Non-Surgical Skin Tightening Options

Written by Elizabeth Geddes-Bruce, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on November 3, 2021 No Comments

skin tightening after

In youthful skin, skin firming proteins like collagen and elastin are abundant. These structural proteins give skin its tautness, and the ability to bounce back from movement and stretch. They also help the skin be resistant to skin aging factors like UV exposure, free radicals, and the ever-constant pull of gravity. As we age, production of these proteins slows down, leaving us with more lax, droopy or crepey skin.

Surgical remedies for loose skin like facelift and tummy tuck procedures are highly effective, but they are painful, require significant recovery time, and are very expensive. They also may provide more dramatic results than a patient needs. For skin that’s just beginning to experience increased skin laxity and early to moderate signs of aging, there are many great non-surgical skin tightening options that can restore the skin and even postpone the need for a more invasive surgical solution.

About Non-Surgical Skin Tightening

Non-surgical skin tightening, sometimes called laser skin tightening, is safe for the face, neck, chest, stomach and hands.

In general, non-surgical tightening methods work by applying heat to the deeper layers of skin, which triggers collagen production. Skin appears tighter over time as the body produces more collagen, leading to a natural-looking result.

Non-surgical skin tightening works best in younger patients who are just beginning to see the signs of aging. These procedures can prevent future wrinkling and skin sagging, and help hold off the need for surgical solutions.

Two of the most common methods of non-surgical skin tightening are radiofrequency and ultrasound.

Radiofrequency-Based Skin Tightening

Radiofrequency skin tightening devices heat the superficial layers of skin to trigger an increase in collagen production. The in-office procedure uses radio waves to target the treatment area and requires no down-time.

While radiofrequency-based treatments such as Thermage or Genius RX require just one session, patients may see greater benefit with multiple treatments. Results are immediately apparent, but will continue to improve for up to 3 months after the procedure as the body produces more collagen.

Ultrasound-Based Skin Tightening

Ultrasound-based skin tightening, such as Ultherapy, treats the deeper layers of skin tissue for more dramatic results than radiofrequency offers. The procedure uses sound waves as the source of collagen-stimulating heat.

The handheld device is used in combination with ultrasound so your practitioner can see exactly which areas are heating and getting lifted. As with Thermage, results are visible immediately, but will continue to improve up to 3 months after your treatment.

What Results are Possible with Non-Surgical Skin Tightening?

Non-surgical skin tightening uses your body’s own structural proteins to do the work, for a final outcome that look natural. Skin becomes both firmer and smoother.

Because results depend on collagen and elastin production, you’ll have to wait 2-4 months before your final results are apparent.

Are Multiple Treatments Required?

Most patients will notice results after just one Thermage or Ultherapy treatment. However, multiple treatments are often required to achieve the greatest effect. Since ultrasound penetrates more deeply into the skin, fewer treatments are typically needed.

  • Radiofrequency: 2-6 treatments, scheduled 7-10 days apart.
  • Ultrasound 1-5 treatments, spaced 7-10 days apart.

The number of treatments required depends on the size of the area to be treated, and the amount of elasticity that’s naturally available in your skin.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Non-surgical skin tightening is a safe and common procedure and side effects are generally mild. Swelling, redness, bruising, tingling or soreness typically resolve themselves within 1-3 hours. Burning is a rare, but serious side effect which is minimized by seeing an experienced, licensed practitioner.

Surgical vs. Non-Surgical Skin Tightening

Surgical skin tightening options include facelifts, neck lifts and tummy tucks. Surgical procedures require significant recovery time, and a greater financial commitment compared to non-surgical options. In addition, surgery always entails greater risk of side-effects.

Why Choose Non-Surgical Skin Tightening?

  • Natural-looking results
  • Great for addressing minimal to moderate laxity
  • Non-invasive procedure
  • No downtime required
  • Less risk of side effects
  • Typically, lower cost compared to surgical procedures
  • May prevent or delay the need for future surgical skin tightening

Why Choose Surgical Skin Tightening?

  • Provides dramatic results
  • Surgery can address advanced-stage aging symptoms like jowls and severe sagging
  • Instant results (does not require follow up treatment sessions like non-surgical options)

Which is Best for Me? 

Patients who are older and exhibit more severe aging symptoms may require a surgical skin tightening procedure. Patients who are relatively young or just beginning to see fine lines, mild laxity and early signs of aging, non-surgical skin tightening may be a good option. The treatments are effective, and can prevent the need for future surgery.

The best way to know which treatment option is best for your unique needs is to have an in-person consultation with an experienced provider of both surgical and non-surgical skin tightening treatments. This will allow the provider to assess your specific needs and develop a treatment plan that can achieve your desired end result.


Elizabeth Geddes-Bruce, MD

Elizabeth Geddes-Bruce, MD is a board certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon specializing in the practice of both cosmetic and medical dermatology. Dr. Geddes-Bruce is fellowship-trained in cosmetic dermatology and laser surgery. She served as Chief Resident at one of the nation’s top dermatology programs – The University of Texas at Houston and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Leave a Reply