Medically reviewed by Dr. John Rosdeutscher – Written by Sine Thieme
Non-surgical skin tightening procedures use targeted energy to heat tissues under the skin. This stimulates collagen and elastin production and coagulates (i.e. shrinks) the skin, giving it better tone and texture. The same technology can also be used to apply targeted heat to the fibrous tissues that create the appearance of cellulite.
There are various FDA-approved technologies for non-surgical skin tightening on the market. Our staff at NuBody Concepts Cosmetic Surgery in Nashville and Memphis would love to help you achieve your body contouring goals without the need for surgery. Read on to learn everything there is to know about the pros and cons of minimally-invasive and non-invasive skin tightening.
Is Minimally-Invasive or Non-Invasive Skin Tightening Better?
Whenever you consider any type of cosmetic procedure to enhance or rejuvenate your appearance, you will need to consider what level of invasiveness you’re willing to tolerate for the kinds of results you’re looking for.
As a general rule:
More invasive = Great results, more downtime
Less invasive = Moderate results, less downtime
It is important to know the correct terminology when picking a skin tightening treatment. Non-surgical doesn’t have to mean non-invasive. It just means that it can be done without the classical tools of surgery, namely heavy sedation, a scalpel and sutures.
A minimally-invasive skin tightening procedure like Radio Frequency Assisted Lipolysis (RFAL) is non-surgical, but it is not entirely non-invasive, because the surgeon places a probe underneath the skin through very small incisions. BodyTite, FaceTite, and Renuvion all fall into this category. You will have some downtime with these procedures, but not nearly as long as with full surgery such as a tummy tuck or thigh lift.
Truly non-invasive skin tightening, on the other hand, requires no downtime at all. However, it typically needs a series of repeat treatments, is less permanent, and achieves less striking results. Ultherapy, Exilis, Morpheus8, and Thermage all fall into this group.
Minimally-Invasive Skin Tightening
If you are frustrated by a pouch of fat on your tummy, flabby arms, or a jowly neck, you’d probably love to find a way to get rid of them. Traditionally, this meant you needed a tummy tuck, an arm lift, or a facelift to surgically remove such unsightly skin folds. But if you had to pick, you’d probably prefer not to undergo surgery, right?
With recent advances in medical technology, you now have that option: Undergoing a radio frequency-powered treatment to tighten your skin – without surgery. This is an excellent compromise between surgery and non-invasive treatments. It is ideal for the so-called “gap patient” – someone who doesn’t want surgery and has a body type that responds well to a less-invasive procedure, but who needs more than the application of purely external heat to see results. Below we discuss the two market-leading technologies in this category.
How It Works
Radio Frequency Powered Skin Tightening, often called Radio Frequency Assisted Lipolysis (RFAL) is a tissue coagulation technology. It is applied with a thin wand that is inserted under the skin through tiny incisions. The wand is slowly moved back and forth and emits controlled and targeted heat to the treatment areas. This shrinks (coagulates) the tissues and contracts the skin.
RFAL is not a surgical procedure since neither scalpel nor sutures are required. It is administered under local anesthesia and followed by a fast recovery of just 1-2 days.
BodyTite and FaceTite by inMode are FDA-approved technologies used in conjunction with liposuction for fat removal and skin tightening. They are essentially the same treatments; the only difference between the two is the size of the wand – a longer wand for BodyTite, and a shorter one for FaceTite.
The wand is inserted under the skin through tiny incisions that typically heal without any sutures – though some plastic surgeons prefer to place a single stitch afterwards for even better healing. The radio frequency energy emitted by the wand heats the tissues under the skin and induces them to shrink. In this manner, a plastic surgeon can achieve 35% – 45% skin contraction in the treatment area – still short of surgery, but much better than could previously be achieved with liposuction or laser lipo alone.
Results can be seen immediately after the procedure but continue to improve for up to a year as renewed collagen production enhances the texture of the skin.
Like BodyTite, Renuvion by Apyx Medical is FDA-approved. It also uses radio frequency energy to shrink tissues under the skin. As an added bonus, Renuvion bolsters the radio frequency energy with helium plasma emitted through the tip of the wand. This allows the tissues to be heated precisely to 85 degrees Celsius and cooled down again in under one second. It means that the tissues can safely be heated to a higher temperature, which allows the surgeon to finish an entire area in just 5-15 minutes.
Studies have shown that Renuvion can achieve 60% skin contraction, an even higher number than BodyTite. Results can be seen immediately after the procedure but continue to improve for 6-9 months.
Skin Tightening With Renuvion vs BodyTite
The above numbers may suggest that Renuvion is superior to BodyTite. However, as so often in cosmetic surgery, the results primarily depend on the skill of the plastic surgeon performing the procedure. BodyTite and FaceTite may require longer heating times and more patience on part of the surgeon, but most patients don’t necessarily care about that. If you are looking for good results, it’s more important that your surgeon is well-experienced in his or her technology of choice – no matter which one.
For instance, Dr. Mark Peters of NuBody Concepts Memphis has had great success using the BodyTite technology to target cellulite in women. He capitalizes on the fact that BodyTite not only attacks fat cells but also those connective tissue strands that hold down the skin and thereby cause that dimpled look we associate with cellulite – particularly on thighs and buttocks. Dr. Peters was recently awarded First Place in the InMode Expert Clinician Awards Program for his innovative use of the BodyTite technology.
Non-Invasive Skin Tightening
Remember, there is a difference between Minimally-invasive and non-invasive skin tightening treatments. As previously discussed, minimally-invasive technologies are going to yield better results – with the downside of requiring some recovery time.
Non-invasive treatments do not require any recovery because your body is not taxed by them in the same way. If you have only slight skin laxity and really do not want to undergo a procedure that requires sedation, you may prefer a series of non-invasive treatments.
Non-Invasive skin tightening can be further divided into Ultrasound and Radiofrequency (RF) methods. Below we discuss various FDA-approved technologies in each group.
Ultrasound Skin Tightening
These treatments use focused ultrasound energy to heat skin by external application only. They can affect tissues up to 5mm deep to induce collagen production and firm up the skin. A handheld device transmits ultrasound waves through the skin’s surface. It can be used for older patients looking for a non-surgical facelift or for younger patients who want to prevent skin laxity as they age.
Ultherapy® is the most widely used FDA-approved ultrasound technology to tighten skin on the brow, chin, neck, and chest. A treatment can take from 30 to 90 minutes and can provoke mild discomfort during delivery. You will typically need repeated treatments as results are expected to last up to a year.
If you are not quite ready for facelift surgery, one or more Ultherapy treatments may allow you to postpone it for several years.
Radiofrequency Skin Tightening
Radiofrequency (RF) energy can also be used externally to heat the skin and trigger collagen production. It uses the same energy source as BodyTite and Renuvion but is not the same, as those treatments do penetrate the skin – even though short of full-fledged surgery.
Unlike ultrasound, radiofrequency targets the outer layer of your skin or epidermis. It can also be combined with microneedling (radiofrequency microneedling) to treat deeper layers of skin. RF treatments may take 2-6 treatments to achieve the desired results, which typically last up to three years.
FDA-approved non-invasive skin tightening treatments include Exilis®, Morpheus8®, and Thermage®. Like ultrasound treatments, RF treatments can be used to smoothing and tightening skin in older patients and delaying the need for face lift surgery in younger patients. But they are not limited to the face – RF treatments are designed for the entire body and are typically safe for all skin types.
Typical Problem Areas
Non-invasive skin tightening can be applied to the entire body. Here are some common uses:
- Reduce a double chin
- Tighten lax abdominal skin
- Reduce stretch marks
- Reduce a belly bulge
- Shrink love handles
- Rejuvenate vaginal tissues
- Reduce saddlebags
- Reduce cellulite on thighs and buttocks
Surgical Skin Tightening
A discussion of skin tightening methods wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t mention surgery. In a way, nothing tightens skin quite as much as simply removing the excess skin altogether. Of course this comes with a few downsides, namely a longer recovery period as well as significant scarring, even though plastic surgeons are very skillful in hiding such incisions where they are well placed under the bikini line or hairline.
Some patients may only be able to have their skin tightened with surgery, particularly those who have a large amount of loose skin. If you have undergone substantial weight loss or multiple pregnancies that have stretched your skin beyond return, a tummy tuck may be the only way to flatten your stomach and tighten your abdominal skin.
Does Skin Tightening Work?
You might ask, which of all these procedures is best? As we have explained above, it really depends on your goals and your body type. Do you need a massive amount of skin removed? You may not get around a tummy tuck. Do you only have mild skin laxity and don’t mind a few repeat treatment as opposed to a more invasive procedure? Then a non-invasive ultrasound or radiofrequency treatment might be best.
You should also take into consideration that a surgeon’s skill and experience are important factors. Picking an experienced, board-certified cosmetic surgeon you are comfortable with is critical. Most plastic surgeons will use two or more of the above techniques in one session.
We hope that we’ve given you a better understanding of available skin tightening methods. If you are ready to get started or would like to discuss specific questions, simply self-schedule a consultation with our board-certified plastic surgeon in Nashville or Memphis.