Radiofrequency (RF) therapy, also called radiofrequency skin tightening, is a nonsurgical method of tightening your skin. It involves using energy waves to heat the deep layer of your skin known as your dermis. This heat stimulates the production of collagen.

Collagen is the most common protein in your body. It creates the framework of your skin and gives your skin its firmness.

As you age, your cells produce less collagen, which leads to sagging skin and wrinkles. Skin laxity occurs around age 35 to 40 when the quantity and quality of your collagen begins to decline.

RF therapy has been used since 2001 to fight against sagging skin and signs of aging. In this article, we’re going to look at how this cosmetic therapy works and what potential benefits it has for your skin.

Thermalift was the first type of RF available for skin tightening, but now many companies offer similar technology.

Some of the most common types of systems in the United States include:

  • Exilis
  • Profound RF
  • Thermage
  • Thermi

Each type of technology works the same way. RF waves heat the deep layer of your skin to between 122 and 167°F (50–75°C).

Studies have found that maintaining a temperature over 115°F (46°C) for over 3 minutes causes your body to release heat-shock proteins. These proteins stimulate your body to create new collagen fibers.

The procedure normally takes less than an hour and should be nearly painless.

What are radiofrequency waves?

RF waves are a form of radiation. Radiation is the release of energy in the form of electromagnetic waves.

It can be classified as low energy or high energy depending on the amount of energy released. X-rays and gamma rays are examples of high energy radiation while RF waves are considered low energy.

Radio waves, WiFi, and microwaves are all forms of RF waves.

The form of radiation used in RF skin tightening releases about 1 billion times less energy than X-rays.

The primary benefits of RF therapy are tightening your skin and getting rid of wrinkles.

However, RF therapy may also help fight sun damage due to its ability stimulate the production of collagen.

Fighting sun damage

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause the collagen fibers in your skin to break down and become disorganized.

A 2011 study found that 3 months of RF treatment led to clinically significant improvements in a small group of people with mild to moderate signs of sun damage.

Body contouring

RF therapy may help tighten loose skin on your body by stimulating the production of collagen.

A 2017 study found that 24 of the 25 people who underwent 5 to 8 sessions of RF therapy sessions saw an improvement in their body shape. Twenty-three people were happy with their results.

Face contouring

One small study looked at the effect of RF combined with pulsed electromagnetic treatment for 8 weeks.

The researchers found significant improvement in facial skin laxity in all 11 participants, and 73 percent of them had improvements in facial contour.

Wrinkles and fine lines

A 2018 study looked at the effect of RF therapy on wrinkles around the eyes of 70 middle-aged women.

The researchers found that three treatments over 6 weeks significantly reduced their wrinkles.

RF for face slimming

RF treatment has the potential to be used as a nonsurgical method of slimming your face.

A 2017 study looked at the effect of using RF therapy to break down fat in the lower face of 14 middle-aged Asian women.

After 5 weeks, more than 90 percent of the women had a reduction in fat, and 60 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with their results.

The only side effect observed was mild redness several hours after the procedure.

RF skin tightening is usually considered safe when performed by a surgeon certified with the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery.

If the procedure is incorrectly performed, it’s possible to get burned.

The most common side effects include:

People with darker skin are at a higher risk of side effects from laser and RF treatments.

The form of RF radiation used during this procedure is similar to the type of radiation emitted from other common household devices like cell phones or WiFi.

Although the long-term effects of low energy radiation isn’t entirely known, there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence at this time that suggests that RF radiation poses a health risk to people.

The photos below show the results people typically experience from RF skin tightening.

Several companies offer home-use RF therapy devices. There’s evidence that at least some machines may be effective for treating sagging skin and wrinkles.

A 2017 study examined the effectiveness of 6 weeks of RF treatment using a home-use device for eye wrinkles. Almost all of the 33 participants saw improvements with no side effects reported.

The price of RF therapy can vary depending on what part of your body you’re getting treated and where you live. The price is generally between $1,000 to $4,000.

For reference, Lakeview Dermatology in Chicago is currently charging $2,300 for a stomach treatment.

Reflections Center in New Jersey lists its price as $1,500 to $3,500, depending on which body part you get treated.

Skin tightening is usually considered cosmetic and isn’t covered by most insurance providers.

When looking for a provider for RF therapy, you should look for somebody certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery.

You can use the Find a Cosmetic Surgeon tool from their website to find one near you.

As you age, the quantity and quality of collagen fibers in your skin declines.

RF therapy uses low energy radiation to heat the deep layer of your skin called the dermis. This heat stimulates the production of collagen to help improve signs of wrinkles and sagging skin.

Research has found that RF therapy is usually safe and can be effective at treating mild or moderate signs of aging.