- Radio frequency (RF) skin tightening is a nonsurgical and noninvasive skin tightening and anti-aging treatment.
- During RF treatment, current flows from the electrodes of an RF device into your skin, heating the tissues beneath to stimulate collagen and elastin production.
- RF skin tightening is considered to be very safe; the only common side effect is mild to moderate pain during treatment.
- RF skin tightening requires no downtime or post-treatment skin care.
Sagging skin, wrinkles and fine lines are common issues that stem from genetics or photodamage caused by exposure to the sun. Over time, collagen and elastin, two components present within your skin, break down and cause your skin to lose its elasticity.
During a radio frequency (RF) skin tightening procedure, heat is used to encourage the production of new collagen and elastin. The renewed production of these components helps to eliminate wrinkles and fine lines, and tightens skin.
How Does Radio Frequency Skin Tightening Work?
RF skin tightening works by targeting the tissue beneath the outer layer of your skin, or epidermis, with radio frequency energy. This energy generates heat, resulting in new collagen production.
This procedure also triggers fibroplasia, the process in which the body forms new fibrous tissue and stimulates the production of collagen, causing collagen fibers to become shorter and more tense. At the same time, the molecules that make up collagen are left undamaged. Skin elasticity increases and loose, sagging skin is tightened.
What is the treatment like?
During treatment, an RF skin tightening machine will send alternating currents from the tip of an electrode to your tissue at a frequency between 0.3 and 10 MHz. This process bypasses the amount of melanin pigment present in your outer layer of skin, making the treatment effective for all skin types and colors.
The pain caused is often rated on a five-point pain scale, where zero is equivalent to no pain and four is equivalent to an intolerable level of pain. Most patients who undergo RF skin tightening rate the pain at a level of one, with the remainder reporting a pain level of two..
Benefits of Radio Frequency Facials
RF treatments use heat to damage the tissue beneath the epidermis without negatively impacting the outward appearance of the skin.
Patients may notice skin tightening immediately after treatment. Other patients may notice results within six months of initial treatment or require multiple procedures before noticing an effect. In general, and with proper skin care, results last for two to three years.
Periorbital skin tightening
RF skin tightening can be used on the eyelids to decrease skin laxity. The eyes are protected from RF energy with special contact lenses worn during the noninvasive procedure. In some cases, a local anesthetic may be used in the periorbital region.
RF facial rejuvenation around the eyes results in no downtime and little to no risk of negative side effects. Patients can expect mild to moderate improvement in the tightness of their eyelid skin.
Forehead and eyebrow skin tightening
RF facials are effective in elevating the brow line. The procedure tightens the skin to pull back the eyebrows from the midpupillary line, or the center of the eye. The noninvasive process also gives the eyebrow a more natural, acute angle.
RF treatments can tighten loose skin in the cheek area. The surface area of a person’s jowls, or saggy skin below the cheeks, can be decreased after undergoing RF treatment.
Nasolabial folds, the indents on either side of the nose commonly referred to as smile or laugh lines, are also effectively treated. In fact, the tightening of the nasolabial folds following RF skin tightening is one of the most dramatic observations noted by researchers.
Facial rejuvenation of the cheeks via radiofrequency skin tightening is safe for all skin types. Studies have shown that skin laxity in the cheeks and neck is improved in 96% of patients following treatment.
Before and Afters
Radio Frequency Skin Tightening on the Body
RF treatments can be used on areas of the body other than the face – including the neck, abdomen, arms, thighs, knees and buttocks. In some cases, patients undergo treatments for the purpose of body contouring, which reduces fat in addition to tightening sagging skin and wrinkles.
- Skin tightening on the neck requires the radio frequency machine to operate at lower temperatures than normal due to the neck’s skin, which is thinner than most of the skin on the rest of your body.
- Abdomen, thighs and buttocks – RF treatments are an effective body contouring method for these areas and are even effective at reducing skin laxity in those postpregnancy.
- Arm – loose skin on the arm can be tightened but multiple treatments may be required before there is a noticeable improvement.
- Knees – sagging skin can be tightened but dermatologists should use caution when applying RF techniques because of the thin skin in this area and the lower amount of sebaceous glands (a type of gland that lubricates and waterproofs the skin)
RF skin tightening on the body also reduces the appearance of cellulite on the abdomen, thighs, arms and buttocks.
Before and Afters
Dangers of Radio Frequency Skin Tightening
RF skin tightening procedures cause few side effects and little to no downtime. Almost all studies report no permanent side effects following treatment.
Early RF treatments caused a great deal of pain and required patients to be sedated with anesthesia. Some procedures still require topical or local anesthetics, depending on the type of machine used or doctor and patient preference.
As RF technology and treatment became better understood, dermatologists discovered that reducing the radio frequency reduced pain while still providing effective results.
Patients may sometimes experience erythema, or reddening of the skin, after a procedure. Erythema typically fades within 24 hours after treatment.
Edema, or swelling, is another side effects caused by RF treatment. Swelling can be expected to last for up to 24 hours after treatment, although some patients may experience edema for up to one week..
Other side effects
Other side effects are rare and generally caused by error or an inexperienced technician or dermatologist or undisclosed contraindications (an existing condition that makes a procedure harmful).
|Side effect||Recovery time|
|Skin denting||Up to 3.5 months1|
|Skin rash||Within 1 week1|
|Crusting||Within 1 week1|
|Skin tenderness||2–3 weeks1|
|Burn scarring||Up to 6 months, treatable with medication2|
|Hyperpigmentation||Up to 5 days3|
1. Weiss RA, et al. Monopolar radiofrequency facial tightening: A retrospective analysis of efficacy and safety in over 600 treatments. J Drugs Dermatol 2006;5(8):702-12; 2. Paasch U, et al. Skin rejuvenation by radiofrequency therapy: methods, effects and risks. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges 2009:7(3):196-203; 3. el-Domyati M, et al. Radiofrequency facial rejuvenation: evidence-based effect. J Am Acad Dermatol 2011:64(3):514-35.
RF skin tightening should not be used to treat patients who have pacemakers, defibrillators or facial implants as RF energy can interfere with the device’s functionality.
Radio Frequency Skin Tightening Cost
RF skin tightening is considered an elective cosmetic dermatology service, therefore this procedure is not covered by insurance.
The cost of RF skin tightening is dependent on the specific type of treatment needed and the area of your body that will be treated. In general, a typical procedure costs between $1,000 to $4,000.
Should You Use an At-Home Radio Frequency Machine?
At-home radio frequency skin tightening devices can be used for skin rejuvenation and body contouring from the comfort of your own home.
At-home RF devices deliver less power than those found in a dermatologist’s office. As a result, they require daily or weekly use to match skin tightening results comparable to a single or bi-yearly office visit.
At-home RF machines cost between $30 and $1,000, making them more affordable than in- office treatments, however, the trade-off in power and the time it takes to see results merit consideration.
Additionally, professional RF providers are trained to deliver expertly targeted treatments that minimize any potential risks associated with the procedure.
Alternatives to Radio Frequency Skin Tightening
A number of alternatives to RF skin tightening exist to tighten sagging skin and reduce skin laxity.
|Alternative treatment method||Pro(s)||Con(s)|
|Skin tightening creams and lotions||Available over the counter or via prescription|
Easily implemented into a skin care routine
Encourage collagen production
|Improvement to skin laxity is subtle and not long lasting|
Some skin types are sensitive to certain ingredients
|Ultrasound skin tightening||Effective anti-aging technique to combat early signs of aging|
No downtime; side effects similar to RF skin tightening
Results are seen within 2–6 months
|May require multiple treatments before effects are noticeable|
|Laser treatment||Lasers heat skin beneath the epidermis without causing it damage|
Similar side effects to RF skin tightening
|May require 3–5 treatments before effects are noticeable|
Results appear within 2–6 months after the final treatment
|Microneedling RF skin tightening||Heat can be applied to exact locations on the body via needles or tubes|
Results can be seen within 1 month and improvements continue for up to
|Requires sedation and possible downtime of 1 day|
Requires wearing a compression garment for 4–5 days following the procedure
Postprocedure skin care is necessary
|Laser resurfacing||Delivers the fastest skin tightening and anti-aging results|
Results are visible within 2 weeks
|Requires 5–7 days of downtime to recover|
May result in side effects, such as scarring
|Plastic surgery (rhytidectomy, or facelift)||Results are visible immediately|
Effects are still visible over 5 years after treatment
Downtime of 10–21 days
Post-treatment skin care is necessary
Patients may experience a number of side effects and complications
Loose skin and excessive skin laxity can cause wrinkles and sagging skin in the face, neck, abdomen, arms and legs. RF skin tightening provides effective results by delivering heat to the tissue below the epidermis, stimulating collagen production and contracting fibers to tighten the skin.
While RF treatment isn’t a permanent anti-aging solution, it’s a safe and effective solution that does not require downtime. Whether you visit a dermatologist or try it at home, RF skin tightening is an effective solution for tightening skin without undergoing a more invasive procedure or surgery.
- Neil Sadick, Tissue Tightening Technologies: Fact or Fiction, Aesthetic Surgery Journal, Volume 28, Issue 2, March 2008, Pages 180–188. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.asj.2007.12.009
- Alster, T. S., & Lupton, J. R. (2007, September/October). Nonablative cutaneous remodeling using radiofrequency devices. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17870527
- Green, J. B., MD, Dover, J. S., MD, & Kaminer, M. S., MD. (2011, July). Tolerability of a Monopolar Radiofrequency Facial Skin Tightening Procedure: An Observational Study. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.mdedge.com/dermatology/article/69982/aesthetic-dermatology/tolerability-monopolar-radiofrequency-facial-skin
- Radiofrequency Treatment for Middle and Lower Face Laxity. Arch Facial Plast Surg. 2004;6(6):370–373. doi:10.1001/archfaci.6.6.370
- Rusciani A, Curinga G, Menichini G, Alfano C, Rusciani L. Nonsurgical tightening of skin laxity: a new radiofrequency approach. J Drugs Dermatol. 2007 Apr;6(4):381-6. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17668535
- Ruiz-Esparza, J. (2004, February). Noninvasive lower eyelid blepharoplasty: A new technique using nonablative radiofrequency on periorbital skin. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14756637
- Carruthers, J., & Carruthers, A. (2007, July). Shrinking upper and lower eyelid skin with a novel radiofrequency tip. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17598845
- Nahm, W. K., Su, T. T., Rotunda, A. M., & Moy, R. L. (2004, June). Objective changes in brow position, superior palpebral crease, peak angle of the eyebrow, and jowl surface area after volumetric radiofrequency treatments to half of the face. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15171772
- Alster, T. S., & Tanzi, E. (2004, April). Improvement of neck and cheek laxity with a nonablative radiofrequency device: A lifting experience. Retrieved June 17, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15056138
- Jacobson LGS, Alexiades-Armenakas M, Bernstein L, Geronemus RG. Treatment of Nasolabial Folds and Jowls With a Noninvasive Radiofrequency Device. Arch Dermatol. 2003;139(10):1371–1372. doi:10.1001/archderm.139.10.1371
- Finzi, E., & Spangler, A. (2005, August). Multipass vector (mpave) technique with nonablative radiofrequency to treat facial and neck laxity. Retrieved June 17, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16042936
- Spero J Theodorou, Daniel Del Vecchio, Christopher T Chia, Soft Tissue Contraction in Body Contouring With Radiofrequency-Assisted Liposuction: A Treatment Gap Solution, Aesthetic Surgery Journal, Volume 38, Issue suppl_2, June 2018, Pages S74–S83, https://doi.org/10.1093/asj/sjy037
- Winter, M. L. (2009, December). Post-pregnancy body contouring using a combined radiofrequency, infrared light and tissue manipulation device. Retrieved June 17, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19951194
- Man J, Goldberg DJ. Safety and efficacy of fractional bipolar radiofrequency treatment in Fitzpatrick skin types V-VI. J Cosmet Laser Ther. 2012 Aug;14(4):179-83. doi:10.3109/14764172.2012.699682
- Weiss, R. A., Weiss, M. A., Munavalli, G., & Beasley, K. L. (2006, September). Monopolar radiofrequency facial tightening: A retrospective analysis of efficacy and safety in over 600 treatments. Retrieved June 18, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16989184
- Gold, M. H. (Ed.). (2010, May). Update on tissue tightening. Retrieved June 18, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2922712/
- Ruiz-Esparza, J., & Gomez, J. B. (2003, April). The medical face lift: A noninvasive, nonsurgical approach to tissue tightening in facial skin using nonablative radiofrequency. Retrieved June 18, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12656808
- Paasch, U., Bodendorf, M. O., Grunewald, S., & Simon, J. C. (2008, June 28). Skin rejuvenation by radiofrequency therapy: Methods, effects and risks – Paasch – 2009 – JDDG: Journal der Deutschen Dermatologischen Gesellschaft – Wiley Online Library. Retrieved June 18, 2019, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1610-0387.2008.06780.x
- Wesley, N., & Talakoub, L. (2019, January 14). At-home radiofrequency devices. Retrieved June 18, 2019, from https://www.mdedge.com/dermatology/article/89359/aesthetic-dermatology/home-radiofrequency-devices
- Jones BM, Lo SJ. How long does a face lift last? Objective and subjective measurements over a 5-year period. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2012 Dec;130(6):1317-27. doi:10.1097/PRS.0b013e31826d9f7f
- Moyer JS, Baker SR. Complications of rhytidectomy. Facial Plast Surg Clin North Am. 2005 Aug;13(3):469-78. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16085292