Aging always starts off subtly; you may notice a line here or there when you smile, or slight bags under your eyes that never quite go away. At first, the periodic administration of Botox® and dermal fillers is perfectly sufficient to keep these blemishes at bay. However, over the years, we invariably begin to notice a gradual increase in skin laxity. Jowls start to form along the jawline and the neck begins to sag, causing a noticeable loss of facial definition.
These changes occur due to the decline of two important skin-strengthening compounds: Collagen and elastin. As we get older, our bodies slowly produce less and less of these substances. In women, this loss tends to speed up rapidly after menopause owing to the fact that estrogen levels are closely linked to adequate collagen production.
Collagen and elastin are instrumental in keeping the skin firm, hydrated, strong, and supple, so as levels of these substances decline, so does the condition of our skin. Not only does it start to look more dry and dull than it did before, it loses a great deal of its tensile strength as well. Research reveals that over the course of the aging process, our skin can lose up to 80 percent of its original thickness, leaving it fragile and prone to damage.
This loss of tensile strength sets the skin up for sagging in a couple of different ways: One, as the skin becomes weaker, it’s less able to handle the weight of subcutaneous fat deposits. The weight of facial fat is therefore able to pull the skin downwards, gradually extending it until noticeable folds form. This effect is compounded by the sagging of the facial muscles (which is also a normal part of the aging process). As the muscles of the face fall, fatty deposits that once sat high on the cheeks droop into the lower cheek and jaw region, further accentuating the jowls. Two, as the skin grows more fragile, it loses its ability to “bounce back” after we make facial expressions. This causes the skin to stretch even further, in addition to creating crease lines around the eyes and mouth.
In the past, the only solution to loose skin on the face and neck was surgery. Through the use of facelift and neck lift surgery, plastic surgeons can remove excess skin, lift the muscles and connective tissues below the skin, and reposition fatty deposits so that they once again sit higher on the cheeks. However, while this approach is certainly effective (and yields long-lasting results), it’s not right for everyone. Combined facelift and neck lift surgery is costly and requires significant lifestyle modifications during recovery. Facelift patients must take at least a week off of work, for instance, avoid smoking, eat soft foods, wear supportive bandages, and fastidiously prevent their healing incisions from being exposed to direct sunlight.
Furthermore, even if a patient is willing to have surgery, not everyone makes a good candidate for facelift and neck lift surgery. While these operations are not particularly risky, they are still invasive; as such, patients must be in good health in order to have them. Many older people cannot have surgery due to common age-related conditions like cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes, and lung disease.
Fortunately, we now have a noninvasive procedure known as “Ultherapy” that can lift and tighten the skin without the risks of surgery. Instead of relying on incisions and surgical instruments, Ultherapy uses safe ultrasound technology to regenerate the connective tissues that are responsible for keeping the dermis strong and healthy. Here’s how it works:
Ultherapy: The Latest in Collagen Infusion Technology
Ultherapy is an FDA-approved nonsurgical collagen stimulation procedure. During Ultherapy, an applicator device is applied to the patient’s face and neck. It directs precisely-calibrated pulses of ultrasound energy into the dermis and the tissues below, while keeping the skin comfortably cool. These pulses of energy warm the second layer of the dermis and the connective tissues within it, activating the body’s natural healing response. (Collagen and elastin are used to heal wounds, in addition to playing a role in supporting the dermis.) The body then starts to send surges of new collagen and elastin to the treated areas, causing the skin to once again become stronger, more voluminous, and suppler. Furthermore, because Ultherapy uses ultrasound technology, cosmetic surgeons can see the patient’s tissues under the skin while they work. This allows them to specifically identify and target those areas with particularly poor collagen distribution.
Many patients prefer Ultherapy over other anti-aging treatments because it is completely “natural” in its mechanism of action. No artificial compounds are injected into the body during Ultherapy, making this treatment entirely non-toxic and hypoallergenic. There is also no risk of burning or redness, as sometimes occurs with other nonsurgical collagen stimulating treatments (such as laser and chemical skin resurfacing). This procedure therefore offers a true lack of downtime—not only can patients return to their normal activities immediately after having Ultherapy, they won’t have to worry about walking around with irritated-looking skin for hours or days.
Currently, Ultherapy is the only nonsurgical skin firming treatment that has been approved for use on the neck and chest. As such, it can serve as a viable alternative to both face and neck lift surgery.
Can Ultherapy Replace Facelift and Neck Lift Surgery?
Yes and no. Ultherapy is highly effective at lifting both the face and neck, and most patients who are under the age of 50 will notice a substantial improvement in their appearance after having Ultherapy. For these patients, yes, Ultherapy can serve as a replacement for face and neck lift surgery (though patients should be aware that their results will be more subtle and natural looking than the results of facelift surgery.) Patients with severe skin laxity, however, often still require surgery to achieve dramatic results. (This is the case because no nonsurgical procedure can actually remove excess skin.) If you are over the age of 60, surgery may therefore still be the best option for you, as long as you are healthy enough to be eligible for face and neck lift surgery.
Patients should also understand that surgery, while it’s more expensive than Ultherapy, produces longer-lasting results. The results of facelift surgery can last up to a decade, whereas the results of Ultherapy usually remain visible for three to five years. However, because Ultherapy is so safe and noninvasive, patients who want to achieve longer lasting results can simply opt to have additional Ultherapy treatments. Ultimately, the choice between Ultherapy and surgery will depend on the patient’s budget, health, preferences, and the kind of results he or she wants to see.
Note that even if you do plan to have facelift surgery one day, many cosmetic surgeons recommend using nonsurgical procedures like Ultherapy to delay the need for facelift surgery as long as possible. By having face and neck lift surgery later in life, you will minimize the need for future revision surgeries. This in turn will lower your risk of scarring and other possible surgical complications.
Finally, facelift patients are advised to consider using Ultherapy as a complementary procedure. While facelift surgery can cause profound changes in the supportive structures beneath the skin, it cannot improve skin volume or texture, whereas Ultherapy can. Using facelift and neck lift surgery to address the structural problems that typically affect older faces (drooping musculature and excess skin), then using Ultherapy to improve the condition of the dermis itself, can yield wonderfully thorough results. Attacking the signs of aging from multiple angles in this way is often the best strategy for restoring a youthful (but natural) look.
What Exactly Can Ultherapy Treat?
Ultherapy can improve skin strength, volume, tightness, and overall tone in several different areas of the face and neck. Because Ultherapy is so gentle, it can be used to treat under-eye bags that are caused by sagging skin. Ultherapy can also help to lift drooping cheeks, reduce the appearance of jowls, shrink the area under the chin (reducing the appearance of a “double chin”), and tighten the skin of the neck. Ultherapy can even be used on the chest to help female patients achieve a more youthful bust line.
What Should I Expect During My Ultherapy Treatment?
When you have Ultherapy, your cosmetic surgeon will begin by cleansing your face and neck so that no debris will block the flow of ultrasound energy from the applicator. He or she will then apply ultrasound gel to the parts of your face and neck you want treated, before placing the treatment applicator against your skin and activating it. He or she will then analyze the ultrasound images produced by the applicator in order to determine which regions need the most collagen infusion. Once this step is completed, your cosmetic surgeon will begin pulsing energy into the connective tissues below your skin.
For most patients, Ultherapy is mildly uncomfortable. A small minority of patients (about 10 percent) will experience some pain, tingling, or burning sensations during treatment, however. If this happens to you, don’t panic—Ultherapy is completely safe and cannot hurt you. Some people just have a much lower pain threshold than others and their skin is therefore unusually sensitive, even to gentle pulses of energy.
A typical Ultherapy appointment takes between 60 and 90 minutes to complete, though you will need to add an additional 30 minutes to this time if you wish to have your chest treated as well. Photographs will be taken, and maybe some numbing cream applied. Once your treatment session is complete, you will be able to return to all of your normal activities, including work. There are no special precautions Ultherapy patients must take while healing as their skin has not been damaged.
When Will I See the Results of My Ultherapy Treatment?
It’s important to understand that the results of Ultherapy are not immediate. It takes a while for the body to produce collagen and elastin, and the connective tissues beneath the skin also need time to grow stronger. Most patients will see the results of their Ultherapy treatment really come into effect two to three months after their appointment.
Does Ultherapy Have Any Side Effects?
No serious side effects are associated with Ultherapy. In rare cases, some patients notice slight skin flushing right after treatment, but this usually vanishes within a few hours. Occasionally there is some mild bruising. You may also feel some slight swelling, or sensations of tingling or numbness. Once again, these are purely temporary and will abate very quickly. Nevertheless, if you have any outstanding health conditions, it’s important to check with your doctor just to make sure that having Ultherapy will be safe for you.
For patients who are not able or ready to have plastic surgery, Ultherapy provides a convenient, effective, and affordable way to combat the visible signs of aging. Ultherapy can also optimize the results of facelift surgery, giving you a flawless overall “glow.” Considering how safe Ultherapy is, there’s virtually no reason not to try this innovative collagen-boosting procedure, regardless of whether or not you’re also interested in having surgery.