Nonsurgical skin tightening procedures are cosmetic treatments to change the look of your face and your stomach. These procedures are far less invasive than surgical options, like facelifts and tummy tucks, and some people claim they can produce similar results. There are also fewer complication risks, it’s less expensive, and recovery is simple.

These treatments are based on newer technologies. That means that there’s still a gap in research to understand how effective they are, and what the long-term side effects might be.

This article will cover different types of noninvasive skin tightening treatments, what the research says, and things to consider before you try it.

When you’re born, your skin is rich with proteins called elastin and collagen. These proteins give your skin structure and elasticity. As you age, your body’s production of these proteins slows down. As a result, your skin starts to lose its elasticity.

Thanks to gravity, pollution exposure, stress, and the hundreds of movements that your facial muscles make every day, your skin might start to appear stretched or saggy. Other factors, such as pregnancy and weight loss, can also contribute to stretch marks and sagging skin.

Nonsurgical skin tightening treatments target areas of your skin that have become loose and stimulate collagen production underneath that skin. The two main types of treatment are:

  • in-office procedures performed by a trained provider
  • at-home devices you can use to give yourself treatment

Radiofrequency (Thermalift, Thermage, and Exilis)

Thermalift was the first technology to use the concept of “waking up” or restoring lost collagen. Thermalift uses a device to apply controlled radio waves to the area of your skin that you would like to tighten. The procedure is done with topical or no anesthesia, and no recovery time is required.

Thermage requires one treatment session, but some people benefit from multiple sessions. Other types of radiofrequency treatment usually require multiple sessions to see results. Whether you get one treatment or several, results are only slightly noticeable right away, and typically take 4 months to take full effect.

Intense pulsed light/radiofrequency (Velashape)

Velashape is a device that claims to target and shrink fat cells. It uses a handheld device to send infrared waves into your skin layers to break apart fat deposits.

Radiofrequency waves are also used. This procedure doesn’t require anesthesia. Several appointments are usually recommended to get the most visible results.

Ultrasound therapy

Ultrasound skin tightening uses ultrasound waves sent deep into your skin to stimulate collagen production. Handheld devices that use this technology can be purchased online and at some beauty supply retailers.

These devices aren’t cheap and need to be used consistently if you expect results. Without the expertise of a trained provider, it’s possible that you won’t find these devices effective.

All of the treatments mentioned in this article are approved for the face, neck, and stomach. Thermage, Thermalift, and Exilis are popular treatments for the face. Velashape works on the face, but is more frequently recommended for larger areas of the body.

The stomach has a larger surface area than the face. It’s also more prone to stretch marks and sagging. While Thermage, Thermalift, and Exilis work on the face, Velashape is usually recommended for the abdomen area.

The limited amount of research that we have on noninvasive skin tightening treatments would suggest that these treatments do work. While the results are not as dramatic as microdermabrasion, laser therapy, or surgical methods, these studies indicate that people do experience tighter skin.

A 2015 review of the medical literature on radiofrequency techniques found that 96 percent of studies concluded radiofrequency achieved significant results. However, the same survey concluded that much of the research had serious problems that could possibly bias the results.

An older study published in 2011 concluded that radiofrequency is an effective way to reduce facial wrinkles. This study was significantly limited by its sample size (only 6 participants), but the results were promising.

Another 2011 study concluded that a consumer device that used radiofrequency waves to tighten skin was safe and effective. This study, too, was limited in size, which weakens the conclusion.

More recently, a 2017 study on 25 participants concluded that radiofrequency-based skin tightening methods were effective after five to eight treatments. Participants also had very high satisfaction rates in their results.

Here are some examples of how skin looks before and after in-office, noninvasive skin tightening treatments.

Side effects of these treatments are mild to moderate. Side effects may include mild:

  • swelling
  • bruising
  • redness
  • tingling
  • soreness

In rare cases, your skin may become burned. Using a licensed and trained practitioner greatly reduces the risk of serious complications.

Noninvasive skin tightening procedures are considered elective cosmetic procedures. That means they won’t be covered by your insurance, and you should expect to pay the full amount out-of-pocket.

Your cost will depend on several factors, including:

  • what kind of treatment you choose
  • how many treatments or appointments you need
  • how many areas of skin you are targeting
  • what your expectations are for your results

Radiofrequency treatments start at $200 per session for the abdomen and other areas on your body. Typically, you will need to do multiple treatment sessions, which means that your cost could be $800 to $2,000.

In 2018, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported that the average cost of nonsurgical fat reduction services was $1,559.

If you’re looking for at-home options as a cheaper alternative, you might be in for some sticker shock. Even at-home radiofrequency and ultrasound therapy treatment devices start at $450, and most of them are more expensive than that.

The alternatives to nonsurgical skin tightening are much more invasive procedures. Facelifts and tummy tucks do provide dramatic results, but they require extensive recovery time. If you’re looking for permanent and immediately noticeable results, surgical treatment might be more in line with your expectations.

Surgical alternatives also carry different risks. Nonsurgical methods of skin tightening don’t require any downtime, but surgery requires significant recovery time. Nonsurgical methods also carry no risk of infection, whereas infections and complications are a possibility after surgery.

Another alternative for your midsection is liposuction. Liposuction is technically a type of surgery, but it generally has less risks than a tummy tuck. Liposuction can flatten your tummy, but it can also make your skin look wavy or saggy in the areas where fat was removed.

If you’re considering nonsurgical skin tightening treatment, you’ll need to consult with a trained provider. You can start your search by looking for a cosmetic surgeon in your area with the American Society of Plastic Surgeons database.

Nonsurgical skin tightening procedures are a low-risk alternative to surgery. Research on how effective they are is limited, and these procedures can be expensive.

Setting realistic expectations and choosing a trained and licensed provider are both important before trying this procedure.