Radiofrequency therapy is a nonsurgical, cosmetic treatment that may help tighten a person’s skin. Those interested in the procedure often consider it to restore their skin to a more youthful appearance.

This minimally invasive, generally safe procedure may produce desired results, particularly when a person uses a qualified practitioner, such as a plastic surgeon or dermatologist specially trained in its use.

It is generally safe and could be a good alternative to more invasive surgical options.

This article reviews the use of radiofrequency therapy for skin tightening, other potential benefits, safety, and more.

Devices for radiofrequency skin tighteningShare on Pinterest
Elena Safonova/Getty Images

Radiofrequency skin tightening is a nonsurgical cosmetic procedure.

A 2022 systematic review describes the procedure as using a low dose radiofrequency to promote skin rejuvenation. The radiofrequency, typically around 450 kilohertz, converts to thermal energy and creates small “injuries” to the lower levels of the skin that prompt particular tissue repair and clotting.

It is safe for all skin types due to the minimal damage and melanin changes.

This, along with other changes, promotes skin tightening and the reduction of scars, wrinkles, and fat.

In 2002, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave approval for the first radiofrequency device for reducing facial wrinkles. Since then, newer technologies introduced enhanced features.

A person can choose to have the procedure at a specialist’s office, or they can purchase an FDA-approved device suitable for at-home use.

A 2017 study showed that maintaining a temperature of over 115°F (46.11°C) for 3 or more minutes promotes the skin to release heat-shock proteins. These proteins help produce the collagen required to tighten the skin.

The procedure itself is relatively short. Because it is noninvasive, a person should be able to immediately return to their daily routine. However, following treatment, some people may experience side effects, including:

  • pain
  • redness
  • swelling
  • skin darkening

While service providers and manufacturers promote its benefits, scientific evidence supporting the use of radiofrequency skin tightening is limited.

According to a 2015 review of studies, most evidence did not prove the overall effectiveness of radiofrequency when used to benefit the skin.

However, a more recent 2020 study noted that the procedure is generally safe and effective. However, it also stated it is not as effective as surgical procedures for skin tightening.

The study also mentions that the main advantage is safety, along with the limited time that a person would need for recovery, in comparison to surgical skin tightening procedures.

Overall, scientists should conduct further studies to better provide evidence for the benefits of radiofrequency skin tightening.

Other potential benefits

Radiofrequency may help with skin tightening, but it also may provide some additional skin benefits. These may include:

  • Skin contouring: A small 2017 study showed that participants who had five to eight sessions of therapy reported improved body shape.
  • Reduced wrinkles: In a small 2018 study of about 70 women, researchers found that the appearance of wrinkles improved after three sessions spread out over 6 weeks.
  • Facial slimming: In a small 2017 study, researchers looked at the effects of radiofrequency therapy on facial fat. They found that following 5 weeks of therapy, 90% of the women experienced a reduction in face fat in the area the practitioner applied the treatment.

The most likely risk of radiofrequency therapy for skin tightening is overexposure, which can result in a burn. Additional side effects may include:

  • dark spots
  • redness
  • pain
  • swelling

A 2020 study, which showed some favorable results from radiofrequency therapy, noted that people frequently report pain from the procedure along with mild results.

The American Cancer Society notes that while the long-term effects of radiofrequency therapy are still unknown, no conclusive evidence indicates any health risks to long-term exposure.

However, it states that the results are not yet enough to rule out possible health effects on the human body. Scientists should carry out further studies to determine the long-term effects of radiofrequency therapy on skin tightening.

Individuals should first consider seeking advice from a dermatologist or board certified plastic surgeon to determine whether they are a good candidate for this procedure. If they are, they can purchase a device that administers radiofrequency therapy at home.

In a small 2017 study of at-home devices, researchers found that nearly all of the people who used home devices for 6 weeks saw positive results. They also reported no side effects.

A person should proceed with caution to avoid potential burns and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to minimize risk.

Radiofrequency therapy for skin tightening is a cosmetic procedure. This means that private health insurance and Medicare will not typically pay for the procedure.

Prices can range greatly based on factors such as:

  • location
  • experience of the professional
  • use of a home device versus an office visit

A person should check that the healthcare professional is:

  • well-versed in the procedure
  • has ample experience
  • uses FDA-cleared equipment

At-home radiofrequency therapy devices may range from $150–700 or more, but individuals should first seek medical advice from a dermatologist or board certified plastic surgeon on whether this treatment method is appropriate for their specific skin type.

When looking for a local, qualified healthcare professional, a person can use the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery’s search tool, Find ABCS Surgeons. Surgeon results will display, and in some instances, they will include links to their websites that detail the services they offer.

A person may also find that their primary care physician can recommend a particular practitioner or advise whether they believe a person is a good candidate for the procedure.

Radiofrequency therapy may help with skin tightening. The procedure is generally safe and small group studies often report positive results.

The most common side effects are pain, swelling, and redness. In some cases, particularly with at-home treatments, individuals may burn their skin from overexposure.

However, this risk is minimized when a person uses a qualified practitioner to perform the procedure.

If an individual uses an at-home radiofrequency therapy device, they should look for FDA approval and take care to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.