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High-Intensity Focussed Ultrasound (HIFU)

Written by: Alice Hart-Davis

Updated by: Becki Murray

Last Updated: 12 January 2024

HIFU is the shorthand acronym for High-Intensity Focussed Ultrasound, a type of treatment that uses ultrasound waves to tighten, firm, and contour your face and body. As its name says, HIFU uses ultrasound waves at high intensity rather than lower intensity and focuses the waves to a single point. The focussed ultrasound waves don’t hit the surface of the skin, as a laser would, but a predetermined spot up to 4.5mm below the skin’s surface.

There are different types of focused ultrasound treatment on offer, some of which are branded. Any of them can be called HIFU, as this is the type of treatment rather than a brand, in the way that not all vacuum cleaners are Hoovers. So if two different clinics offer ‘HIFU’, it may not be the same treatment at each. Scroll down for all the info and FAQs about HIFU.


£ 1500 - 3000


30 - 90 minutes


18 months


Optional pain management


Possible redness/swelling

Find a Practitioner


What does HIFU do?

As an aesthetic treatment, HIFU is intended to stimulate the production of collagen, the protein that gives our skin its structure and firmness and that forms the scaffolding of our skin.

In treatments of the face, the practitioner uses HIFU to target the collagen around the superficial muscular aponeurotic system (SMAS). The SMAS is the layer of muscular tissue in the face that surgeons manipulate when they are performing a facelift, which lies well below the surface of the skin.

For body treatments, HIFU is best known for its use for tummy tightening, as well as for mild sagging of skin, such as on your upper arms. It gradually tightens and lifts the skin by triggering a natural wound healing response, stimulating the production of new collagen and elastin. This leads to a more sculpted and toned appearance, especially when used on the tummy, arms and thighs. A variation of the treatment can also be used to specifically target and destroy fat cells in the tissue beneath the skin, leading to more targeted fat reduction that slims and sculpts the treated area.

As well as being used for aesthetic treatments, HIFU is also used for various medical treatments. The primary medical use of HIFU is as a cancer treatment, to destroy solid tumours in various parts of the body, including the brain, kidney, prostate and bone.

Is HIFU the same as Ultherapy

What is HIFU 1

What is the difference between HIFU and radiofrequency?

HIFU and radiofrequency are different energy-based technologies.

There is some overlap between HIFU and radiofrequency, because both HIFU and radiofrequency can tighten up the skin by heating it up to stimulate collagen production. But there are a couple of big differences between HIFU and radiofrequency:

  • First, radiofrequency primarily works on the dermis, the deeper layers of skin below the epidermis (the outer layer), whereas HIFU goes much deeper – up to 4.5mm below the surface, depending on the setting the practitioner uses on the HIFU device.
  • Secondly, radiofrequency has a bulk heating effect, whereas HIFU’s ultrasound energy is tightly focussed to produce a precise effect.

Apart from the overlap in what HIFU and radiofrequency actually do, the two technologies are also linked in advertising because some branded treatments include both HIFU and radiofrequency.


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What is the difference between HIFU, ULTRAcel and Ultherapy?

HIFU is the general term for treatment using high-intensity focussed ultrasound, whereas ULTRAcel and Ultherapy are two specific brands of treatment that include HIFU in their treatments. ULTRAcel and Ultherapy are the best-known of the treatments that use HIFU.

While ULTRAcel and Ultherapy both include HIFU, they’re different from each other:

  • Ultherapy uses HIFU to lift the skin. It is the only ultrasound-based treatment device to have achieved FDA clearance for its claim of lifting the skin.
  • ULTRAcel combines HIFU with radiofrequency and microneedling. Radiofrequency helps tighten the deeper layers of skin. Microneedling, which is also called medical needling, uses sharp spikes to create thousands of tiny perforations in your skin. Microneedling is another method of stimulating the production of collagen.


What about Sofwave? Is it HIFU?

Sofwave is a skin-tightening device that uses ultrasound energy but not HIFU specifically. Whereas HIFU devices work by concentrating the energy to create a focal hotspot under the skin, Sofwave works on a more superficial level within the skin itself to create – with each ‘shot’ of energy – seven cylinders which go straight down, parallel to the surface of the skin. This means that each shot treats a large area of tissue at the right depth and temperature to stimulate collagen and elastin fibres, tightening and lifting the skin and smoothing lines and wrinkles.

focused ultrasound 2 ultracel

Treatment for neck wrinkles and sagging jawline

Does HIFU work?

Yes, HIFU does work – but it’s not a panacea. Nor is it the right treatment for everyone.

HIFU works best on skin that has become somewhat loose, but not extremely loose. HIFU can tighten somewhat loose skin, such as mild laxity on your arms, but it cannot tighten skin that is sagging severely. Once you’re into facelift territory, it can’t really help you. The focussed ultrasound energy targets the collagen in the deeper layers of skin, heating it to the point that it contracts and tightens. This heat damage boosts the formation of new collagen and elastin over the next few months, which is what really tightens up the skin.

As you know, people respond in different ways to aesthetic treatments. With HIFU, some people don’t get the desired lifting effect. In rare cases, if the HIFU energy is directed into the fat rather than at the collagen layer, it can cause the loss of fat beneath the skin, leaving it sagging further than it did before.

FAQ ABOUT High-Intensity Focussed Ultrasound (HIFU)

Does HIFU hurt?

To be honest with you – yes, it does usually hurt. Most people find HIFU treatment to be uncomfortable or even painful. Your practitioner may offer you a form of pain management beforehand.

That said, most of the discomfort or pain occurs during the treatment, so it’s short-lived. After the treatment, you may have some redness, swelling and soreness in the treated area, but this discomfort is likely to be minor.

Where can I get HIFU?

You can use the Find a Practitioner tool on this website to find a practitioner for HIFU.

When looking for a practitioner for HIFU, bear in mind that the UK has essentially no regulations covering who can use HIFU devices for aesthetic treatments. HIFU is a powerful technology and a serious treatment, even for aesthetic purposes rather than medical purposes, but a practitioner needs no more qualifications to use a HIFU device than to use a hairdryer.

Because of this lack of regulation, it’s vital that you ensure your practitioner is skilled and experienced at using HIFU to produce the results you’re looking for.

How much does HIFU cost?

HIFU costs vary depending on the treatment and the practitioner or clinic, and the brand of HIFU, but the following prices are fairly typical:

    • £350 – £500 for upper face treatment
    • £800 upwards for full face treatment
    • £2,000 for full face and neck treatment
    • £500 for treatment of the décolletage
    • £400 for tummy tightening

How long does HIFU take?

HIFU treatment typically takes 30–90 minutes, depending on the extent of the treatment. For example, a brow treatment may take only 30 minutes, while treatment of the full face and neck may take 90 minutes.

How long does HIFU last?

The effects of HIFU treatments typically last for around 18 months. If you have a treatment that combines HIFU with other technologies, such as radiofrequency, the effects may last longer.

You may find that HIFU treatment has a small immediate effect on the tautness of your skin, but the main effect comes from the increased collagen production that the treatment stimulates. This takes several months, so you are likely to see the full effect of HIFU treatment only after three to six months.

Are there any side effects to HIFU?

HIFU is considered a safe and effective procedure for tightening skin on the face and neck. That said, HIFU may have various side effects.

The following are the most typical side effects of HIFU:

  • Redness. The treated area may be slightly red for a few hours after treatment.
  • Swelling and tenderness. The treated area may be somewhat swollen or tender for several weeks after treatment.
  • Tingling sensation. You may feel tingling in the treated area for several weeks after treatment.

These two side effects occur more rarely:

  • Bruising. The treated area may exhibit bruising for one to two weeks.
  • Local numbness. Parts of the treated area may feel numb for up to two weeks.

Another potential but unlikely side effect of HIFU is melting fat in the face. See the next section for more information.

Does HIFU melt face fat?

You can find reports on the web of HIFU facelift treatment melting fat in the face. This perhaps isn’t too surprising, because HIFU is also used as a fat-melting treatment – for example, to melt abdominal fat. But if you’re already losing fat in your face, as tends to happen as you age, you likely don’t want to lose any more of this essential padding.

HIFU practitioners say that fat loss in the face should never occur if the HIFU device is being used correctly. This is another reason to make sure that you choose an experienced practitioner for your treatment.

If fat loss in the face does occur, the fat is permanently lost – it can’t be restored.

What’s the difference between Ultherapy and Sofwave?

Sofwave and Ultherapy use different methods to achieve similar results. Both are for tightening and lifting the skin and smoothing lines and wrinkles by stimulating new collagen and elastin, and both can be used on the face, jowls, neck, decolletage and brow areas. The main difference is that Ultherapy works much deeper under the skin to create the kind of structural change that some liken to a non-surgical facelift. Sofwave on the other hand, works more superficially within the skin itself, making it safe to use from the top of the forehead down to the bottom of the neck without any risk of nerve injury or fat loss (minor risks associated with Ultherapy).

What is it like to have HIFU?

The exact details depend on the type of HIFU treatment you’re having, but generally it is something like this:

  • You meet your chosen practitioner to discuss your goals. The practitioner examines you and develops a treatment plan.
  • You may find the HIFU treatment uncomfortable or painful – many people do. The practitioner may offer you pain relief before the treatment. One option is Ibuprofen to reduce your perception of the pain. Some clinics also offer diazepam (Valium). Because the treatment area is well below the surface of the skin, numbing cream isn’t an effective option for pain relief.
  • The practitioner will apply an ultrasound gel to the treatment area.
  • The practitioner works the treatment head of the HIFU device over the treatment area. The practitioner may need to make multiple passes over the area using different settings to make the ultrasound waves strike different depths beneath the surface.
  • The treatment head delivers short bursts of focussed ultrasound waves. You’ll feel each burst as a zinging little pulse.

Clinics advertise HIFU as needing no downtime afterwards, but the treated area may be somewhat reddened and swollen, so you might not want to go straight back to the office.

Results show after three months, with the full effect after three to six months.


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