If you're looking to lift, tone, and tighten your skin without actually going under the knife, there's a solution for that: laser skin tightening. But what actually is it?
Plain and simple, it's a way to firm the skin using lasers by stimulating collagen and elastin growth through heat. (FYI: Our skin produces less and less of these two proteins as we age.) Like most lasers, there are plenty of benefits to the treatment, as well as a few potential side effects.
Below, dermatologists share everything you need to know about this in-office treatment.
Meet the Expert
- Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, is a board-certified and nationally-acclaimed dermatologic surgeon at MDCS Dermatology: Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic in Manhatttan.
- Yolanda Lenzy, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical, surgical, and cosmetic skin and hair care for adults and children at Lenzy Dermatology in Chicopee, Massachusetts.
What Is Laser Skin Tightening?
Laser skin tightening is a highly popular treatment because it's minimally invasive and, in many cases, shows immediate results. Using lasers to stimulate and heat collagen through pulses of light, laser skin tightening causes the collagen to "restrict," which, in turn, tightens the skin. It can be used on essentially any area of the face or body for various skin-related issues.
Benefits of Laser Skin Tightening
The biggest benefit of laser skin tightening is that it's a non-surgical, non-invasive, and (relatively) non-painful way to address some of the most common skin concerns. "Anyone concerned about sagging skin or textural irregularities can benefit from laser skin tightening," says dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD. "Basically, there are now modalities that can address skin concerns anywhere—from your forehead to your toes."
By modalities, Engelman means different methods that penetrate the skin on varying levels depending on your needs. There's radiofrequency (Engelman cites popular procedures like NuEra Tight or Thermage), which penetrates the skin superficially, as well as ultrasound (like Ultherapy), which penetrates deeper. You can also do a combination of both.
Basically, you can use laser skin tightening anywhere, to address anything—whether it's a pesky double chin or loose skin on the stomach. And anyone is a candidate—laser skin tightening works on all skin tones and skin types.
How to Prepare for Laser Skin Tightening
Any dermatologist will tell you to avoid the sun before and after any laser treatment. But there are a few other factors to keep in mind when it comes to laser skin tightening. "Something a lot of people don't think about is the fact that you should make sure your skin is in a good place when you get laser skin tightening," says Yolanda Lenzy, MD, FAAD, "Make sure your skin is ready. You don't want outbreaks or cold sores before lasering—lasers can reactivate cold sores." If your skin barrier has been irritated or you recently experienced an eczema flair up, Lenzy recommends holding off on any laser treatments.
What to Expect During Laser Skin Tightening
Not all lasers are painful. In fact, Engelman says some of her patients even enjoy their experiences getting laser skin tightening. "Some modalities are painful, but the more superficial ones—like NuEra, for example—feel like a hot stone massage, according to my patients," she says. "No numbing is required." The treatments are quick—10 to 30 minutes, once a week for four weeks—and the results are immediate.
That said, the modalities that penetrate the skin on a deeper level are certainly more painful and can occasionally require numbing agents. The treatments last roughly 45 to 60 minutes, and results can take two to three months to show.
Essentially, it depends on your specific skin concerns and the area of the body you're looking to target. "It's important to know what you're looking to achieve," says Lenzy. "Is it something you even need lasers for? Do research and have a consultation with an expert dermatologist."
Potential Side Effects
Any lasers present their unique risks and potential side effects, including nerve damage and heat injury. Like Lenzy previously mentioned, lasers can exacerbate existing skin concerns like cold sores and eczema due to the high heat.
People of color also need to be careful to find the right professional. "Patients of color experience problems with laser treatments at a higher rate, whether it has to do with an incorrect laser selected for the skin type, or the settings were off, whatever it is," says Lenzy. "Even with laser hair removal, things like hyperpigmentation can happen."
Again, Lenzy stresses how important it is to do your homework. "Finding the right laser and dermatologist is so important."
The cost of your laser skin tightening will depend on a multitude of factors—primarily, the treatment area, and which laser treatment is required for your specific skin concerns. "It really depends on the area being treated and how many treatments are required," says Engelman. "For [radiofrequency], the cost is usually $800–$1000 per treatment, and four to six treatments are required. For [ultrasound], the cost is usually $4000 for the full face, and for something that uses both types of lasers, the cost is typically around $1000 per treatment."
So, yes, laser skin tightening isn't cheap. But it's important to realize you're paying for the quality of the treatment. "You truly do get what you pay for," says Lenzy. "Nothing against Groupon, but this isn't the time to save a buck. You want someone who has the experience, a quality, reputable physician."
The good news about radiofrequency lasers is they don't require much downtime—if any at all. You can typically receive the treatment and go directly to work. (But again, make sure to avoid the sunlight.) That said, if you've elected a more penetrative laser or have a large or sensitive treatment area, it's probably a good idea to allow yourself some downtime and take a few days off.
The Final Takeaway
Laser skin tightening is a great way to address crepey, saggy skin, and problem areas without having to go under the knife. Find a trusted dermatologist to determine which kind of laser is right for you. Know that it might be an investment, but the most important thing is that you're ultimately happy with the results.