Can Non-Invasive Ultherapy Replace a Facelift? We Investigate

Mature woman touching her face

Getty / Design by Cristina Cianci

The innovation of technology isn't just helping us connect globally 24/7. Its growth also impacts the beauty industry, helping develop non-invasive cosmetic procedures and treatments that require minimal to no downtime.

One such cosmetic procedure was performed on more than 200,000 people in 2020: Ultherapy—a non-invasive, FDA-approved treatment that lifts the neck, chin, and brow areas, in addition to improving lines and wrinkles on the upper chest, in under 90 minutes (depending on the area treated). Launched globally in 2008 and in the U.S. in 2009 by Merz Aesthetics, the treatment has become wildly popular worldwide. Keep reading to learn more about how Ultherapy works, directly from the pros: Dr. Dendy Engelman and Dr. Sunitha Posina.

Meet the Expert

  • Dr. Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and member of Byrdie's Beauty & Wellness Review Board.
  • Dr. Sunitha Posina, MD, is a board-certified internist. She has completed significant training in dermatological procedures and treatments.

What Is Ultherapy?

"Ultherapy is a non-invasive FDA-approved alternative to a facelift," says Engelman. "This non-surgical procedure uses ultrasound technology to heat up the skin and stimulate active collagen production. The results of this treatment are skin tightening in the neck, face, chest, and eyebrow areas. Ultherapy benefits the skin by reducing facial lines and wrinkles and creating a firmer, more youthful appearance."

"Other devices use radiofrequency energy to heat up the dermal layers of the skin," explains Posina. "Ultherapy targets deeper layers than radiofrequency, including the superficial muscular aponeurotic system (SMAS)."

Benefits of Ultherapy

  • The treatment is FDA-cleared
  • It's a non-invasive procedure
  • Treats loose skin with no surgery
  • Requires no downtime

How to Prepare for Ultherapy

Unlike treatments like HydraFacial, microdermabrasion, and chemical peels that treat the skin's surface, Ultherapy doesn't require any pre-appointment preparation.

The Best Candidate for Ultherapy

Since we all lose collagen in the skin as we age, we want to stress loose skin under the neck and chin are normal. However, if you find you're ready to tighten the skin in those areas (and décolletage), you may be a candidate for Ultherapy, especially if you're seeking results without downtime.

"Ultherapy is for the patient who wants results without downtime and wants to see similar (less dramatic) results for a fraction of the cost,"  Engelman tells us. "Since Ultherapy is non-invasive, I also recommend it to patients who don’t want to go under the knife or who are unable to undergo anesthesia."

What to Expect During an Ultherapy Treatment

Hearing the term "cosmetic procedure" is often associated with pain and anesthesia. But in the case of an Ultherapy procedure, there is minimal discomfort that's mitigated by a pre-treatment numbing cream (and in some cases, oral pain medication) applied after the skin is cleansed. After the skin is cleansed, your practitioner will identify the areas that will be treated with the help of Ultherapy's ultrasound imaging.

During treatment, you will feel surges of energy being deposited under the skin that some report causes discomfort likened to a tingling warm sensation. This tingle indicates that the collagen-building process has been activated under the skin to promote new collagen below the skin’s surface. During the treatment, practitioners will view the layers of tissue targeted to ensure the energy is deposited to the area properly for optimal results.

How Many Treatments Are Needed to See Results?

After treatment, most patients start to see results in about a month. However, results will vary depending on each person's collagen production. "Usually, one session is sufficient to see results over the course of two to three months as it takes time for the body to naturally produce collagen," Posina tells us. "Some patients may be candidates for more sessions based on the laxity and desired results." So how long do the results last? "Results usually last up to two years," Posina explains. "But one can do it yearly if desired and to keep with the aging process."

Potential Side Effects

"After receiving Ultherapy, you may resume regular activity as soon as you feel ready. It may cause a warm tingling sensation that usually goes away soon after the procedure," Engelman tells us. However, she does note on a "very rare" occasion, some patients might bruise. "[This] should last only a few days," she tells us. If bruising does not subside after a few days, Engelman recommends reaching out to your doctor.

The Cost

The cost of Ultherapy will vary depending on a few factors: location, doctor, area of treatment, and how many sessions you need. For example, treating a full face and neck averages from $4,000 to $5,500 in New York City. But this treatment, though not a facelift, can offer visible results without anesthesia, downtime, or the investment of $7,467—the average cost of a facelift, not including the cost of anesthesia and operating room facilities.

The Final Takeaway

"Ultherapy cannot replace a facelift," Engelman tells us. "It does not yield the same fast and extreme results as a traditional facelift." However, for someone who isn't ready for surgery, this is an excellent, science-backed option that yields visible results over time.