Believe it or not, ultrasound technology is not only for seeing an expecting baby. A new wave of technology allows patients to use ultrasound technology outside the realm of medical imaging. It can be used for skin tightening as Microfocused Ultrasound and for body contouring as High Intensity Focused Ultrasound. Medical imaging, skin tightening, and body contouring are all very similar in many ways; the main difference is that different frequencies of ultrasound are used.
The Basic Physics Behind Ultrasound in the Skin
Sound is defined as mechanical energy that spreads through a medium in the form of waves. During ultrasound procedures, there is typically a gel that is placed on top of the skin that allows the sound waves to be sent through the gel to target different areas of the body. Ultrasound sends off soundwaves that can cause vibrations. Depending on the frequency, these vibrations create heat within the body that can be tailored for different effects in the skin: the stimulation of collagen or the breakdown of adipose tissue.
Collagen is responsible for giving the skin its plumpness and is made of proteins whose bonds can easily break under extreme temperatures. When the vibrations from the right kind of sound waves travel through the skin causing heat, it stimulates the skin to make more collagen. When your body becomes injured, the body tends to stimulate more of what is needed. (This is how calluses form from repeated friction.) In this case, the stimulation of collagen increases because the body thinks it is being injured due to the small damages the soundwaves make. The increased stimulation of collagen can leave the skin looking more youthful and reduce the appearance of wrinkles. The use of Microfocused Ultrasound penetrates roughly 4-5mm into the facial skin while using intense pulses that last 20-50 milliseconds long.
The use of High Intensity Focused Ultrasound for body contouring works in similar ways. However, instead of the vibrations targeting collagen, High Intensity Focused Ultrasound targets the fat layer (known as adipose tissue) that is 10-30 mm deep from the surface of the skin. In this case, the heat causes the fat cells to die. The tissue cavitates or bubbles up, and bursts and the released fat is then disposed of by your body’s lymphatic system and liver.
Ultrasound frequency, for either skin tightening or body contouring, uses a frequency specific to its target within the skin (in this case, either collagen or adipose tissue). Thus, the surrounding structures (skin, blood, vessels, muscles, nerves) will not be affected.
How Effective is Ultrasound?
A clinical study that treated the skin of the lower face to target collagen using Microfocused Ultrasound, resulted in 72% of subjects having a visible facelift. The efficacy of Microfocused Ultrasound treatment is improved when multiple passes are used.
In 2012, a study conducted on 180 males and females ranging between ages 18-65 using
High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound had a successful waist circumference of 2 cm. However, other sources determined that reported effects were considered mild to moderate, having little to no effect on body weight.
Side Effects and Who Should Not Get Ultrasound
Among patients undergoing High Intensity Focused Ultrasound treatments, only 11.8% of subjects reported side effects of tenderness, bruising, lumps, and swelling.
A study conducted on 36 individuals for treatment under Microfocused Ultrasound developed at least a trace of or slight redness and swelling immediately after treatment. Patients with infections and open skin lesions at the targeted area of treatment (active, severe, or cystic acne), and those that have metallic implants should be withheld from treatment. Because the process of MFU is dependent on the healing process and collagen synthesis, an ideal patient is a young individual with normal wound healing but is best suited for those with some signs of skin aging and collagen loss.
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