Anti-aging technology is always evolving, and a new, FDA-approved ultrasound device called Ulthera shows promise in tightening and lifting the face and neck skin without any downtime for healing.
"It's newer than anything we've been doing with the radio frequency or the lasers," says Dr. Felix Bopp, a Metairie-based plastic surgeon. "Both of those treatments are very superficial in the dermis and epidermis (layers of the skin). But this device penetrates much deeper to the fascia layer, which is the same layer I lift when I'm doing a face-lift, and it creates a tightening effect at that layer."
Here's how it works: The face and bones are marked and measured with a pencil. Then, the doctor numbs the face. Gel is rubbed on the skin, then the machine shows the technician exactly where to deliver the thermal energy. The first pass goes deep to lift and tone loose skin. The second, more shallow pass, helps improve lines and skin texture. There's an instant improvement in the skin's appearance, and the full effect can be seen over a few months as skin, stimulated by the heat, builds new collagen. Only one treatment is necessary.
Bopp's wife and business partner, dermatologist Dr. Barbara Bopp, tried the Ulthera. "I'm seeing a little lift and a change in my skin and in the structure of my face," she says. "It's only been a month and a half or two months. I still have another month to go and I know more remodeling's going to take place."
Christine Thompson, a laser technician at Bopp Dermatology, remembers what happened when she treated only one side of her face. She began the treatment without using numbing anesthesia and said it was too painful to do the other side that same day.
"I looked uneven to the point that everyone did notice a change but could not quite pinpoint what that change was," Thompson says.
The next time she tried the Ulthera, she used the nerve block and was fine. Patients found the procedure very painful when they skipped the numbing process, says New Orleans dermatologist Dr. Mary Lupo, who evaluated the Ulthera on test patients two years ago. One-third of patients experienced some bruising afterward, she said.
Felix Bopp has not seen bruising result from the newest version of the Ulthera. The key, he says, is picking the ideal patient. People in their 40s, 50s and 60s are best. People with a lot of fat under their skin won't see as much of an effect. The Ulthera won't affect skin pigment, nor will it prevent a man's beard from growing, so it can be used by men and people with darker skin.
"(A colleague in Seattle) does 10 (Ulthera procedures) a week, and he said that 100 percent of patients saw improvement," Bopp says. "Some of them saw more than others. Some of them saw wow improvement, and some just saw some improvement, but they all saw improvement."
So far there have been no permanent complications, but some patients experienced temporary nerve tingling, weakness or numbness. The cost at Bopp's office is $1,500 to treat the mid-face, neck or forehead. It costs $4,000 to treat all three areas.
Doctors are using the Ulthera in Metairie, Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Biloxi, Miss. Currently there are 33 different studies testing to see if the Ulthera will tighten skin on other parts of the body, such as the arms, knees and abdomen.
"The studies (on ultrasound technology) have been positive ... because it delivers energy deeply into the skin," says Metairie dermatologist Dr. Patricia Farris. "It does cause that tissue contraction."
"As long as patients understand that you cannot duplicate the results of a face-lift with any of these devices (lasers, radio frequency), I think there's a place for these devices," Lupo says. "I certainly think there is science behind the [Ulthera]. It gives modest improvements, and it is an option for the patient wanting to avoid surgery."
Look for Meg Farris' Medical Watch reports weeknights on WWL-TV Channel 4 and anytime on wwltv.com.