Everything you need to know about radiofrequency facials

In the last year, radiofrequency has become one of my preferred technologies when improving skin laxity for my clients. 

The demand for ‘lunchtime lift’ styled treatments and managing and creating facial contours has become common interest for many. 

There are so many beautiful things a radiofrequency facial (or body treatment) may be able to offer, so I thought I would dedicate a blog post to this wonderful skin tightening treatment. Here you will get to understand more about how RF works and what to expect after a treatment, the risks and why it is also an effective method for treating cellulite, stretch marks and excess body fat. 

What is radiofrequency?

Non-ablative radiofrequency (RF) is one of the most commonly used non-surgical aesthetic procedures that use electronic magnetic fields (EMF) to directly or indirectly influence the body’s cells.

Radiofrequency induces thermal damage in the skin to stimulate collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid production. 

Most cases show immediate tightening of the skin, and the collagen stimulation process continues to happen over a 4-6-week period after treatment.  

How it works

When the RF machine’s handpiece (electrode) is applied directly to the skin, the client will feel a gradual warming sensation. Whilst the energy is transmitted into the tissue, the aim is to build up and maintain the perfect temperature of 38-40°C in the epidermis, and 50°C-75°C in the dermis. This stimulates a collagen remodelling process. 

Radiofrequency uses certain measurements to create this ideal heat, in clinical research, often referred to as parameters. RF parameters include:

Frequency – RF machines’ frequency varies from 1mhz to 6mhz
Power/Temperature – RF machines’ power output varies from 40mhz –to 330W

The amount of time spent in the treatment area varies from 5 minutes to 60 minutes, depending on the parameters used. For example, if a machine was outputting a low temperature of 60W and 1hz, it is going to take longer to achieve the same result as a treatment using 200W in temperature and a higher frequency of 4mhz. 

What can you expect during a radiofrequency treatment

After the treatment area is cleansed, a product (usually oil-based) is applied to the skin to allow the RF handpiece to glide smoothly. 

Straight away the client will feel a gradual build-up of heat. 

The handpiece is moved over the skin quickly and efficiently to spread even layers of energy and to avoid too much heat building up in one area.

Establishing the client’s comfortability to the treatment is the only tricky part of an RF facial. Some report serious levels of discomfort, but this could be due to the high amount of heat being used in that particular treatment. The temperature and treatment time can be altered to make it more bearable for the patient.

The area will feel quite warm and flushed red straight after treatment, these symptoms tend to dissolve within 2 hours after treatment. Most report an instant ‘lift’ and noticeable skin tightening straight after treatment and results continue to evolve as the collagen stimulation process continues over the coming weeks.

What is radiofrequency good for?

Non-ablative radiofrequency is especially beneficial for improving skin laxity. Because of the immediate tightening effect that RF has on the skin, it can be a great technique to use for facial contouring in general.

Microneedling RF is another common procedure, combining two aesthetic therapies together to treat the skin at a much deeper level than non-ablative RF.

Radiofrequency has statistically shown positive effects on removing unwanted fat and cellulite. Despite not having much effect on weight loss or reduction in total % of body fat, most RF devices show mild to moderate results when it came to circumference reduction. This is why RF is a popular method to use for body contouring, and often combined with other therapies such as Ultrasound, HIFU (high-intensity ultrasound) and Cryolipolysis to achieve the best results possible. 

The risks of radiofrequency

The most common side effect of having a radiofrequency treatment is the intense sensation of heat during the procedure. Some individuals are more tolerant of heat than others, and for some, the sensation of 40°C heat can feel uncomfortable. 

This is a heat-based treatment after all so there is always lingering risk of internal or external burns. The thermal damage created in the treatment may cause changes to the pigmentation in the skin. Fat necrosis and atrophic scarring has been noted to happen in some cases as a result of too much thermal damage in one area. 

Remember, radiofrequency has the ability to break down subcutaneous fat (hence why it is used for body contouring treatments) and can have a negative impact in some cases. There have been reports of some older individuals having radiofrequency facials to improve the loss of volume in the face, only to achieve more fat loss due to excessive heating from the radiofrequency energy.

How effective is radiofrequency for skin tightening?

Despite the large amount of study and clinical research available that explores the effectiveness or radiofrequency for skin tightening and body contouring, more data is needed to provide us with clearer, statistical results. This report reviewed several RF clinical studies and noted that treatment parameters, time and treatment frequency varied massively.

In all of these studies, parameters differ greatly and there is a lack of standard set for highlighting the ideal measurements needed for an effective radiofrequency treatment.

As you can see from the table below, the studies that are reviewed vary massively in the area being treated, the power and frequency used, the amount of treatments carried and the time between each one, and the type of equipment being used.

Source: NCBI Article PMC463123

This isn’t to say that radiofrequency isn’t effective at stimulating collagen and improving skin laxity, however more research is required to provide professional’s with better consistency, when we consider parameters and treatment frequency, so that all radiofrequency treatments are offering a similar result.

Radiofrequency in a nutshell

Radiofrequency is a heat-based, skin tightening and body contouring treatment that is considered gentler than other skin rejuvenation therapies like ablative laser and microneedling. If the machine is of reputable quality and the parameters are set correctly, this non-ablative treatment offers an instant lift to the facial profile and parts of the body. 

Unfortunately for a good-quality machine that outputs powerful enough, but safe radiofrequency energy, the technology can be expensive for both the business owner and the consumer. 

There is a great deal of evidence to show how RF can treat skin laxity, cellulite and help to reduce unwanted fat however more research is needed to clarify to professionals a standardised set of parameters for effective treatments. Risks are small, however adverse reactions can happen. Like any advanced aesthetic treatment, you should ask the relevant questions and ensure your aesthetician, or whoever is providing the treatment, knows there stuff well enough to be able to achieve the desired effect. The intense warming sensation of radiofrequency energy can feel uncomfortable for some people, and there is the additional risk of facial fat loss. Therefore, candidates should be carefully considered for this treatment. 

 Did you learn anything from this blog post? If so, you may want to read this article on how LED facials work.