Beauty

Plain and simple, laser skin tightening is the tightening of the skin on the face, neck, or body using good old fashioned heat. According to New York-based dermatologist Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, it’s one of the most effective methods for tightening loose, crepe-y skin.

“After the age of 30, we slow down our production of collagen and elastin—the two proteins that help our skin stay firm, plump, and toned,” she explains. “What non-surgical skin tightening with lasers does is target energy in the layers of the skin to stimulate that collagen and elastin production, which will gradually improve the texture and tone.”

Ahead, hear more from Nussbaum on how it works, how long it takes, how much it costs, and whether or not tightening hurts.

Lasers can tighten skin almost anywhere on the body.

According to Nussbaum, lasers can treat loose skin on the face, neck (and chin), décolletage, stomach, thighs, and basically anywhere else on the body you want to improve. Not all lasers are made equal though—what might work magic on the butt isn’t going to be the best option for tightening your undereye area.

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Before and after results from a neck lift using Ulthera (ultrasound)

Courtesy of Dr. Nussbaum

Laser tightening is non-invasive, non-surgical, and not very painful.

Phew! Other than slight discomfort from the heat produced by lasers during the procedure, tightening your skin is practically painless. You might even enjoy the feeling of the heat, which Dr. Nussbaum compares to that of “a hot stone massage.”

There are three major methods.

Even though there are literally hundreds of “brand name” laser treatments, they all fall under the umbrella of three major categories, per Nussbaum: ultrasound, radiofrequency, and radiofrequency microneedling.

Ultrasound

Ultrasounds aren’t just for expectant mothers, apparently. According to Nussbaum, ultrasound laser treatments (Ulthera being the most popular brand name treatment) are extremely effective for those patients seeking a heavy duty lift. “[The ultrasound method] focuses ultrasound energy to heat the skin at a deeper depth than the other modalities, so that you’re tightening and lifting from deeper under the skin,” she says. “The treatments are delivered by a handheld device that delivers ultrasound waves and usually you really can do just one or two treatments spaced apart—based on how much plasticity you have.”

During the procedure, your doctor will use ultrasound technology to look at the deep layers of skin that they’re heating to ensure you’re getting lift exactly where you want it. Do it on your lunch break, because it only takes 45-90 minutes. Fair warning though, you’ll need to be patient: “You really start to see the best result from that after 3 months,” adds Nussbaum. “You get an immediate lift, but it takes three months to see the best result.”

Recovery: No recovery time

Cost: $500-$6,000 depending on the area of the body

Radiofrequency

Radiofrequency also uses a handheld device to heat the skin for a tightening effect. “With radiofrequency, we heat the skin at a more superficial level to trigger collagen production. There’s really little to no downtime. As with ultrasound treatments, it can feel really hot—it’s like a hot stone massage. It’s also a gradual process, so while you can be in and out of the office in under an hour, you’ll need two to six treatments usually (depending on the size of the area you’re treating, delivered 7-10 days apart,” Nussbaum explains. As far as the most popular modalities go, you’ll hear your doctor talk about name brands like Thermi and Therma, which both use the radiofrequency method.

Recovery: No recovery time

Cost: $600-$1,000 depending on the area of the body

Radiofrequency Microneedling

Nope, not the microneedling you’re thinking of. Rather than going full-Hemingway with a microneedling pen, Nussbaum says the radiofrequency microneedling tool is actually more comparable to a stamp. “It’s not your typical microneedling with the pen. It’s actually a motorized stamper with 37 gold plated needles,” she explains. “So you’re not destroying the epidermis and creating micro tears like with microneedling, you’re actually stamping the skin to create microscopic holes, that then—once the needles are in—emit radiofrequency to tighten the layers.” Like most laser treatments, radiofrquency microneedling is quickie, but the trade off is that you need multiple treatments. Nussbaum says three to four sessions spaced four to six weeks apart usually does the trick.

Recovery: No makeup or exercise for 24 hours

Cost: $600-$1,000 depending on the area of the body

There’s little-to-no downtime required.

“I always say the benefit of non-surgical tightening is that there’s no downtime…but it’s also gradual,” Dr. Nussbaum explains. You have to wait for the collagen and elastin to be produced. So usually it’s a few treatments spaced apart, but little or no downtime. So you just have to be patient.” With the ultrasound and radiofrequency methods, patients can experience minor redness and tenderness in the area treated. Radiofrquency microneedling is the only treatment with any real post-care (if you can even call it that)—just no makeup or exercise for 24 hours after each treatment.

You’ll need multiple sessions to see the best results.

While there’s little-to-no downtime (or pain) involved in laser skin tightening, the tradeoff is that in most cases you need multiple treatment sessions spaced a few days (or even weeks) apart. A doctor can call for anywhere from two to 10 treatments of radiofrequency or radiofrequency microneedling (which targets the superficial layers of the skin), or just one to five ultrasound treatments (since this process targets the deeper layers of the skin right above the muscle).

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Before and after results from an Ulthera (ultrasound) under-chin lift

Courtesy of Dr. Nussbaum

Basically anyone at any age can benefit from a treatment.

As a preventative measure, patients in their 20s whose skin doesn’t demand tightening can still get ahead of potential sagging by getting a laser treatment. “[Lasers] help bank collagen, so it’s great even for young people for future gaining,” says Nussbaum. “It also postpones the need for surgical lifting.”

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