Imagine firmer facial skin, a tighter neck, no sagging of the brow. All without surgery.
Meet Ultherapy, a noninvasive “facelift” that uses an ultrasound-guided device to lift and tighten aging skin.
The simple FDA-approved office procedure has been touted by celebs and seen on several major talk shows — including “The View” in March — and Nebraska caught on as well.
Dr. Joel Schlessinger, a cosmetic surgeon, dermatologist and owner of Skin Specialists in Omaha, is the state's only cosmetic surgeon offering the procedure.
While Ultherapy does not provide the drastic results that a surgical facelift would, Schlessinger calls it “a game changer,” especially when it comes to younger patients.
Imagine a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. Schlessinger demonstrated his point using coasters on a conference table.
Your outer layer of skin, or epidermis, is the top slice of bread. The next two layers, the peanut butter and jelly, are the dermis and fat layers. That bottom layer, the superficial muscular aponeurotic system or SMAS, is where the collagen is located.
Collagen is the structure of skin — the meshwork, crosslinked like a bridge — said Lisa Misell, vice president of clinical and medical affairs for Ulthera, the company that developed and markets the Ultherapy procedure.
When you pinch your face, you're getting only the first slice of bread and a little peanut butter and jelly. The SMAS layer of collagen is even deeper.
Starting in your 30s and as you age, you may see your face sliding downward — the underlying collagen is collapsing. With the pulls of age and gravity, collagen loses its elasticity and overstretches.
“(Ultherapy targets) the layer deeper than what you can pinch,” Misell said. This is the same area tightened during cosmetic surgery.
How it works
A trained technician, under the guidance of a medical doctor, places and triggers the handheld transducer across pre-marked areas of the face and neck, adjusting the depth by looking at a screen similar to that used during a pregnancy ultrasound.
The micro-burst of energy bypasses the first three layers of PB&J, delivering heat to and damaging the collagen-rich SMAS layer.
“But the body comes to the rescue,” Schlessinger said. Tissue stimulated by the heat reacts by producing new collagen, which is not stretched by age, gravity or years of sun exposure. It's elastic and more youthful.
The bottom layer of the sandwich lifts and tightens skin. Lasers and other devices touted to zap wrinkles reach only the first layer or two of the sandwich.
The procedure takes about an hour and lasts well over a year, by some estimates.
What does it feel like?
Schlessinger provides patients with a pain reliever and muscle relaxer before the procedure.
“It stung a little. Not horrible,” said Barb Stabbe, a patient at Skin Specialists.
Other patients described the procedure as mildly uncomfortable but much less sting than the rubber-band-snap feeling of laser hair removal.
“Patients don't require pain medication after the procedure,” Schlessinger said. “There's no down time either.”
He explained that the effects of the collagen work subtly over the next few months. Stabbe said she felt an occasional nerve zing the few weeks after.
According to Misell, there are no permanent or long-term side effects other than minimal bruising or slight swelling, if any.
“We're able to help younger patients, people in their 30s,” Schlessinger said.
He sees Ultherapy as a major game changer in the skin rejuvenation field for a target audience of 30-somethings to late 60s and even people in their 70s without major skin sagging issues.
Misell agrees that this procedure offers younger patients an option before waiting until saggy skin sends them to a plastic surgeon for a major facelift operation.
She said facial procedures are making a comeback. People are once again spending money on their faces after years of spending on body procedures such as liposuction and breast augmentation.
She speculated that boomers are staying in the workplace longer and want to keep up with the look of younger colleagues.
The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported that Americans spent $1.8 billion on skin rejuvenation in 2012, including Botox, laser hair removal, microdermabrasion and chemical peels.
“A lot of things promised lifting and tightening and didn't work,” Schlessinger said about facial procedures. And although Ultherapy is not the same as a surgical facelift that cuts away skin, he said, “It provides a certain degree of improvement in skin laxity and may even keep you from having surgery later.”
National costs range from $2,500 to $3,500. She said the technology is now in clinical trials but not yet available for other skin issues.
“I noticed subtle changes. It kind of lifted the skin around my chin, and my skin tone felt more youthful,” said Stabbe, who has received treatments.
“People see me and say, 'You never change.' They just don't know my secret.”