Struggling with stubborn acne scars? You’ve likely heard that chemical exfoliation and lasers are your best friend. While that’s true for some people, if you have a darker complexion, relying on those methods can do more harm than good. That’s why radiofrequency microneedling is such a popular treatment these days. By combining two trusted methods, a single treatment is able to address multiple signs of complexion damage without causing more in the process.
Intrigued? Keep reading for everything there is to know about RF microneedling according to the experts.
Meet the Expert
What Is Radiofrequency Microneedling?
Let’s break it down, shall we? Microneedling is the use of teeny, tiny needles to create microaggressions in the skin that speed up wound healing, while radiofrequency is a type of high-intensity energy that’s able to penetrate the skin to lead to an improved complexion. When the two are combined, medical esthetician Tamila Deveny says that the cosmetic procedure, which uses “specially insulated needles that deliver high-intensity radio frequency energy into the targeted tissue once the needles have broken through the skin,” stimulates collagen and elastic production to boost new, healthy tissue in the skin, ultimately working to restore your complexion to its flawless, pre-scar appearance. “In my opinion, it is one of the most effective treatments for anti-aging and to treat scars on the face or body,” she shares.
To further illustrate the cosmetic procedure, board-certified dermatologist and skin of color educator Adeline Kikam explains that RF microneedling emits heat at predetermined depths based on how deep the scars and/or damage lies. It’s through this process that both the microneedling and RF are able to synergistically approach scar erasure and skin renewal. And since the heat is applied to the deeper layers of skin, it doesn’t interfere with the melanocytes within the epidermis, which means it won’t lead to hyperpigmentation in darker skin tones.
Benefits of Radiofrequency Microneedling
- Improves acne or surgery scars (on the face and body)
- Reduces fine lines and wrinkles
- Reduces the appearance of hyperpigmentation
- Reduces the appearance of stretch marks
- Helps with dull or uneven skin tone or texture
- Shrinks enlarged pores
- Helps with loose skin (face and body)
- Reduces cellulite
- Firms upper eyelid skin
- Smooths lines on the upper lip skin
The point is, anyone and everyone can benefit from RF microneedling. According to Deveny, patients of any age can benefit from RF microneedling—and it doesn’t just pertain to those with stubborn acne scars. Deveny points out that it can also assist with fine lines and wrinkles, as well as texture disparity. “It can help you get beautiful, glowing, healthy skin,” she says, noting that, most importantly, the treatment prevents the appearance of aging.
How to Prepare for a Radiofrequency Microneedling Treatment
Before getting an RF microneedling treatment, you’ll want to be open with your dermatologist or esthetician about your past cosmetic procedures, as well as your skin history as a whole. “It’s important to make some disclosures about your cosmetic history before the procedure, like fillers in the area prior to the procedure, any history of cold sores, adverse reaction to light, laser, or other similar treatments in the past,” Kikam says. By being upfront about your skin history, the person administering the RF will be able to fully prepare you for what to expect, or they may even tell you to hold off for the time being.
What to Expect During a Radiofrequency Microneedling Treatment
While RF microneedling isn’t super painful, the person administering your treatment will start by applying a topical numbing cream to ensure that it’s as comfortable as possible. According to board-certified dermatologist Uchenna Okekere, it typically takes about an hour for the cream to kick in.
“After you’re numb, the radiofrequency with microneedling device has grouped, insulated needles that penetrate the skin and release radiofrequency energy from the needle tips,” she explains. “This energy produces therapeutic changes that help treat acne scars by stimulating collagen and elastin production without destroying the top layer of skin.” While the treatment works a world of good for your complexion, the process itself takes only about 20 minutes. Though, afterward, Okekere says that your face may feel warm, like after a sunburn. However, that should subside in the day following treatment.
Radiofrequency Microneedling vs. Lasers and Chemical Peels
So often lasers and chemical peels are the first thought when it comes to addressing acne scars. The problem is, unlike radiofrequency microneedling, Okekere says that those methods can cause hyperpigmentation in darker skin types.
“The advent of radiofrequency microneedling has broadened the indications for microneedling, without additional risk of side effects,” she adds. “RF with MF treats acne scars by stimulating dermal remodeling and production of dermal components with minimal risk of dyspigmentation, making it a great alternative treatment for darker skin types.”
Potential Side Effects
As with any cosmetic procedure, side effects are a possibility. During treatment, Okekere says that pinpoint bleeding, slight bruising, transient discoloration, redness, swelling, and itching can occur.
Then there are the post-procedure side effects. “RF microneedling may cause mild swelling and redness, which is normal and generally subsides within one to three hours,” Deveny says. “You may also develop mild, tiny crusts on the target area after the procedure. The dermatologists recommend not picking the scabs with your bare hands, and instead letting them fall off on their own. Also, if you are a person who develops cold sores, we provide medication to prevent it.”
As side effects are possible, Okekere suggests avoiding anti-inflammatory treatments (such as Motrin, Aleve, or Advil) for two weeks leading up to the procedure, as well as cutting retinoids three days prior. Doing so will help prevent the risk of any flares.
RF microneedling is incredibly beneficial for many skin types, but those benefits come with a cost. “The price of RF microneedling can start at about $1,200 and go up to $2,200 per session, depending on your individual needs and area being treated,” Deveny says, noting that it also depends on where you live.
The best part about RF microneedling is the lack of downtime it requires. “You can go home after the treatment and return to your normal activities,” Deveny says, noting that she just advises against exercise the day of. Then, for the days following treatment, she recommends using a gentle cleanser and applying a recovery cream to soothe the skin as it heals. And, as always, SPF is a must. “Always use SPF 50 to 80 when you go out or if your work desk is next to a window,” she urges. “After six to eight days, you can get back to your normal skin routine.”
The Final Takeaway
RF microneedling is a great option for folks looking to address acne scars, as well as those looking to reduce the appearance of premature aging. That said, Okekere points out that it typically takes two to three treatments to see results, with optimal results traditionally observed three to six months following the first treatment. In other words, while you might not notice immediate jaw-dropping results, rest assured they’re on their way.
Just keep in mind, according to Deveny, the results are long-lasting. But to maintain your results, a booster treatment is recommended every three to six months because the aging process continues.
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Kim HK, Min KO, Choi JH, Kim SH. Effects of low-level laser therapy, electroacupuncture, and radiofrequency on the pigmentation and skin tone of adult women. J Phys Ther Sci. 2016 May;28(5):1407-11. doi: 10.1589/jpts.28.1407.