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How radiofrequency facials deliver ‘snatched’ results without the downtime

skin school radiofrequency facials explained
Radiofrequency facials, explainedAmie Milne for Harper's Bazaar

As more and more facialists combine cutting edge technology with a hands-on approach, there's increasing demand for advanced devices used in treatments. Radiofrequency is one such star, and it features in the type of facials that A-listers like Jennifer Aniston credit with keeping their skin "lifted". But radiofrequency devices can also soften fine lines as well as firming loose skin, while also defining the facial curvatures – both immediately and over time. As London facialist Abigail James explains, if microdermabrasion is "the skin smoother" of the facials world, you can consider radiofrequency "the contour refiner".

So, how does radiofrequency compare to results achieved from dermal fillers and wrinkle-relaxing injections, or, even, contouring with make-up? Here, we examine exactly how radiofrequency works for the face, and whether you should be investing in treatments professionally or at home.

What is radiofrequency, and how does it work?

Cosmetically-speaking, radiofrequency is a nonsurgical skin tightening method using energy to heat skin with the purpose of stimulating collagen production.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, found naturally in the bones, muscles, tendons, and in our skin,” explains Florina Indries, senior aesthetician at Linnaean. “In our late twenties, our collagen production starts to decline by around one per cent a year, due to both internal and external factors, such as smoking, UV light, and our diets.”

While you can’t simply ‘drop’ more collagen into the skin, you can prompt the cells responsible for producing it – the fibroblasts – to work a little harder, and Indries describes radiofrequency as one of her favourite collagen induction therapies. “It’s a form of electromagnetic energy,” she explains. “When applied to the area treated, it causes a molecular friction, producing heat. The actual source of the heat is the frictional resistance of the tissue. By doing this, we can contract the collagen fibres, resulting in an immediate skin-tightening effect, as well as delayed collagen synthesis, meaning the results are both instant and cumulative.”

Indeed, the immediate results of a radiofrequency treatment can be impressive. A single session will likely leave you with a noticeably firmer and lifted appearance, with the skin around the nasolabial folds and jawline looking especially taught.

Think "instant red-carpet ‘snatched’ results without downtime," explains Adeela Crown, an A-list and film set facialist who has used radiofrequency for years backstage. It gives more subtle results than injectable treatments, she feels, "as your face won’t morph with artificial volume through injections but instead you get a healthier version of your own skin".

What do radiofrequency treatments feel like?

“It's comfortable: not painful at all, but rather relaxing. A therapist will gradually build up the heat to a temperature of 40-to-43 degrees celsius. I can compare it to the feeling of a hot stone massage”, explains Indries. There is no downtime, either – any redness in the skin will subside shortly after your treatment.

Who is best suited to a radiofrequency facial?

James recommends radiofrequency facials to "anyone experiencing loss of firmness in their skin". She explains that as well as stimulating collagen production, "it also boosts oxygen levels in the skin, so it's great for promoting general radiance".

However, it's not suitable for anyone who is pregnant, with metal plates, or issues when skin sensation is altered (such as diabetes). Also, "if you have acne or rosacea there are other technologies which are much more suitable, such as LED," James adds.

Where should I try a radiofrequency facial?

With advanced facial treatments you always want to visit an expert who is properly qualified and experienced. "As a practitioner, it's important to monitor how a client's skin is responding to get optimum results," James notes. "Too much heat and you risk causing volume loss, but without enough heat you will not achieve the best results."

As well as James, who offers treatments at a private location in Surrey, and Crown, who offers bespoke private bookings in London, we recommend visiting the following spas and clinics where radiofrequency either forms part of an advanced facial, or is offered as a standalone treatment:

How many sessions are recommended?

As mentioned, a single session of radiofrequency can deliver great results – James often recommends it to her clients as a pre-event treatment. But for deeper, long-term results, Indries recommends a course of four-to-six sessions spaced between seven and 10 days apart.

But Crown points out that professional treatments shouldn't replace at-home maintenance. "When I see my clients I carry out the more meticulous, control-depth non-invasive treatments for lasting results. But it doesn’t and mustn’t replace daily skincare. Our habits build up over time into either ageing or preservation of our skins."

At-home radiofrequency devices explained

James says that "at-home skincare devices of all kinds can be a support, however they will not give the results of an in-clinic machine". As Crown adds; "It’s important to remember that at-home radiofrequency devices may be more affordable than professional sessions but they require more persistence as using one will take you longer to get from A-to-B, results-wise, in comparison to an in-clinic session." That said, "the upside is that it can be used in the comfort of your home to help maintain results".

It is a very safe at-home treatment to carry out, Crown reassures us, "as long as you follow all of the steps correctly". Naturally, you should abide by manufacturer instructions, though James explains that in general you should approach home treatments as such: "You need to apply enough slip – often via a brand's accompanying gel or cream – to act as a conductor. Get the device up to the optimum temperature quickly then drop it down to a comfortable level and keep it moving on the skin (if held in one position you will get a spike of heat and possible burn). Don't be fooled into thinking that hotter is better. Seven is a good place to be on a temperature guide, with one being cold and 10 being burning."

As with all DIY devices (as much as skincare), "frequent use is key", concludes James.

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