Before (left) and after (right); time post-procedure, one month. COURTESY RENUVION

How does radio frequency tighten skin? Radio frequency (RF) emits heat, and very high temperatures shrink skin.

Think of a strip of bacon in a frying pan. The bacon is quite a bit smaller once fried. The idea with RF devices is to provide enough heat to tighten the skin, but without burning it.

RF can be used with micro-needling devices, and this, with several treatments, tightens the skin. However, to prevent skin burns, temperatures are limited to around 42 degrees with these treatments and, as expected, the results are also limited.

Also, more than one treatment is necessary for the best results, but virtually no recovery time is needed.

For more tightening and elevation of the skin, a probe can be used just under the skin under local or, if desired, general anesthesia. RF devices such as Inmode, ThermiTight and Renuvion are used for this.

Results are seen in three to six months. Usually one treatment is needed. The Inmode and ThermiTight are “bulk heaters,” so dermal temperatures are limited to about 70 degrees centigrade to prevent burns to the skin.

The latest of the RF skin tightening devices is the Renuvion, formally called J-Plasma. This device uses helium gas with the RF, resulting in much hotter temperatures of 85 degrees centigrade, which is very hot.

Helium plus RF creates a product called plasma, which is like mini-bolts of lightning. They uniquely and specifically attack the micro-fibers that attach the skin to the underlying tissue, such as muscle. These fibers elongate with age, allowing skin to sag.

One treatment with the Renuvion tightens these micro-fibers, resulting in elevation and tighter skin. Much of the skin tightening and elevation occurs immediately, although continued tightening occurs for six months and longer.

These high temperatures can be achieved with the Renuvion without burns because the helium instantly cools the heated and tightened micro-fibers.

The Renuvion as well as the other RF devices are used effectively for non-surgical tightening and elevation of the neck and lower face, arm lifts, tightening thighs, back (love handles), abdomen, and even for breast lifts. Minimal recovery time is needed and long incisions are avoided.

E. Ronald Finger, MD, FACS is a board certified plastic surgeon with offices in Savannah and Bluffton.