In general, non-surgical skin tightening procedures work by using targeted energy to heat deeper layers of skin, which stimulates collagen and elastin production and gradually improves skin tone and texture. Some treatments also affect fibrous tissue to help smooth cellulite. There are numerous FDA cleared skin tightening treatments and technologies on the market; each uses a unique mechanism to achieve the desired result. Our guide below will help you learn more about non-surgical skin tightening and your various options.
- Why consider non-surgical skin tightening?
- Am I a good candidate?
- What treatment options do I have?
- Infographic guide to non-surgical body contouring options
- Choosing a provider
As we age, production of collagen and elastin—two proteins that help our skin stay plump, firm and smooth—slows down, resulting in areas of lax, sagging skin on the face, neck and body. If you are bothered by skin laxity, non-surgical skin tightening can temporarily halt this process and restore a firmer, smoother, more youthful appearance with little to no downtime.
Benefits of non-surgical skin tightening
- Tightens mild to moderately loose skin on the face, neck or body without surgery or scars
- Many treatments can provide a noticeable “lifting” effect
- Little to no downtime is needed
- Very low risk of adverse effects when performed by a qualified provider
- Treatments can be performed in-office, typically in 1 hour or less
- Results can last up to 1 year
- Results appear gradually over several weeks or months following treatment
- Multiple treatments may be needed to achieve desired results
- Treatment will need to be repeated periodically to maintain results
- Not effective on more advanced skin sagging, such as pronounced jowling or stretched skin following pregnancy or weight loss
Non-surgical skin tightening is generally best suited for patients who are bothered by mild to moderate skin laxity and do not need the more dramatic lifting and skin removal possible with cosmetic surgery.
While there are very few serious side effects associated with non-surgical skin tightening, it may not be appropriate for patients who are pregnant, taking certain medications, or have certain medical conditions.
The best way to find out if non-surgical skin tightening is right for you is to consult with an experienced cosmetic surgeon. Start by finding surgeons in your area who are certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS). Diplomates of the ABCS have undergone extensive training in surgical and non-surgical cosmetic treatments, and can help you choose the best option for your needs and goals.
Outlined below are the most common FDA cleared technologies available in the U.S.
Some skin tightening treatments use focused ultrasound energy, which heats skin at specific depths and locations to induce collagen production and help skin become firmer. Treatments are delivered via a handheld device, which transmits the ultrasound waves through the skin’s surface. Ultrasound technology has been used in medicine for many decades, and ultrasound skin tightening has an excellent safety profile.
Fast facts about ultrasound skin tightening:
- Ultherapy®, the most widely used name brand, is FDA cleared to treat the brow, chin, neck and chest
- Best for patients who want to treat early signs of aging on the face and neck
- Can help postpone need for facelift surgery
- Treatments take 30 to 90 minutes, with no downtime
- Patients may experience temporary discomfort while the ultrasound energy is being delivered
- Side effects are typically mild and include temporary redness, bruising, and numbness
- Results are seen within 2 to 3 months and can last up to a year with good at-home skincare
Radiofrequency (RF) energy can also be used to heat the skin and trigger collagen production. In contrast to ultrasound, RF focuses on epidermal layers to achieve a firmer, smoother appearance. Brand name treatments include THERMI RF®, Exilis®, and Thermage®.
Fast facts about RF skin tightening:
- FDA cleared options can treat the face, neck, hands, and body
- Treatments can be performed in-office, typically involve little to no discomfort, and require no downtime
- Most RF-only treatments are safe for all skin types
- Some procedures are considered “subdermal” and require one very small incision using local anesthesia
- Results appear gradually over several months following treatment
- A series of 2 to 6 treatments may be recommended for optimal results
A third class of skin tightening treatments combine intense pulsed light (IPL) with radiofrequency (RF) to heat deeper layers of skin and induce the natural healing response, which in turn triggers collagen production. The addition of IPL allows a provider to treat skin at multiple levels and can help focus the RF energy for more effective treatment. Commonly used treatments include Refirme® and VelaShape®.
Fast facts about IPL/RF combination treatments:
- Treatments can be performed in-office with little to no downtime
- Patients typically experience little to no discomfort
- Results appear gradually as the skin produces new collagen
- A series of treatments may be recommended for optimal results
- IPL treatments may not be suitable for darker or tanned skin
Non-surgical body contouring includes much more than skin tightening. Today, you have options to reduce fat, smooth cellulite, rejuvenate vaginal tissues, and remove unwanted hair. The guide below outlines all of your options.
In general, completely non-invasive skin-tightening treatments can be safely performed by a licensed, trained aesthetician or registered nurse working under physician supervision. Subdermal treatments that require an incision, such as THERMI RF, should be performed only by a qualified cosmetic surgeon or provider with equivalent training and experience.
The best place to start? Schedule a consultation with an experienced cosmetic surgeon near you to discuss your needs and goals, review your treatment options, and learn how non-surgical skin tightening can help you feel more confident in your appearance.