some people. A conductive gel might also be used between the device and your skin. The device will be moved around the treatment area from point to point. After the procedure is finished you should be able to leave straight away and may be recommended follow up treatments.

There are a variety of different systems used and some are for skin tighening while others are for fat loss – some do both. The most common ones include:

Accent™: The Accent system has two handpieces. One is for dermal heating for skin tightening and the other is for fat reduction and cellulite treatment.

EndyMed 3DEEP™: The EndyMed’s 3DEEP RF is used to firm, tighten and lift sagging skin on the face and body through the heat produced.

Exilis ® Elite: This uses a combination of radio frequency (RF) energy and ultrasound to stimulate fat lipolysis (the breakdown of fat cells) and can also be used to tighten the skin collagen via heating.

INTRAcel™: The INTRAcel Fractional Radiofrequency (RF) Micro-Needling system is comprised of a Fractional RF Microneedle™ (FRM) array that boosts skin rejuvenation and aids in the treatment of acne. It provides a non-surgical face lift, reduces large pores and acne scarring through a variable radiofrequency power.

Pellevé ™: The Pellevé Wrinkle Reduction System says it uses radiowave technology to induce collagen contraction without damaging the epidermis. The result is noticeable improvement in skin quality and appearance.

Thermage ®: The Thermage™ system is a radiofrequency device that works to tighten facial skin, on body contouring and improving in the appearance of cellulite.

TriPollar™: TriPollar™ radio frequency (RF) technology is available via two devices-  Apollo® and Regen®. The devices are used for cellulite reduction, body remodelling and skin tightening.

3D-lipo: this system combines hand pieces for cryolipolysis (fat freezing), radiofrequency, cavitation (ultrasound liposuction), and shockwave therapy to achieve skin healing, skin tightening, cellulite reduction and body contouring.

What is the recovery time?

As a non-ablative, non-invasive rejuvenation technique, radiofrequency rejuvenation won’t usually require you to take any time off following the procedure. You might however experience some redness and pain following the treatment that can be treated with topical soothing creams.

What are the side effects?

While many of them are rare, this technique does come with a number of possible side effects. A large study of patients’ experience across multiple clinics found side effects including red and irritated skin, blistering, bruising, crusting and scabbing. As this technique involves heating the layers of the skin, some patients experienced 1st and 2nd degree burns although this varied between clinics so could be due to the clinics technique or the patients particular clinics treated. While 1st degree burns should only cause temporary discomfort, the 2nd degree burns caused lasting scarring in some patients.

Another rare side effect is what’s known as a ‘depression’- which is an indentation that is caused by overheating the underlying skin or using it at frequencies above the manufactures recommended guidelines. In this case the skin contracts too much, leaving a dent.

How much does it cost?

Prices can vary dramatically between clinics and treatment prices listed on websites ranged from £60 to £250 for single treatments and courses of multiple treatments ranging up to £1250. Price can also vary depending on whether the treatment is for just a section of the face, the full face or the full face and neck.

Who can perform this treatment?

Generally these treaments should only be carried out by qualified medical practitioners. It is a good idea to ask your practitioner if they have undergone training to use these devices and how much experience they have had.

So is it worth it?

Facial rejuvenation is a crowded market with lots of alternatives so deciding if radiofrequency rejuvenation is for you depends on a few things like what procedures you’re comfortable with and what your budget is. As a non-invasive, non-ablative treatment, radiofrequency rejuvenation may be more comfortable and tolerable to many people when compared to treatments like ablative laser resurfacing, injected fillers/Botox or even surgical procedures like a facelift. It’s also cheaper than most of those alternatives and about the same price as LED treatments.

The concern is that by being gentler, the procedure won’t have as considerable an effect as treatments like ablative laser resurfacing. The large study mentioned above found a slight improvement in wrinkles in 83% of patients but only 50% of those patients declared themselves as satisfied 6 months after the treatment. However this was conducted in 2003 and smaller but more recent studies have given more positive results.

Considering the relatively low price, radiofrequency rejuvenation could be a great option for someone looking for a more youthful appearance. The side effects are rare and less severe than other treatments and it has the great benefit of not involving injections, resurfacing or surgery.