Thermage face lift: worth the cost?

thermage-face-liftA Thermage face lift is sold as a low cost alternative to facial surgery – all the skin tightening effects of a face lift without the pain or the hit on your bank balance.

This apparently miraculous skin tightening treatment first came to everyone’s attention – as with so many other things – following a glowing review on Oprah a few years back.

Thousands of eager viewers rushed to get the procedure and many of them bitterly regretted their decision when the Thermage treatment resulted in painful and sometimes lasting side effects. Now in 2011 – the technology has improved and experience of Thermage treatments has grown. So – are the problems still there and is it worth the cost?

What is Thermage?

Although the brand name became famous quickly – the technology behind a Thermage skin tightening treatment is less well understood.

Thermage treatments use monopolar (single electrode) radio frequency waves to heat tissues  to quite a deep level without penetrating the skin.  

The transfer of heat stimulates the body’s repair mechanism and increases the body’s natural production of collagen resulting in a skin tightening and lifting effect over time.

A Thermage face lift can be done on the forehead, brow, eyes, mid and lower face and the neck to reduce wrinkles and lines. Typically Thermage is used to tighten loose and sagging skin and smooth out early wrinkles rather than for advanced facial aging.

Thermage problems

Thermage were the first company to use RF technology for skin rejuvenation and to start with they definitely had problems.  

The heat from the Thermage machine penetrated too far into the tissue heating up the fat layer as well as the skin and resulting in a lumpy dimpled look or uneven loss of volume in facial tissue. Definitely not what their customers were paying for.

The makers of Thermage insist that these problems no longer occur because the technology  and treatment method has moved on.  Originally the whole Thermage treatment was given in one intensive session – in 2011 most plastic surgeons consider that a gentler approach over a series of sesions is a better way of getting a good result.

Latest forms of the Thermage face lift use a ThermaCool tip to deliver heat to the lower layers of the skin. The new form of tips use a cooling mechanism which reduces the overheating and eliminates some of the nasty side effects like uneven contouring and blistering of the skin.

Unfortunately Thermage reviews online do still show evidence that problems are occuring and it is a wise precaution to take a look at some of these before your make your decision. Look at Smart Skin Care and RealSelf to get a good feel for what people are saying about their experiences.

Is Thermage treatment pain free?

Although billed as a face lift without surgery – judging by Thermage reviews there is still a degree of discomfort and downtime.

Some people describe pinching and burning sensations during treatment which can be unpleasant. Although this has generally been improved with the new ThermaCool equipment some people report having to stop a Thermage treatment session or do not complete the full course of treatments.

Downtime is much less than a face lift but if you develop significant redness and swelling or blistering then longer recovery or time off work will be required.  Average downtime is around 3-4 days and obviously a lot more if there are problems

Does Thermage work?

As with so many anti aging treatments – it all depends on what you expect to get out of it and how realistic you are.   One thing is for sure – rejuvenation miracles are unlikely with this type of skin tightening treatment.

Satisfaction levels with a Thermage face lift are still not that high – only around half of those currently expressing an opinion say that it was worth it.

Common complaints are that it simply had no effect or that it was painful and damaged skin.  Those treatments that are successful seem to show quite subtle changes and improvements rather than a dramatic lifting effect.  If it works for you this probably means a fresher more rested look rather than a dramatic new you.

As renowned skin care expert Dr Todorov reports on SmartSkinCare,results from Thermage vary widely and only a small minority get that 10 years younger look with over half seeing no improvement at all

Why are the results from Thermage inconsistant?

The reason that a Thermage lift doesn’t work as well on everyone is down to differences in skin healing and repair mechanisms.  We are all unique and only a minority of people are likely to respond in a way which produces a significant rejuvenating effect.

From the treatments done so far – plastic surgeons seem to be advising that the Thermage procedure will work best on faces with less advanced signs of aging, where wrinkles are not too deep and skin laxity is not severe. If you have very loose or crepey skin on your neck, jowls or around your eyes it could be that you won’t see the improvement you want.

Another big factor in how well a Thermage face lift works for you is the skill of the doctor performing it.  Lack of experience may mean that you are more at risk of unpleasant side effects or long term damage to your skin.  On the other hand – a doctor with less experience of the equipment may use settings which are too low and give you no lifting and firming effect at all – very frustrating if you’ve forked out a large amount of cash.

To give yourself the best chance of getting a good result – find a board certified plastic surgeon who has been performing Thermage treatments for at least 2 years. Make sure he or she has done at least 30-40 procedures and that they have the latest Thermacool equipment. The most experienced surgeons will be able to give you the best advice and help you look at other options if necessary.

How much does Thermage cost?

A radiofrequency treatment like Thermage is quite an expensive option to go for. It’s not in the cosmetic surgery league perhaps but expensive compared to other non invasive techniques and you only get a couple of treatments for your money usually.

Whilst the cost of a Thermage face lift varies depending on location – the average is around $2500-3000 for a course of (2) treatments. You need to balance what you are likely to get out of the treatment against the money you will be charged.

Considering that there is a 50-50 chance you will be unhappy with the results – a few thousand dollars seems like quite a lot to pay!

About Eileen

I am the publisher of Simply Anti Aging and a web author researching and writing on all aspects of anti aging. I'd love you to connect with me on


  1. The first Thermage treatment I had with the initial technology was a painful waste of time and money. In spite of taking a couple of Vicodins, I could barely stand it and the results were minimal at best. Plus, to make matters even worse the rip-off dermatology office I had been going to, ended up cutting the price by more than half a few weeks after I had mine done and when I took the advertisement to my follow-up appointment their attitude was “so what”.
    Needless to say, they lost a very good patient/customer that day and I have since found a better place for all of my dermatology needs. Today, I had another Thermage (machine generation #3) treatment and I hardly even noticed the pain (I am VERY tolerant of pain) and before I left the office I could see that it was already worth the money and inconvenience.
    I think that what may have a lot to do with the person doing the procedure also. The first Thermage treatment I had was performed by a nurse and this last time it was a doctor. Plus, at my new doctor’s office, they offer a rewards program for all procedures that can be used to save money on their other services (not JUST Brilliant Distinctions). The best thing to do is check out an office and have some Botox and filler first or even just a facial and make sure you are dealing with a reputable business, not greedy money-grubbers.

    • Eileen Gravelle says:

      Debra – sorry to hear about your first Thermage treatment – glad you got a better experience second time around!

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