Just as the name implies – a non surgical face lift is an anti aging treatment that claims to offer similar (sometimes the same) results to a face lift but without the pain and trauma of surgery.
A lot of treatments tend to be lumped under this label - which is one of the reasons this whole are is slightly confusing to the ordinary person. The other reason for confusion is that it sounds impossible – how can you have a face lift without surgery?
What is a non surgical facelift?
In reality – non surgical face lifts should do two things:
1. Give close to the same results as surgery – it must tighten loose and sagging skin and produce a lifting effect.
2. Be truly non invasive – it must not involve cutting, abrading or penetrating your skin as surgery does.
But is it really possible to come close to the results from cosmetic surgery with non invasive treatments? In the end it comes down to what you expect to achieve.
Will results be the same as facial surgery?
Facial surgery uses cutting to go through the epidermis (top layer of skin) and into the dermis (deeper layer of the skin) to the fat and muscle beneath.
Modern day methods of facial surgery emphasize less invasive approaches with minimal downtime – keyhole surgery for instance or the much advertised “one stitch” face lift. Natural looking results are the desired outcome for patients and surgeons nowadays rather than the overly tight and pulled look of years ago.
Ask any board certified facial plastic surgeon – especially those less open to new techniques – and they will tell you that nothing can replicate the effects of a face lift when performed by a skilled and aesthetically trained doctor.
Leaving aside some bias this has some truth in it but the issue is complex . There are many people who like the improvements they see from non surgical treatments and who simply don’t want or can’t afford the surgical route.
Face lifts in themselves are anything but simple, one size fits all treatments. There are a huge range of surgical options from the mini lift to the full blown whole face and neck lift and plastic surgeons adjust the procedure to suit their patients – it all depends on what the patient looks like before the surgery and what they want to achieve.
Facelift without surgery takes longer to get results
Of course the term non surgical face lift is a bit misleading – you won’t get the same results as a full blown radical face lift. Most non surgical treatments get the lifting and tightening effect by stimulating collagen production and increasing the rate of cell turnover and repair.
Various treatments use different agents – light, radiowaves or electrical current – to generate energy that reaches below surface skin to the lower cellular level.
Whatever treatment is chosen, results will take time to develop – unlike the instant impact after surgery – and will be closer to the more subtle effects of a mini lift. However this isn’t always the case and some people report visible changes very quickly.
“Laser skin tightening is so powerful that new collagen production can continue several months after the treatment. Most people report improvement immediately, with even more dramatic results weeks later.” Michael Law MD, Raleigh-Durham Plastic Surgeon
Like surgery the results from a non surgical face lift vary according to the method selected, the skill of the surgeon, the condition of your skin and the degree of facial aging. As in all things – not everyone gets the results they are looking for.
Are you the right candidate for a non surgical lift?
Generally, non surgical treatments work best for people with lower level facial aging who want an overall rejuvenated face and a natural, fresher look without pain and downtime.
The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery say the best candidates for any type of non invasive lifting treatment are those with loose or slightly lax skin in the mid face, cheeks, jaw line and neck.
Overly lax or sagging skin may not do well with a non surgical type of treatment so be honest with yourself to avoid disappointment.
If you think this could be a good option for you there are six main types of treatment to consider;
Radiofrequency face lift
Known also as RF facelifts – these are skin tightening sytems based on radiofrequency (RF) energy use similar technology to your microwave oven to heat up skin tissue. Thermage is the first and most well known radiofrequency face lift treatment.
Thermage uses a single electrode which is laid on the skin and passes radiowaves through skin tissue. It is the skin’s healing response which promotes collagen formation beneath the skin causing tightening and firming. With a single electrode system the radiowaves go more deeply and at an intense level which means that the procedure should give results after just one session.
Surveys and user reviews are mixed and results vary quite a bit. Other radiofrequency facelift systems include Aluma which is a bipolar system using twin electrodes but Thermage tends to be the most widely available.
Infrared face lift
Infrared facelifts use heat to stimulate collagen production in the same way as a radiofrequency face lift but the heat source is infrared light.
Titan is the dominant brand in the US and UK and they claim that infrared light is a better source of heat than radio frequency since it is more diffuse and better able to penetrate to the dermis without causing tissue damage. Several sessions are usually recommended for a moderate tightening effect.
The Titan device has been extensively tested for treating loose and sagging skin on the face and neck with generally positive results.
Led light therapy
This treatment is based on light emitting diodes – the same things that power digital displays on your cooker or stereo.
Light is a natural stimulant and LED light applied at certain frequencies and wavelengths has the power to boost cellular energy promoting healing of tissue and stimulating collagen production. Original research funded by NASA showed that when LED light was applied to skin cells they grew at a much faster rate (150-200% faster).
Red led is the one to go for if you want the anti aging effect – blue treats acne. Forums and review sites show a high satisfaction level with led skin treatments but the tightening and lifting effect is likely to be fairly low key and will take time to develop.
Hand held led systems mean that light therapy skin treatments can be done at home with apparently very good results.
Laser skin tightening
Laser skin treatments use light energy to stimulate dermal collagen and regenerate age damaged skin cells. For truly non surgical treatment you need a non-ablative laser meaning the surface skin is not damaged and there is no peeling, rawness or blistering.
The best laser for the purpose is claimed to be a single wavelength YAG laser like the recently introduced Candela GentleYag. Most people have a course of treatments lasting around one hour to treat face and neck. You can put your make up on and go back to work straight afterwards with no downtime.
Microcurrent face lift
Sometimes advertised as a microcurrent facial – this treatment is completely pain free and for many people highly effective although not often recommended by plastic surgeons.
Gentle electrical stimulation is used to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin. Studies have shown that the procedure also increases blood circulation – as in aerobic exercise – which delivers oxygen to surface skin cells.
Microcurrent stimulation also increases production of amino acids and ATP (cellular energy) which increase cell turnover and repair. The combined effects are to deliver gentle lifting and firming together with improved skin tone and radiance according to manufacturers.
Like led technology, microcurrent facials have come into the home with products like NuFace gaining excellent reviews.
Ultrasound face lift
Ulthera is the first device that uses ultrasound waves to stimulate the collagen response for lifting and tightening the skin. One difference in this system over any other non surgical skin tightening treatment is that it has acoustic imaging which lets the doctor see the layers of soft tissue beneath the skin before starting the procedure so the end result is likely to be more accurate.
Only relatively recently introduced into the US although there is a lot of experience in Europe. So far it has high overall satisfaction levels based on reviews.
At the time of writing these are the only options for non surgical treatments that give a true lifting effect to the face. Technology is moving on rapidly and improvements are being made to these systems and new devices launched each year.
If you do opt for a non surgical face lift then the best guarantee of success is to find a board certified facial plastic surgeon who has considerable experience with these types of treatments and is open to using non invasive methods.
If you want the results to be the best they can be and to last then you need to play your part too. Since all the systems available aim to stimulate collagen production – you need to make sure that you do as little as possible to break down dermal collagen. This means avoiding tanning your skin, wearing high level sun protection, eating an antioxidant diet, not smoking and excellent skin care.
A non surgical face lift does not come cheap – so protect your investment!