Is Ultherapy the miracle skin-tightener
we’ve been waiting for?
~ By Stephanie Simons.
Oh, mon dieu!
A new weapon has emerged in the battle against lax skin, jowls and drooping brows — a corrective treatment that lifts and tightens facial skin and muscle without a needle or knife, and with no downtime.
The wonder treatment is Ultherapy, which uses focused ultrasound to penetrate skin and, over time, improve its tautness and appearance. The technique, using high-frequency sound waves, is the same type of ultrasound used for body scans and tests during pregnancy. Energy from the ultrasound, when used to treat sagging skin, activates the production of new collagen.
Not that Ultherapy is exactly new. Dr. Mehmet Oz breathlessly praised it as “revolutionary” on TV last year; the plastic surgeon who performed the procedure on the show lauded the treatment’s zero-recovery time and the fact that it needs no anesthesia and leaves no scars. Ultherapy has also been featured on “The Rachael Ray Show.”
Though it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration only for non-surgical brow-lifts, Ultherapy has been used for other parts of the face and even the thighs. Candidates include anyone with visibly relaxed skin and roughly $1,500-$3,500 to spend, but doctors are careful to manage expectations: Skin that requires traditional forms of surgery — meaning the sagging is severe — typically won’t yield big improvements. And it takes three to four months to see full results.
Nevertheless, a broad spectrum of people claim Ultherapy works, from mature patients who want to maintain a “lifted look” gained by cosmetic procedures, injectables and laser resurfacing, to 30-somethings who take their beauty routine above and beyond a weekly antioxidant serum.
“Prevention really is becoming the mainstay of treatment,” says Dr. M. Dean Vistnes, founder and medical director for Bay Area-based SkinSpirit, a medi-spa with locations in Mill Valley, Walnut Creek and Palo Alto. “The younger you can start your anti-aging efforts, the better … the slower you’ll age.”
Physicians have long used different types of heat energy to stimulate collagen and tighten the skin, such as Titan and Thermage.
“There are several differences between Titan and Thermage, which both utilize radio frequency energy to achieve tightening and lifting, and Ultherapy,” says Dr. Richard Noodleman, medical director at Age Defy Dermatology and Wellness in Campbell. “Ultherapy uses ultrasound, and the percentage of people who visibly respond to treatment is much higher (about 75 to 85 percent versus 30 percent). The treatment is able to deeply penetrate tissue without visible injury.”
During the procedure (a big bonus point: only one appointment is needed), the patient’s face is “mapped out” with a pen, akin to how surgeons prep a patient, and the Ulthera hand-held device is placed on the desired areas in a back and forth motion that delivers ultrasound pulses in a linear pattern under the skin.
Doctors are able to see underlying layers of skin and muscle on a screen, so the treatment can be precisely targeted. High-intensity, hyper-focused ultrasound waves penetrate the skin at varying depths. Tissue is gently heated, and loose skin is subtly tightened.
Unlike Thermage and Fraxel, Ultherapy bypasses the upper layers of skin and safely heats the underlying connective tissue (where the skin joins the muscle) – the same layer tightened in a conventional face lift. The tissue contracts and eventually lifts.
“[Ultherapy] creates a ‘thermal injury’ deep within the skin. As it heals, the area shrinks and tightens a bit,” Noodleman explains.
Sessions can be done in an hour (additional treatments produce incremental improvements to your appearance). The gradual formation of new collagen over the next two to three months is what improves your appearance over time. Ultherapy helps reset the body’s regenerative process, at least for a while. The company that developed the procedure, Ulthera in Mesa, Ariz., says results can last a year or more.
Some patients say they see immediate results.
“My jaw line looks more defined, and the lines on my neck have gone away,” says Simone L., a patient of Noodleman. “It was instant. I didn’t really expect to see results like this so quickly.”
Patients report no serious after-effects, such as crusting or peeling, so most can expect to go back to work as usual (some experience minor bruising, swelling, numbness or redness resembling a sunburn).
“The worst thing I’ve seen happen is a hive-like bumpy rash or tingling that lasts for a few days and then goes away on its own,” Noodleman says. “I had the treatment done and continued to work that afternoon without any downtime.”
Mild and temporary discomfort, comparable to a laser or rubber band snap, can certainly be expected, depending on the areas treated and the energy settings.
SkinSpirit’s Vistnes says bony areas of the face are most susceptible to feeling pain — but it’s nothing oral pain medication can’t help.
A small trade-off, many would say, for the promise of younger-looking skin.
The anti-aging commandments
To protect your skin in the first place (and possibly avoid or put off cosmetic procedures), these tips bear repeating:
- Stay hydrated
- Eat healthy
- Don’t smoke
- Wear SPF to ward off the slings and arrows of the sun
“Most people are more concerned about UVB rays, which cause sunburn, but there’s also UVA,” says Dr. Dean Vistnes of medi-spa SkinSpirit. “You won’t see the photo-aging effects of those rays for 20 years.”
Vistnes suggests broad-spectrum sunblock as your best daily defense against aging, since sun exposure degenerates collagen and elastic fibers. “It plays a huge role in sagging, creping skin.”
SkinSpirit, offices in Mill Valley, Walnut Creek,
Palo Alto, skinspirit.com
Age Defy, 3803 S. Bascom Ave., Suite 200,