In 2022, growing older is no longer such a big deal. 'Anti-ageing' is slowly but surely becoming a defunct phrase as beauty brands focus on enhancing radiance rather than busting wrinkles. And while buzzy products have their place in rejuvenating skin, it's fair to say that professional treatments are gaining popularity among the beauty-curious.
Treatments such as laser (known to stimulate the production of collagen), LED light (for reducing the inflammation typical of acne) and Profhilo (otherwise known as injectable moisturiser, as it delivers hyaluronic acid into deeper layers of skin) are the most talked about. But if you ask facialists and aestheticians, something else is piquing the interest of the skincare-savvy.
Enter: radio frequency.
What is radio frequency and what are the skin benefits?
At a recent appointment, a top London injector dropped the bombshell to Vicky Spratt that the only treatment worth doing for prevention was not Botox, as conventional wisdom would have it, but radio frequency. He explained that it was cutting edge and proven to deliver results. So Vicky was intrigued instantly.
Radio frequency is essentially energy, and the treatment enlists a special type of wand which emits varying strengths of this energy. The energy then travels through the skin to kickstart collagen production. There are a handful of different types of radio frequency but Dr Uliana Gout at LAM Clinic on Harley Street champions tripolar radio frequency (TRF). "This is the modern way to produce around six months of collagen in the face," explains Dr Gout. "It lifts and gives skin elasticity and plumpness."
Dr Gout targets specific types of radio frequency: monopolar, bipolar and tripolar. She also uses certain temperatures, penetration depths and movement techniques to optimise lifting and collagen production. Popular treatment areas include under the chin, cheeks, forehead and around the eyes. "Lots of products and treatments claim to be 'preventative'," says Dr Gout, "but this one actually is. Our research shows that it stimulates collagen and slows down the loss of it, and the loss of collagen is the biggest factor in ageing. That's why this is so effective."
This isn't any old current. It goes without saying that all treatments involving currents and energies should be left to a qualified professional and never attempted or copied at home.
What happens during a radio frequency treatment?
With such promising benefits, we sent Vicky along to Dr Gout for a 45-minute facial treatment...
"Dr Gout told me that the skin is a lazy organ," says Vicky, "so it does need a bit of waking up and stimulation. That's exactly what radio frequency therapy does, but without altering the face by injecting anything. In fact, Dr Gout calls it the future of skincare, as it's about working with the face you have. I'm 34 and I grew up in a culture that told us 'youth is beauty'. So my relationship with my fine lines and emerging wrinkles is, in honesty, a love/hate one. On the one hand, I relish that every expression mark on my face is exactly that: a reminder of the person that I am and all that I’ve experienced. On the other hand, I notice my face changing.
"All that being said, I am increasingly uncomfortable with interventions to prevent ageing entirely, such as fillers (which I've never had) or Botox (which I have had). Whether or not to have these treatments is a personal choice but I don't want to stop myself from getting older. That's inevitable. What I am interested in, though, is how I can work with my skin to keep it in the best possible condition and, in particular, stop certain areas from dropping (like my cheeks). That's where radio frequency therapy comes in. This is a non-invasive treatment which, studies have shown, does actually address the issue of sagging skin.
"Lying down on the heated treatment bed, I felt like I was going to fall asleep. The bed was warm and so was the medical-grade device which Dr Gout used to apply the radio frequency therapy to my face. Dr Gout explained that she would target certain areas as she doesn't believe in treating the whole face when it is not needed. With that in mind, she focused on my cheeks, jawline and underneath my chin.
"I'm not really sure what I was expecting but, as I lay there, the warmth of the device combined with Dr Gout's movements were at once relaxing and surreal. Neither painful nor uncomfortable, it felt like nothing was happening but, at the same time, the heat made me feel like I had entered the future of skincare. Could I really get up off the bed looking tighter and brighter by doing so little? The answer was yes.
"Dr Gout explained that the device was using electrical energy to stimulate collagen and elastin production, which she said would tighten the skin without damaging it. I wasn't expecting to see any difference after just one session with the device but I was really surprised that my skin did look visibly tighter and my cheeks more lifted instantly.
"The results stuck around for a day or so but, a few weeks on, I am noticing once again my sagging skin underneath my chin as well as the slight fullness that has appeared in recent years in the area of my cheeks. That said, Dr Gout was careful to explain to me that this treatment works best if you have several sessions (ideally six) in a row over several months, then continue to top it up each year after that.
"When it comes to skincare, I'll try pretty much anything once. Laser facials, acid peels...you name it, I've done it. But I have to say, sitting down with someone as informed as Dr Gout and learning about her research on radio frequency has made me reconsider what I would spend my money on in the future."
Is there any downtime with radio frequency and how much does it cost?
There isn't any downtime, according to Dr Gout. "You might experience some mild pinkness right afterwards, which typically settles within 30 minutes," she says, "but makeup can be applied right away." It's why she recommends the treatment to brides ahead of their wedding day or ahead of other special occasions where a person might want a skin boost.
Radio frequency doesn't come cheap, though, with costs ranging from around $300 for face and neck all the way up to $750. The price obviously varies from clinic to clinic.
How does radio frequency differ from a laser facial?
Lasers use light to target certain areas of skin whereas radio frequency enlists energy, which converts into heat. "Lasers do tend to be a little painful," adds Dr Gout. "Eye protection must be worn and patch tests often have to be done well in advance. A risk of pigmentation is there, too, and shedding can take up to two weeks in some cases." When it comes to radio frequency, though, Dr Gout says that there is no pain or downtime.
Radio frequency can be paired with various lasers, depending on the skin concern you're trying to treat. "We also offer radio frequency with IPL (intense pulsed light, which targets redness and pigmentation) and radio frequency with fractional lasers (which help improve texture and fine lines)."
How many radio frequency treatments do you usually need?
Vicky saw promising results instantly — after just one radio frequency treatment — but multiple sessions (every four to six months) are recommended for the very best results.
Are there any downsides to radio frequency skin treatments?
The expense is the most obvious downside to radio frequency treatments, considering multiple sessions are recommended. When performed incorrectly, radio frequency also poses a risk of burns, as the energy is converted into heat inside the skin. Finding a qualified practitioner who is experienced in handling a radio frequency machine is a must. An initial consultation is also recommended so that you can get a feel for your practitioner and ask any questions. Finally, it pays to get a contact number for your practitioner (even out of hours) should you have queries or worries after the treatment.