The before and after images of Ultherapy.(Photo: Bryce Gruber)
For the past five or so years my mom would come to my house, play with the grandkids, and make small comments here and there admonishing the way she looked. Sometimes she didn’t like the texture of her skin, sometimes she didn’t like the hyperpigmentation popping up on her once porcelain face, and sometimes the grooves and wrinkles just got her annoyed. It was frustrating to see and hear. No one wants to see their own mother, only 66 years old, feeling less than but also I knew she was inching closer and closer to the point of getting a facelift. I have no judgment for facelifts, in fact, I know several people who look and feel better for them— I just didn’t love the idea of my mom being under a knife she didn’t need. But my mom is and was beautiful, and I knew she just wanted a little pick me up. I also knew there were better options.
After countless chats with dermatologists and plastic surgeons, it seemed that only a procedure called Ultherapy could effectively re-tone and tighten both the skin and muscular tissue responsible for keeping my mom’s face youthful and vibrant— without knives or sedation. As any good daughter would, I lied to my mom and told her I was sending her for a really special facial, and told her to come over and plan to take the night off. I knew it would be much more than a typical facial, but I worried that my mom being hypercritical over their lines and skin texture would do much more research on Ultherapy and maybe back out at the last minute. I wanted her to have this and keep the possibility of a facelift far out of her reality. I took her to one of the top face-reviving practices in NYC, The Dermatology and Plastic Surgery Group, specifically because they focus on combining the practices of conventional dermatology with plastic surgery to give the appearance of turning back time— exactly what my mom wanted.
“Ultherapy uses the power of ultrasound to stimulate our bodies own natural pathways to generate collagen. Generating collagen deeper under the skin over muscle, lifts and tightens saggy areas of our face and neck. In addition, Ultherapy also generates superficial collagen that tones the skin and softens fine lines and wrinkles,” says Dr. Arash Akhavan, Director of Dermatology, The Dermatology and Plastic Surgery Group.
My plan went smoothly at first— my mom took some before photos, her face was cleaned and prepped, and little white lines were drawn around the areas of “concern” on her face.
“I guess I just hate the way my skin looks and feels here… and here… and there,” my beautiful mom said as she pointed to her crowsfeet, the area under her chin, and jowels.
And then Dr. Akhavan offered her the option of either an over the counter painkiller like Advil or a stronger dose, like Percocet. My mom knew then that this would not be an ordinary facial. She was also handed a little stress ball to squeeze if things felt too intense, and within a few minutes of that a series of mapped, methodical pulses began on my mom’s face.
“It’s hurting a little, but not too bad. I’m somewhere between a sunburn and a slap. I’m not in serious pain, but it’s not my idea of a relaxing facial” she told Dr. Ulysses H. Scarpidis. MD, Director of Plastic Surgery, The Dermatology and Plastic Surgery Group, after the first of three rounds of pulses. She glared at me, and I reminded her that I would be her favorite daughter again by the time she started to see results.
As she took a one minute break between treatments, she asked the doctor how exactly the therapy works.
“At its deepest, Ultherapy targets the muscles of the face creating tiny pinpoint wounds. As these tiny wounds heal and contract, the muscles tighten resulting in a lift that improves jowls and the jawline contour. This has revolutionized our ability to apply the same muscle lift we incorporate in a surgical facelift, without any scars, albeit to a lesser degree. When set at an intermediate depth, Ulthera can target and melt fat under the chin and jowls which further improves the cosmetic result. At the most superficial depth, Ulthera stimulates cells in the skin to produce more collagen thus improving fine wrinkles and tightening the skin further.
Immediately after the procedure, patients can see early signs of fat destruction and mild tightening of the skin produced by the direct effects of the ultrasound energy. However it takes time for the muscles to tighten and the collagen to be generated under the skin. The majority of the tightening and collagen remodeling begins around the three month mark with maximal results achieved around six months. Most patients couple Ulthera with other procedures such as fillers that provide instantaneous results until the full results from Ulthera can be better appreciated.”
It took about ninety minutes to treat her entire face and upper neck areas, and by the time we left the doctors’ office, my mom was tired, red, and annoyed with me. “I better look really good, because I just missed my regular dinner salad, I didn’t get a relaxing facial, and now I’m looking like a tomato,” she told me as we headed home, but I could already see that the texture of her skin was changing.
By the next day the more delicate areas of her face like her jowls had bruised mildly. She moved from annoyed with me to “I’m not babysitting your kids this week, Bryce.” But I knew it was just the process and it would pay off. The doctors told us both clearly that it would take 6 months for the ultimate results, and then those results would essentially be permanent, so a week of mild bruising was a small price to pay for such big results. By the end of the second week the bruises were totally gone, and there was a noticeable difference in the texture of my mom’s skin around her jawline and cheekbones. The skin looked less textured, if anything. The very tiny lines that existed there were somehow almost invisible. The more major areas hadn’t yet changed dramatically, but you could start to see little pieces of a youth jigsaw puzzle being filled in.
It is now about one month later, and the full results have yet to come. My mom’s muscle tone regeneration is obviously not complete, but the upper and outer layers of her skin have certainly been impacted for the better. The deep lines below her jawline have lessened significantly and the area around her jowls and radiating down from her crowsfeet have softened in texture and seem mildly lifted. We are only a few weeks out from the treatment, but feel really enthused about the results yet to come.
Dr. Akhavan mentioned that many women in their 30s even try the treatment a few months before their weddings, as a way of having their absolute best looking faces for their big day. After seeing how the treatment works and how the results build up gradually, I can understand why. My mom has been happy with her results so far, telling me recently: “It’s definitely not the same as a facelift, but if you put it on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being a facelift and 1 being doing nothing, this is like a 6. It’s enough to see and feel a difference but you don’t really change the way your face looks to most people. I don’t think anyone but me knows I did something significant, and I’m glad.”