“I’m sick of this wrinkled, sagging skin, so I’m thinking of getting a face-lift,” my friend Celia confided recently. “But I’m scared! The pain, the anesthesia, not to mention the cost. And what if something goes wrong? I wish there were something less drastic I could try—preferably something that didn’t involve knives or needles.”

So I told Celia about a new nonsurgical technology called Venus Freeze. The results aren’t nearly as dramatic as those a face-lift might provide, but it is noninvasive and painless and costs significantly less than cosmetic surgery. The procedure uses radiofrequency energy and magnetic pulses to tighten sagging skin and smooth out wrinkles and cellulite on the face, neck, upper arms, belly, hips and/or thighs.

Since Celia was intrigued, I figured that my readers would be, too. That’s why I called Neil Sadick, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. As one of the developers of Venus Freeze, Dr. Sadick has been using the treatment in his practice for several years and has performed it on nearly 1,000 patients to date. He told me, “A small number of people don’t get the desired effect, but over 80% have significant improvement.”

How it works. The Venus Freeze apparatus consists of a boxy energy-generating unit plus a handheld applicator that looks similar to a computer mouse. The energy it emits penetrates multiple layers of skin, uniformly heating the tissues to about 40°C (104°F). In response, the skin’s fibers of collagen (protein-based connective tissue) immediately shorten and thicken, tightening the skin…and over the next several weeks, new collagen forms that provides additional support. Fat-cell volume also decreases, improving the appearance of cellulite. In addition, the treatment induces the release of growth factors needed for new blood vessel formations, thus promoting the flow of blood, nutrients and oxygen to the tissues.

Because Venus Freeze is fairly new, having been cleared by the FDA late in 2010, there isn’t a lot of peer-reviewed research available yet (a fact that will no doubt give some people pause). However, one study recently published in Journal of Dermatological Treatment is promising—on a scale of one to 10, patients’ average satisfaction level was eight and their average pain score was only 1.5.

In another study, this one conducted by Dr. Sadick, 31 patients (mostly middle-aged women) received 10 weekly or twice-weekly treatment sessions for facial wrinkles. None of the participants experienced pain, burns, skin damage or scarring. Three months later, when an independent dermatologist and a plastic surgeon analyzed before-and-after photos, 97% of patients received improved scores on a standard wrinkle scale.

According to Dr. Sadick, there are no long-term safety risks with Venus Freeze (though as I see it, people who have concerns about any possible risks that might be associated with other radiofrequency and/or electromagnetic devices—cell phones, microwave ovens, overhead power lines—may not feel comfortable with this new technology). If you are interested in trying it, here’s what you’ll want to know…

What it can and cannot do. Venus Freeze is worth considering if you have fine facial wrinkles or jowls yet don’t have a tremendous amount of sagging skin, Dr. Sadick said. But if your complexion is already showing considerable signs of aging, the treatment isn’t for you.

As for using Venus Freeze elsewhere on the body, don’t count on it to dramatically whittle your waistline, eliminate underarm jiggles or slenderize thighs—it’s no substitute for good old-fashioned weight loss and toning exercises or for liposuction. However, the technology can improve the appearance of mild-to-moderate cellulite and tighten loose skin in various areas. Dr. Sadick recommends Venus Freeze for people with saggy skin on their upper arms or thighs and for women whose bellies remain stretched out after childbirth.

What to expect during treatment. During this office procedure, the practitioner holds the applicator against the skin and moves it in continuous circular or sweeping motions. Each area takes about 10 minutes to treat. No anesthesia is needed—patients generally feel a slight sensation of warmth, if anything, and can return to normal activities immediately afterward. Side effects consist primarily of slight swelling and/or redness that fade within an hour. There is minimal risk for burns, Dr. Sadick said.

Venus Freeze is available in many areas of the country. To find a provider near you, check VenusTreatments.com. Before you settle on a practitioner, Dr. Sadick suggests asking candidates the following questions…

  • “Who performs the treatment?” You want a physician or physician assistant, not an aesthetician.
  • “How many patients have you treated with this technology?” Ideal answer: Opt for someone who has performed Venus Freeze on at least 25 patients, Dr. Sadick said.
  • “What does the treatment cost?” This varies depending on your location and the area of the body being treated, but you can expect to pay several hundred dollars per session.
  • “How many sessions will I need?” Dr. Sadick usually recommends five to seven weekly treatments initially, with a follow-up session for maintenance every three to six months thereafter. Be skeptical if anyone promises to transform your skin in a single session…or tries to rope you into committing to a dozen or more sessions.