7 Possible Dangers of Radio Frequency Skin Tightening (Doctor’s Answer)

Although typically considered safe, there are a few radio frequency skin tightening dangers that you need to know before you try this trendy anti-aging treatment.

I’ll start with some basics about RF treatments first.

Then, I’ll go over some of the most common side effects, as well as some rarer dangers that you still need to be aware of.

We have a lot to cover, so let’s just jump right in.

Check: Best Radio Frequency Skin Tightening Machine

Does Radio Frequency Skin Tightening Work?

As much as we try to deny it, we humans, are visual beings. We love symmetry, smooth surfaces, and balance and neither our body, nor the skin, nor the face are any exceptions.

Where there is need, there is a way! Science has found a response to the treatment of wrinkles, stretch marks or pockmarks: instead of undergoing a surgical procedure, it seems to be way simpler to treat our sun-damaged skin with radiofrequency skin tightening nowadays.

But does it really work? The plain answer to this is: yes, it does and the effects are often remarkable, according to numerous clinical studies (for instance by R.S. Mullholland, or R.A. Weiss).

According to Mullholland, “Over the past 2 decades, there has been an explosion in noninvasive and minimally invasive therapies to enhance skin rejuvenation.” 

So what is radio frequency skin tightening, how does it actually work?

Don’t get discouraged by the long name, it’s not rocket science. RF skin tightening refers to the waves with the same wavelength as our radio tends to emit.

When applied on the deeper layers of your skin (dermis) through a device, these waves send thermal energy and stimulate the production of collagen, and this way also to cell growth.

The energetic impulse on the deeper level of the skin basically gives a “go-signal” for the tissue to grow and rebuild skin texture on spots of occasional scars, age spots, and other imperfections.

Collagen and the cross-links it creates are responsible for the following tighter skin (in the epidermis).

In this way, RF treatments help us with face and body contouring, brow elevation, or getting rid of an annoying wrinkle, acne lesions, and another seemingly permanent scarring.

Check out the video below for more details if you’d like to learn more. For now, let’s move on to the side effects of RF treatments.

What Are the Side Effects of Radio Frequency Skin Tightening?

Even a non – invasive procedure like this carries its dangers. Every single medical procedure has potential side effects and this is no exception.

Even though most of them are just temporary and harmless, some might last for months, years and in rare cases actually remain permanent.

pretty lady in her radio frequency skin tightening procedure

Do we really have to fear the procedures? Maybe is it just better to look for another, even less invasive type of treatment?

Or maybe exactly the other way around, maybe only a cosmetic surgeon can and should perform our surgical facial tightening.

Let’s have a look at the possible radio frequency skin tightening dangers: 

1. Redness and Swelling

The first and most common (up to 90% of the patients experience it) side effect to mention is the skin becoming red and swollen due to temporary inflammation in deep layers of the skin.

It mostly only lasts for 5-20 minutes, although studies show that the recovery time in rare cases might take even up to 72 hours. Redness (called erythema in the medical community) itself is harmless though.

2. Soreness 

Due to thermal effects applied on the layers of skin through radio waves and the caused stress, it is likely to experience a certain level of soreness in the treated area.

Its duration usually doesn’t exceed 48 hours. Compare it to sore muscles after the gym, only there you are actively using your muscles and in this procedure, everything is being applied passively.

3. “Crusty” Skin and Cheek Depression

It is possible that your skin will develop a mild “crust,” depending on your skin type and skin sensitivity.

This effect usually wears off within the first week after the treatment and is usually barely visible due to its small size.

The other correlated side effect of our aesthetic treatment is the formation of a slight depression of the cheek, which can last up to 3-5 months according to experimental studies.

Both of these inconveniences are purely cosmetic and not seriously harmful to our health. 

4. Erythematous Papules (Red Bumps) and Patches

That scary-sounding word basically translates to “a raised red rash” in layperson’s terms (although that is a bit oversimplified).

This is a rather rarely reported side effect of radio frequency skin tightening, although rare doesn’t equal non-existent.

Also, let’s be honest, it’s definitely one of the freakier side effects. Imagine going in for a skin laxity treatment with the sole purpose of facial rejuvenation, only to see angry-looking red dots pop up everyone three days later.

Not to worry about it, although this one looks particularly nasty, it usually wears off within ten days and becomes just a bad memory. As we see, collagen growth also brings negative biological effects.

woman undergoing a radio frequency skin tightening session

5. Neck Tenderness

Through thermal exposure during radio frequency skin tightening in the facial area, several patients experienced neck tenderness.

This particular effect lasts a bit longer, patients reported between 1 and 4 weeks but is not a very common danger of RF exposure. 

6. Mild or Moderate Pain

As we’re talking about a nonsurgical method, one would think it is a completely non-invasive procedure.

That’s not exactly the case. To achieve “cutaneous remodeling” (the fancy term for the effect you’re going for) a cosmetic surgeon must put the device BELOW our epidermis.

To be honest, in this regard it doesn’t differ much from getting a tattoo, so if you already are inked, good for you, you know what you signed up for. 

7. Second-degree Burn

This one seems harsh for just cosmetic treatment, but don’t worry: less than 0,5% of patients experienced it.

It corresponds highly with treatment time and from all the mentioned before, might leave a permanent souvenir: residual scarring.

Check: Radio Frequency Treatment Before and After Photos and Videos

Should We Go for RF Skin Tightening? Is It Safe?

As you can see, there is evidence that RF energy might cause several dangers.

But given the little severity of the most frequent issues, in my opinion, the advantages by far outweigh the disadvantages.

Unlike with hyaluronic acid here we achieve our skin rejuvenation purely through physiological effects and combat the appearance of wrinkles in a more natural way.

skin tightening machine being used on the lady's face but does radio frequency skin tightening work?

Be aware of radio frequency skin tightening dangers and keep in mind that the end results very much depend on your skin condition before the treatment and application time, but don’t overthink the side effects.

Is radio skin tightening harmful?

No, in general, it’s not, but it often comes with short-term inconveniences.

Does RF Skin Tightening cause cancer?

There is lacking evidence for the appearance of any cancer types through radio frequency skin tightening.

Can radio frequency burn your skin?

Yes, but it occurs very rarely (<0,5%)

FAQs

Conclusion

Radio frequency skin tightening is a generally safe procedure with frequent, yet mostly harmless and temporary side effects like erythema, edema, soreness, and superficial crust.

References

  • Lolis, Margarita S., and David J. Goldberg. 2012. “Radiofrequency in Cosmetic Dermatology: A Review.” Dermatologic Surgery 38 (11): 1765–76. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1524-4725.2012.02547.x.
  • Team ePainAssist. 2017. “What Are Erythematous Papules, Know Its Viral Causes, Treatment.” EPainAssist. ePainAssist. February 2, 2017. https://www.epainassist.com/infections/what-are-erythematous-papules.
  • Weiss RA;Weiss MA;Munavalli G;Beasley KL. 2012. “Monopolar Radiofrequency Facial Tightening: A Retrospective Analysis of Efficacy and Safety in over 600 Treatments.” Journal of Drugs in Dermatology : JDD 5 (8). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16989184/.
possible radio frequency skin tightening dangers after the session

Have you tried radio frequency skin tightening? How was your experience? Let us know in the comments below!

About Olaf Bieschke

Olaf Bieschke is a senior year medical student from Charité University of Berlin in Germany. He has gained professional experience in various hospitals and offices in Germany, Belgium, France, Poland, Brazil and Spain. Currently working on a dr. med. title thesis in neurosurgery. Follow him on LINKEDIN AND FACEBOOK. Learn more about him HERE.