8 things you need to know about radiofrequency treatments

April 26th 2021 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment


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It’s non-surgical and used to target sagging skin in particular - here’s how radiofrequency works, why it’s a long game and who should steer clear

Radiofrequency: as facials go, it doesn’t exactly sound the most thrilling, but radiofrequency treatments have form where tightening and firming skin is concerned. Like laser and LED treatments, radiofrequency uses energy to stimulate collagen and elastin production, but the heat energy is electrical rather than light based. Here’s your rough guide to radiofrequency, what it’s good for and what it’s not.

It targets sagging skin

Specialist dermatologist and founder and medical director of Eudelo Dr Stefanie Williams explains that radiofrequency is appealing because it’s a non-invasive and relatively gentle way to tighten skin:

“Radiofrequency (RF) is a treatment that has become increasingly popular in recent years and uses RF energy to heat the dermis and tighten the skin without damaging the top layer.”

Not all radiofrequency machines work in exactly the same way (the most common devices are Thermage and Pellevé), but they fundamentally all use radiofrequency energy “to tighten the underlying skin structure and contour the face to create firm, toned and youthful looking skin” according to facial plastic surgeon Dr Maryam Zamani. It’s this tightening, firming action, brought about by boosting collagen and elastin synthesis, that makes radiofrequency especially suitable for targeting loose skin and the neck and chin, wrinkles and lines that develop between the nose and mouth.

It doesn't take long

Your average radiofrequency treatment takes anywhere between 20 and 45 minutes according to Dr Zamani and there’s very little downtime - you’re likely to experience a bit of redness for up to 24 hours afterwards but that’s about it. During the treatment a machine will heat skin to a bearable 38-40 degrees (our editorial director Victoria reported zero discomfort although some people are more sensitive to the deep heat sensation than others).

It can be used on the body too

Skincare expert Paula Begoun says that radiofrequency treatments can “smooth out stretch marks and tighten areas of loose skin”, making it just as apt for your bum as it is for your face. Dr Williams breaks down why she incorporates radiofrequency into her Eudelo Body treatment:

“Unlike some other fat reduction methods, this treatment is completely painless, has no downtime and provides an even, feathered result without surface irregularities which can a problem with other technologies.

“Mechanisms of action include encouraging fat cells to commit ‘suicide’ (so-called adipocyte apoptosis) after treatment with selective radiofrequency.”

Dr Williams highlights that the treatment is particularly suitable for upper and lower abs and inner and outer thighs, while Dr Zamani adds that it can also have great results on upper arms. Some swear by its efficacy when it comes to reducing the appearance of cellulite too. When used to treat the body radiofrequency is often performed at a higher temperature, although if your aesthetician doesn’t take the following steps as dictated by Dr Williams (which applies to your face too), run like the wind:

“Your skin temperature should be measured during the treatment to ensure that it’s high enough to bring about significant benefits without risking problems such as burns.”

It’s a goer for most of us

Miss Sherina Balaratnam, surgeon, aesthetic doctor and founder of S-Thetics has seen an increase in both men and women seeking radiofrequency treatments and puts it down to “a desire to sculpt problem areas while avoiding pain and long periods of downtime”, plus most of us can serve to benefit:

“The beauty of radiofrequency is that it is suitable for most people - the depth of heating helps to firm, tighten and lift as well as reinvigorating skin for a healthy glow.”

This ‘glow’ is down to the fact that radiofrequency treatments help to rev up collagen production over time, but do keep that time element in mind…

It’s not a quick fix

Like most things in this life, it’s not a miraculous cure-all and it takes time to work. Victoria didn’t perceive any difference in terms of contouring or lifting after one treatment, and this tallies with Dr Williams ‘slow and steady’ treatment advice:

“All energy based bio-stimulative treatments naturally require a course of several sessions (from six to 12) and will induce benefits gradually over some months. Look at it like joining a skin gym - great results are rarely achieved in a single session.”

Miss Balaratnam statess that having treatments every three to four days is ideal, but if you have weekly treatments you should start seeing results after a month or so.

Don’t go there if you’ve got rosacea

As it’s a heat based treatment it’s likely to cause further inflammation and make redness worse if you’ve got rosacea, and it’s not advisable if you’ve got broken blood vessels or capillaries. As with most aesthetic treatments, it’s also not suitable if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

It doesn’t come cheap

When you figure in the fact that you’ll at least six treatments at regular intervals, it’s fair to say that radiofrequency is a significant investment - Dr Balaratnam quotes £200 a session, with the recommended course of six coming in at £1200. The process itself may not actually hurt, but the price is undeniably ouch.

In recent months at-home radiofrequency tools are starting to become more popular. At-home tools work in the same way as in-clinic treatments, stimulating collagen production within the skin and with regular use will lift and tighten the skin.

If you’re used to radio-frequency in-salon you’ll find at home tools aren’t as hot as those treatments, though you will feel some warmth when using them. Check out our edit of the best at-home radiofrequency tools to find the right one for you.

It pairs well with other treatments

You'll often see radiofrequency offered alongside other aesthetic treatments including cheek and jowl-lifting Profound and celebrity-loved tightening Morpheus8 both of which combine microneedling with RF. "Everyone wants high-performance facial treatments that target all of their concerns within one session, so combination facial treatments are becoming increasingly popular," says Nilam Holmes, founder of Buckinghamshire's Dermaspa aesthetic clinic. "Radiofrequency speeds up collagen and elastin production and tightens the skin so tends to form the basis to most of my facial treatments.

"I also find RF shortens recovery time and enhances the results of skin peels and pigmentation treatments such as Lumecca as it helps the skin cells turn over faster," Nilam continues.

It's not just because it supercharges results that you'll often see RF combined with other offerings, as Dr Ioannis Liakas, medical director at Harley Street clinic Vie Aesthetics explains. "Radiofrequency doesn't antagonise or have any contra-indications for clients who have had previous treatments such as filler or botulinum toxin injections." Other skin tightening technologies, such as HIFU, can affect previous treatments, giving them less longevity, he says.

As with Profound and Morpheus8, microneedling is the main treatment you'll see radiofrequency combined with. "Before I offered Morpheus8 I would always encourage my microneedling clients to have a RF treatment immediately before or a week later to supercharge their results," Nilam says. "When we microneedle we are limited to a certain depth on the face and we are mainly working on skin texture but we don’t achieve deeper lifting and tightening. Using radiofrequency before microneedling helps to stimulate collagen at a deeper level and speed up the results of the treatment."

In his Harley Street clinic aesthetician Dr David Jack offers his Tri-Layer facial, £375, which combines radiofrequency with dermaplaning and mesotherapy for healthier, younger-looking skin.

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