It’s a question that I hear more and more frequently: ‘Can radiofrequency microneedling destroy the fat in my face?’
RF needling has become immensely popular for its ability to smooth, tighten and rejuvenate the skin. Is it safe to try one of these super-popular treatments, or could it leave you looking gaunt? Here’s the TTG lowdown.
How does RF needling work?
Radiofrequency energy and microneedling can both stimulate collagen production and skin rejuvenation – when the two procedures are combined in one device, so that the RF energy is deployed not on the surface of the skin, but through the tips of the microneedles, deep into the skin, the treatment is even more effective.
So what’s the worry about fat loss?
For skin rejuvenation, radiofrequency energy works by creating heat in the skin (it denatures the collagen, which prompts new collagen to develop). And, if this heat penetrates deep enough to reach the fat that lies under the skin, it can also be used to melt fat – treatments like EMSculpt Neo use radiofrequency deliberately to target body fat, and plenty of practitioners use RF needling to reduce the bulk of fat in double chins on purpose.
Can RF needling cause fat loss?
‘No, not necessarily,’ says Dr Ian Strawford, who has been using radiofrequency needling in his clinics for a decade. ‘But the bottom line is, if you heat the fat up enough you will destroy it – that’s the principle of treatments like FaceTite. It’s my big bugbear, and it’s a worry because so many RF needling machines are being used by people who don’t fully understand what they’re doing with them.’
Do radiofrequency facials cause fat loss?
If you’re having a treatment that is simply using RF on the surface of the skin, could fat loss be a problem? ‘It’s very unlikely,’ says Dr Strawford. ‘When most of the heat is on the surface, you’re limited by the temperature that the skin can tolerate. If you get to 42 degrees, the skin will blister, and the heat-energy that reaches deeper into the skin will be a lot lower than that.’
Can strong in-clinic radiofrequency treatments cause facial fat loss?
There’s always a theoretical risk of fat loss with non-ablative RF,’ says Dr David Jack, who has used radiofrequency and radiofrequency microneedling treatments for many years. ‘If they’re heating the skin over a long period of time you get a cellular response where cells start to release fat, and their metabolic rate increases which makes them release more fat.’ So, it’s technically possible that these treatments might cause fat loss but it’s not something that normally happens.
What’s different about RF microneedling?
But with RF needling, there could be a problem. ‘Devices like Morpheus8 can reach 4mm into the skin and the heat energy may reach 1mm further than the needles, so you have to plan your treatment carefully,’ says Dr Strawford. ‘If I’m treating a fatter face, and the patient and I feel fat loss will be beneficial, then why not go a bit deeper? But if I have a slim, post-menopausal patient, inappropriate treatment could well destroy fat in her face, so you want to keep the needling much more superficial so that you just get the skin regeneration. We have to preserve fat in the face. Your skin will age more rapidly without it. We’re dabbling with tools that are powerful, and we have to be very careful.’
Can practitioners accidentally melt fat in the face?
In a word: yes. ‘Successful treatment RF microneedling really is operator-dependent,’ says Dr David Jack. ‘If people aren’t properly trained in how to use these devices, they may well send the energy too deep, and use multiple stacks of energy pulses in quick succession, and if you do that repeatedly, you increase the risk of killing the skin tissue as well as destroying fat.’
You need an expert practitioner
‘With RF needling, you have great control over the depth the energy is penetrating to,’ adds Dr Jack. ‘If you go to 4mm, if you’re giving a high blast of RF, you can melt fat, and that’s one of the reasons you might use it.’ He gets great results on the abdomen using the Morpheus8 body treatment with its 7mm needles, which both reduces fat and tightens the skin. ‘But,’ he adds, ‘if you’re using RF needling to improve the skin on the face, do it at 1 or 2mm, and with nano-second pulses of RF energy, so the risk of fat cell death and noticeable decrease in fat volume is minimal.’
The Tweakments Guide Takeaway
A skin-tightening RF needling treatment shouldn’t destroy fat in your face. But treatment can be used – by sending the needles deeper – to deliberately melt fat. And this fat-melting can happen by mistake if the device is used by someone who doesn’t understand the power of the technology – so check that your practitioner has skill and experience with this technique before booking in.
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