Maybe you’ve seen ads on social media or heard your pals dishing about laser skin tightening, and you’re still wondering what it actually is, what it does, and if you should be calling your derm. Turns out, if you’re in your twenties or beyond, you might be a good candidate for these buzzy treatments, and it’s all because of the skin’s natural loss of collagen and elastin as we age, according to Anne Chapas, MD a medical director and board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology.
“The skin's level of tightness is based on collagen and elastin, which are two components of our dermis”—aka the thicker, deeper connective tissue of skin beneath the outer layer (epidermis) we can see. As Dr. Chapas explained, “Elastin and collagen are found just above the fat layer. These two vital components slowly decline with age and our skin begins to lose elasticity, resulting in thinner, more fragile skin.”
Your skin slows down collagen production in your twenties.
This process might start happening well before you notice your first wrinkle or gray hair: “In fact, starting at age 20, we produce about one percent less collagen every year,” she shared. (Eep!) “Skin tightening devices utilize different types of energy, such as ultrasound or radio-frequency energy, to stimulate the body's creation of new collagen,” leaving skin that looks and feels plump, firmed, and toned.
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You can get laser skin tightening done just about anywhere on your body.
As for where on the body you can have tightening procedures done, you’ll want to check in with your derm—they’ll advise the best treatment plan based on your individual needs. “Skin tightening devices have been proven to be effective on the face, neck, stomach, arms, upper and lower thighs on both sides, and buttocks,” explained Dr. Chapas. “Your board-certified dermatologist will select the appropriate device based on the treatment area and desired results.”
You're likely a good candidate for laser skin tightening.
Not sure if you’re the right candidate for these procedures? You probably are, especially if you’re still relatively young. “Most adults are ideal candidates for skin tightening, but the most dramatic results are with patients with mild to moderate skin laxity,” she said.
The recovery time is minimal.
Thankfully, skin tightening is non-invasive and with minimal recovery time, though your downtime might vary based on the specific procedure you get—more on that in a minute. Laser skin tightening might not exactly be a day at the spa, but Dr. Chapas noted that your derm can provide topical or oral pain management to make the treatment more tolerable. “Patients may experience slight swelling and redness, but this typically resolves within 48 hours,” she added.
There are some downsides to laser skin tightening, however. They’re not permanent, you’ll likely need multiple treatments, and each treatment could be costly. “You can see full results on skin tightening treatments within 3 months,” said Dr. Chapas. “I recommend repeating the treatment every 1-2 years for maintenance.”
As mentioned, your derm will know the best treatment options to suit your skin’s needs, but there are generally three major methods—and tons of options for each method—on the block to target specialized areas for maximum benefits.
For the chin, neck, brow, and décolleté areas, “ultrasound energy bypasses the surface of the skin to generate a thermal effect which kickstarts collagen production,” explained Dr. Chapas. “Ultherapy has been around for more than a decade, but it remains the gold standard in ultrasound-based tightening because of its customizable depth delivery for the patient. It’s best with one treatment and then a smaller booster treatment three to six months later.” (FYI: This is the only skin tightening procedure that requires downtime, with Dr. Chapas noting that patients have to take the remainder of the day off if they take narcotics for pain relief.)
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Another buzzy option: SofWave, an “exciting new, more comfortable ultrasound option for the face and neck. It heats and tightens more of the tissue area more quickly, doesn’t require pain medication and has no recovery time.” It also only requires one treatment session. For these, Dr. Chapas noted that costs range from $2,000-$6,000 per session depending on the device and area size.
“Radiofrequency uses radio energy waves to heat the dermis which stimulates the production of collagen. I like the radiofrequency device Thermage for larger areas like the abdomen,” she said. “Not only does it tighten closer to the surface of the skin for a lifting effect, but it also targets deeper under thicker skin, to contour and smooth the body. Patients will benefit from one Thermage session, whereas ThermiSmooth (another popular radiofrequency treatment) requires 3-6 sessions. Costs range from $1,500-$4,500 per session depending on the device and area size.”
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Lastly, there’s microneedling with radiofrequency, a dual-modality device that stamps the skin, which creates microscopic holes. The tiny needles then emit radiofrequency to tighten the skin’s layers. “The needles produce small micro-wounds, while simultaneously heating the dermis.” Costs for this treatment range from $1,850-$3,000 per session depending on the device and area size. (Confused about whether or not a procedure involves lasers? Dr. Chapas clarified, noting, “These are often called ‘energy based devices’ because most skin tightening devices are not technically lasers, although some are,” just FYI.)
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Generally speaking, skin tightening works like a charm on all skin tones and types. “If a patient has acne scarring, enlarged pores, or textural issues, microneedling with radio-frequency is an excellent option because it simultaneously targets these issues,” said Dr. Chapas. If you’re interested, check in with your derm, who will guide you to the best procedures for your skin concerns and needs.
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