Meet the ultimate power couple in skincare treatments: RF microneedling. "Radiofrequency microneedling pairs radiofrequency, which uses heat energy, with microneedling technology, which uses a wand studded with tiny needles, to causes micro-injuries to the skin’s surface," says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., a dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology in New York City. "The combo treatment triggers collagen production, reduces crepiness, dull skin, sagging, uneven texture and acne scarring."
While microneedling alone helps stimulate collagen, the addition of radiofrequency can make a big difference. "Regular microneedling devices do not penetrate skin as deep and only reach the most superficial layers of skin (about 0.25 mm deep) and no RF thermal energy is delivered into skin," says Birnur Aral, Ph.D., the Good Housekeeping Institute's Beauty, Health & Sustainability Lab executive director. "The depth of RF microneedles can typically be adjusted from 0.5 to 3.5 mm, varying from device to device. I have personally experienced the benefits of microneedling in terms of remodeling of collagen which especially helped with smoothing of old acne scars on my cheeks."
The radiofrequency microneedling process
Like many other in-office treatments, RF microneedling has some prep steps and post-procedure skincare guidelines. "The treatment itself takes about 30 minutes for the face," says Anna Karp, D.O., a dermatologist in Brooklyn, New York.
Keep reading for the step-by-step process, shared by Aral and our contributing dermatologists.
When you arrive for your appointment, a topical numbing cream will be applied so you won't feel the treatment taking place. If you have a low pain tolerance level, you can also ask for an OTC painkiller to take prophylactically.
The treatment is done over the entire face, which usually takes around 25 to 30 minutes total. Depending on the device and your skin tolerance level, there could be two to three passes over your skin.
A cooling mask is applied onto your face after the treatment to soothe skin.
If it is still light out, sunscreen will be applied onto skin before leaving the office.
On the days following the procedure, use a gentle cleanser and a broad-spectrum sunscreen to help protect and soothe skin. Make sure to moisturize frequently to help heal the skin faster. And avoid retinoids and exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs for a few days until the skin has healed.
The benefits of radiofrequency microneedling
Glowy skin. "You will start to see results such as a brighter skin tone and smoother skin a few days after the procedure," says Caroline Robinson, M.D., FAAD, dermatologist and founder of Tone Dermatology.
A significant reduction in acne scars. The treatment has shown improvement in scar depth, texture and overall appearance.
Diminished neck wrinkles. "It rejuvenates your skin by boosting collagen production which can help smooth out the lines on the neck," says Dr. Robinson. Aral shares a study which compares RF microneedling to nonablative fractional laser, revealing that while the results are less significant compared to the laser, it still helps to improve wrinkles.
Smoothing out the indented appearance of stretch marks. "This is due to the increased collagen and elastin production from the treatment," explains Dr. Karp. "It is particularly effective for newer, red or purple stretch marks, as these are still in the active healing phase," she adds. "But it can also improve the appearance of older, white or silver stretch marks, though the results may not be as dramatic."
What are the downsides of RF microneedling?
Thanks to the numbing cream part of the process, there is generally minimal pain while the treatment is taking place. "It is possible to experience a little pain and in rare cases, some minor bleeding during the treatment when needles penetrate and deliver the RF wave," says Aral.
This procedure does have a little downtime. "Patients may experience redness and swelling like a sunburn for about 48 hours after and skin can be a little pink for about a week," says Dr. Levin. "It also can cause breakouts in some people."
What skin types is radiofrequency microneedling best for and who should avoid it?
"Both microneedling and microneedling RF are great options for those who desire improved fine lines and texture including those with acne scars," says Dr. Robinson. "I do not recommend microneedling RF for patients who have conditions that are worsened or triggered by heat such as those with melasma, rosacea and skin lupus."
The best part? No skin tone is off limits here. "The great thing is that even Type VI skin, the darkest skin tones, can do this procedure but you just want to be careful to prevent post inflammatory hyperpigmentation after," Dr. Karp says. To do so, she suggests using sunscreen daily and brightening agents like azelaic acid and vitamin C — it does not need to be prescription-strength. Dr. Karp advises avoiding this treatment if your skin is extremely sensitive.
How long do RF microneedling results last?
"The results of one treatment can last up to a few months," says Dr. Robinson. While you usually experience an instant brightening effect after a few days, "full results are usually apparent at 90 days after the procedure, because that’s how long it takes for collagen to rejuvenate." As these results develop over time, "they also don't disappear the way some injectables do (like neurotoxins or fillers)," adds Aral.
What does the treatment cost and how many sessions do you need?
"Microneedling treatments are typically performed every four weeks for a series of three to six treatments depending on your skin goals," says Dr. Robinson. While one treatment can make a difference for skin rejuvenation, Dr. Karp recommends three to five treatments for acne scars.
In terms of pricing, "it can be anywhere from $500 to $2,500 depending on the number of treatments and location," says Dr. Levin.
What are the best RF microneedling brands?
The following treatments are all Good Housekeeping Beauty Award winners:
Cutera Secret RF (which also incorporates CO2 fractional laser)
Morpheus8 is another popular option that a few of the derms we spoke to recommended. As mentioned above, Aral tested the Vivace device and was very happy with the results: “I received two Vivace treatments to smooth my skin texture, and I found it the least painful of any microneedling I’ve tried. My skin was a bit red and rough for a few days, after which it looked glowing and felt smoother. Within two to three months, my skin appeared tighter and fine lines were softer.”
Whichever one you choose to try, make sure to visit the brand's website to find a reputable provider and learn about the treatment before diving in.
Can you do radiofrequency microneedling at home?
All of our experts agree: This is one treatment to leave to the pros. "I do not recommend at-home microneedling or microneedling with RF as there can be serious risks including skin infection and scaring," says Dr. Robinson.
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