Skin Tightening
Skin Tightening Guide

Laser Skin Tightening

The goal of non-surgical skin tightening procedures is to heat the lower layers of the skin and stimulate collagen production. Collagen is plentiful in our youth and gives skin its shape and fullness. Over time, collagen is damaged or depleted by sun damage, aging and heredity.

There are various ways to deliver heat to the dermal and subcutaneous layers of the skin for the purposes of skin tightening. The two primary methods are radiofrequency (RF) and laser. Each method has its own strengths and limitations.

RF's greatest strength is that it is skin tone agnostic. Radio frequencies are not limited by skin color and treat all skin types equally. Laser, on the other hand, works best in high contrast where skin is light or untanned. However, there are laser methods that provide skin tightening for all skin tones.

Laser has an advantage over RF in the treatments it can provide as a complement to skin tightening. Sun spots, blemishes, acne scars and many other marks can be corrected with laser. Skin is primarily marred by photo damage (sun damage) and photo therapy corrects it as well. Laser light and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) break up the discolored elements in the skin and return a more even skin tone over time.

For example, a candidate who goes in for skin tightening may also have laser applied to sun spots. An initial difference will be seen immediately, but the spots will darken for the first couple days. In the following 7 - 14 days, the spots will begin to lighten and disappear. Subsequent treatments may be required for optimal skin tone. However, you no longer have to live with skin that is uneven in shape and color. Laser skin tightening procedures can provide dramatic improvements to these normal aging problems.

Now that we have a baseline for laser therapy's unique skin tightening features, let's look at different laser methods.

Ablative Versus Non Ablative

In your skin tightening research, you may run across the terms "ablative" and "non-ablative" used in reference to different laser systems. While the differences between them can get rather technical, the difference in use is much easier to understand.

Ablative laser methods affect all the layers of the skin and the intensity has a stronger affect on the epidermis. When collagen generation is the mail goal of skin tightening, it's unnecessary to heat the epidermis as the dermis and subcutaneous layers hold the skin's collagen. If you aren't looking to address any problems in the epidermis an ablative laser just adds additional discomfort and reddening to the epidermis, which isn't ideal for treatment.

However, an ablative layer's strength lies in its ability to tackle epidermal discoloration. The skin's melanin is housed at the base of the epidermis and sun spots, discoloration from acne and other uneven skin tone problems happen here. The ablative layer can break up these spots and return a more even skin tone. Skin color can be a limitation to an ablative laser as high contrast in skin and the discoloration aids the laser in its treatment. Tanned skin and darker skin don't see optimal results, though skin tone is not an issue for skin tightening.

Ablative laser skin tightening is also more effective for some types of acne scarring. Like other ablative methods, this may take a series of treatments. Results will be seen immediately after treatment and improve in subsequent weeks. However, several sessions may be required to achieve optimal results.

Non-ablative lasers are able to address the lower layers of the skin without overheating the epidermis. This is ideal for skin tightening. These lower layers must be heated to disrupt the collagen in the skin and stimulate the production of new collagen. As non-ablative lasers do not affect the epidermis, they are also not the most effective at improving skin discoloration issues.

Non-ablative lasers are gentler and better suited to more delicate skin tightening areas. Current skin tightening systems are the first approved for treating the extremely delicate areas around the eyes. It is near the eyes that the epidermis is at its thinnest on the entire body. In contrast, the palms are the thickest epidermal area on the body. Skin tightening really can address any area on the body that there is a need.

Skin Tightening Delivery

There are a variety of methods employed to perform skin tightening procedures. These methods have developed over time and the technology changes rapidly. Different methods have their own strengths and weaknesses, and it's important to understand these to know what is best for you. Information here will help you get a basic idea of skin tightening methods, which will help you ask your doctor good questions during consultation.

Skin tightening technology has changed quickly over time. Methods that were cutting edge in the 90s have been improved upon several times over. The information here is up to date, but as you find a method you like, be sure to investigate it in greater depth to see any recent developments. Seek out a doctor with both a good track record and up to date certifications. As methods change rapidly, the can be a significant difference between a doctor who keeps up on these changes and one who does not.


Thermage is the best-known brand name in skin tightening technology. Also known as "ThermaCool," this method exclusively employs radio frequency to heat the lower layers of the skin. Other methods use laser or light therapy, but the advantage of radio frequency is skin color agnosticism. This means that the effectiveness of radio waves isn't influenced by melatonin in the skin. Light therapies can struggle in their effectiveness with darker skin tones. This makes Thermage available to a much wider range of potential recipients.

When Thermage first came onto the cosmetic therapy scene at the end of the 90s, it was well-hyped for the non-surgical possibilities skin tightening offered. However, initial designs of the Thermage equipment and differences in practitioners styles created variable and sometimes inconsistent results from patient to patient.

Thermage's creators took this information and went back to the drawing board on the skin tightening applicator tip. The tip's design has improved several times in the last ten years and offers significantly better results than the initial system. Thermage also calibrated practitioner training, gathering the best techniques and educating doctors on the best skin tightening practices. This has made Thermage one of the most consistent skin tightening methods on the market.

IPL Skin Tightening

IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light and this method uses light, rather than radio frequency for skin tightening. As well, IPL treatments focus on improving the complexion of the skin. Over time, sun spots, acne scars, and hyperpigmentation can create an uneven skin tone.

IPL uses short bursts of light to treat the skin. The contrast between unwanted spots on the skin and the skin itself is what IPL technology relies on. This makes it best for people with light skin that isn't tanned. It also improves the skin texture, which makes it a candidate for skin tightening.

Unlike some other skin tightening treatments, IPL requires repeat visits at 2 week to 1 month intervals to fully treat uneven skin tones.However, it addresses problems with marred skin caused by sun damage with great results in ideal candidates.

Like other skin tightening methods, IPL may feel like a light sunburn for 24 hours after treatment. Sun spots and age spots may darken in the first days after treatment. However, they will grow lighter and disappear within the next two weeks. Results are best if a patient avoids the sun and wears strong sun block in the months before treatment.

Mini RF

Mini RF machines employ radio frequency in skin tightening procedures. These frequencies heat the dermis and subcutaneous layers of the skin, which stimulates new collagen production. There are a number of skin problems this addresses. Firstly, It rejuvenates the skin and reduces wrinkles in the face and other parts of the body. Skin tightening that is needed on other parts of the body can be done with mini RF, such as crepey skin on the abdomen after pregnancy. Finally, mini RF can reduce the size of large pores on the face. A number of skin tightening machines can employ mini RF therapy and these usually offer bipolar and tripolar RF as well.

Bipolar RF

Bipoloar RF also uses radio frequency, rather than light, for skin tightening therapy. Bipolar RF frequencies rejuvenate the skin by heating the collagen networks within the layers of the skin that are out of the reach of topical creams and lotions. Bipolar RF skin tightening can be employed nearly anywhere on the body and doesn't require invasive surgery. Your clinician will know which RF technique is best for you. Some bipolar RF machines combine radio frequency with IPL to provide both skin tightening and blemish correction at the same time.


Radiofrequency skin tightening is an umbrella for a number of specific techniques. Thermage, Mini RF and Bipolar RF are all types of radiofrequency methods. Thermage is a branded method and refers to one company's highly refined approach and specific set of equipment. Mini RF and Bipolar RF refer to the type of radiofrequency waves produced by the skin tightening equipment. Your clinician will know which of these is best suited to your needs, but a large range of machines and manufacturers can be found with both Mini RF and Bipolar RF.

In general, radiofrequency skin tightening offers benefits beyond previous techniques. Radiofrequency is able to target layers of the skin that were previously only accessible through surgery. However, these waves can rejuvenate the skin in ways that a knife never could. Collagen rejuvenation from radiofrequency gives the skin a youthful fullness rather than a pulled back look of a face lift. As well, radiofrequency is skin tone agnostic and is a skin tightening option for people of all skin colors.

Because of the large range of equipment and methods available in the realm of radiofrequency skin tightening, it is important to educate yourself on those with the best results and then ask your doctor good questions during consultation. The way skin tightening method is administered can create a difference in whether you receive maximum results. Seek out a clinic and clinician with a good track record and up to date methods.

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