Ultrasonic Facials Promise Firmer, More Radiant Skin... But Results Vary
- Studies show that ultrasonic facials are effective, but results are not as dramatic as surgical facelifts.
- Ultherapy is the only FDA approved ultrasonic device for tightening facial and neck skin.
- At-home skin rejuvenation devices are significantly less powerful than their professional counterparts.
Collagen and elastin are components of our skin’s connective tissue that maintain its firmness, elasticity, and structural integrity. According to one study, the amount of collagen produced in the skin of people over the age of 80 is about 75% less than that of young adults. With time, skin invariably begins to show the telltale signs of aging — wrinkles, lines, and sagging.
Ultrasonic facial treatments use sound waves to boost circulation and stimulate the protein that gives skin its elasticity and firmness. Here’s what you need to know about this futuristic skin rejuvenation procedure.
What is an ultrasonic facial?
The ultrasonic facelift is a noninvasive medical procedure that aims to give the skin a tighter, younger-looking appearance. It uses a technology known as high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU).
While related to the diagnostic ultrasound machines used in OB-GYN offices, the sound waves produced with HIFU are much higher and localized.
How does it work?
The inaudible, high-energy ultrasound waves penetrate into the deep layers of the skin, heating the tissues. This creates a controlled micro-injury which stimulates the body’s natural healing mechanisms to ramp up collagen production.
According to Dr. Will Richardson, a Fort Lauderdale-based dermatologist, these focused ultrasound waves can heat three tissue layers of the skin: the SMAS (superficial muscular aponeurotic system) layer, the deep dermis, and the papillary dermis.
“This causes an immediate contraction followed by a delayed tissue remodeling effect, resulting in tighter skin,” Richardson explains.
Unlike lasers, radiofrequency, microcurrents, and other noninvasive skin treatment modalities, ultrasound can bypass the superficial layer of the skin and produce its effect solely in the deeper layers where it is required.
Using ultrasound imaging, the skin layers are visualized prior to beginning the treatment. The focused ultrasound is then precisely delivered to the required location, at the correct depth, with minimal effects on the surrounding tissues. Treatments performed with the Ultherapy device, a professional ultrasound HIFU found in many aesthetic practices, usually last between 60 and 90 minutes.
“There is minimal downtime after Ultherapy. It may cause mild swelling, bruising and tenderness, but there are no restrictions after the treatment has been performed,” says Shay Moinuddin, Aesthetic Nurse Specialist and Practice Manager at The Few Institute in Chicago.
How effective is ultrasound?
In 2009, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Ultherapy as a noninvasive eyebrow lift treatment. Ultherapy was later granted expanded FDA clearance for lifting lax skin of the neck, the submental area (under the chin), and the décolletage (upper chest).
That said, ultrasound facelifts should not be expected to replicate the results of facelift surgery.
“Ultherapy is unable to provide the same dramatic results as a surgical facelift,” confirms Dr. Joseph Cruise, a plastic surgeon based in Orange County, CA. “Individuals with moderate to severe skin laxity or deeper wrinkles may benefit from a surgical facelift rather than a non-invasive treatment such as Ultherapy.”
The intrinsic ability of the skin to regenerate collagen is dependent on many factors and differs from person to person. People with mild skin sagging and good overall skin health are most likely to benefit from this treatment.
Ultrasonic facelift side effects
While many people and even some doctors are wary of the possible risks of ultrasound facial treatments, clinical evidence has not revealed any serious side effects.
In published studies, adverse effects were mostly limited to redness, swelling, bruising, and some pain or discomfort during the treatment. More severe discomfort or pain is usually only experienced during the treatment session and goes away after it’s completed. Rare side effects may include temporary numbness and hyperpigmentation (change in skin color).
An experienced healthcare provider will be able to give you an injection, numbing cream, or oral medication to help minimize discomfort. The intensity of the treatment can also be adjusted based on each patient’s specific reaction and pain tolerance.
“Ultherapy can be painful, and results may be subtle and take a long time to become visible to the patients,” warns Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Tess Mauricio. “Patients may expect a more dramatic improvement for the money they paid and the pain they endured during the procedure.”
Professional ultrasound facial devices
Various ultrasonic skin care devices are used in medical spas and aesthetic practices, the most common being Ultherapy. Other brands are often more affordably priced, but their effectiveness remains to be recognized by regulatory agencies.
Ultherapy is the only HIFU device approved by the FDA for lifting and tightening skin. It underwent extensive testing and clinical trials for every approved indication, and is thus considered the gold standard among ultrasound facial devices. In fact, you will often hear the name “Ultherapy” used to refer to all ultrasound facial treatments.
Pricing for Ultherapy depends on a number of factors, including location, the healthcare provider’s experience, and the area of the face or neck that is being treated. It starts for as low as $750 for the eyebrow area, and goes up to $3,000 to $5,000 for a full face and neck treatment.
This machine uses ultrasound waves, electric microcurrents, and skin care products to exfoliate and hydrate the skin.
Although DermaSound produces ultrasound, it is a low intensity, low frequency form of the waves that do not penetrate as deeply into the skin as HIFU treatments. This, and similar devices, have not been as well studied as Ultherapy.
DermaSound is often found at spas and wellness centers rather than doctors’ offices. An ultrasound facial session with DermaSound can cost you as little as $70.
Doublo, 3D Skinmed, Smasthera, and Ultra-Tech are HIFU machines that operate in a similar way to Ultherapy. These devices are popular overseas, particularly in South Korea and the United Kingdom.
While some practices in the United States may offer these treatments for a fraction of the price of Ultherapy, it is important to note that none of them have been cleared by the FDA.
Do at-home ultrasonic facial devices work?
If you’re interested in trying out ultrasound facial skin therapy but are reluctant to shell out for Ultherapy, you may be tempted to buy one of the many at-home “ultrasonic” devices available online.
However, many of the claims made by manufacturers of these devices are misleading. For instance, most “ultrasonic facial” devices you can buy do not, in fact, use ultrasound waves; they only use high-frequency vibrations to scrub the surface of the skin. While this may be useful, it is completely different from an ultrasound facial.
Some at-home devices do in fact use ultrasound energy, but since these devices are for personal use and are not operated by healthcare professionals, they are significantly less powerful than their professional counterparts. Ultherapy machines can penetrate as deep as 4.5 mm into tissues; no at-home devices can achieve that depth of penetration.
“Any device that a consumer can buy for home use is in general not going to work as well as devices that are sold to doctors,” says Atlanta based plastic surgeon Dr. Benjamin Stong.
“There is a tremendous power-gap between at-home and in-office procedures. Over-the-counter devices do not provide the wattage to effect the change seen with in-office platforms,” agrees Dr. Richardson.
Furthermore, there is no published scientific evidence on the efficacy of any of these devices, and they are not as well regulated as professional machines. Our advice: avoid any devices that have not been rigorously tested and approved by regulatory organizations like the FDA.
» For more information on ultrasonic facials, use Zwivel’s online consultation tool to contact a board-certified dermatologist in your area.
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