I Tried RF Microneedling: Here’s What You Need to Know

Updated: Jun. 19, 2024

A March 2024 medical study found that RF microneedling is useful for even more skin-smoothing effects than had been previously observed.

gloved hand microneedling a woman with closed eyes
iStock/africaimages

As a seasoned health and beauty reporter, I have tried and written about wrinkle-erasing injections, cryofacials, laser skin resurfacing, and pretty much everything in between. (This is one of the main perks of the job.)

It takes a lot to wow me at this point in my career—but radiofrequency microneedling did. After three treatments I’ve been told my skin looks amazing, but what’s more is that I can see it for myself.

The Healthy by Reader’s Digest spoke with New York City dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD; Joel L. Cohen, MD, the Director of AboutSkin Dermatology and DermSurgery, and AboutSkin Research in Denver, Colorado; and Elliot Vayner, MD, the medical director of Newest Beginnings Wellness Center in Jersey City, NJ, to get the real skinny on this treatment, its benefits, costs, and risks.

What is RF microneedling?

A popular skin rejuvenation procedure, radiofrequency (RF) microneedling (also known as collagen induction therapy) pairs RF energy with microneedling to pack a one-two punch against the signs of aging, scars, and other skin conditions.

“RF microneedling creates physical micro-wounds in the skin to boost collagen production,” Dr. Garshick explains. The microneedling triggers the skin’s natural wound-healing process, which kickstarts collagen and elastin production in the dermis.

Collagen and elastin are the skin’s main structural proteins. They are tasked with maintaining the supple and elastic properties associated with youth. The glitch? Our natural supply of both proteins dwindles with advancing age, resulting in uneven texture, fine lines and wrinkles, and sagging skin. Starting at 20, our skin’s collagen maker, the dermis, produces 1% less collagen each year. (I am about to turn 54, so it’s fair to say my collagen supply needed some replenishing.)

The RF energy further ups the ante, adds Elliot Vayner MD, the medical director of Newest Beginnings Wellness Center in Jersey City, NJ. “RF complements this by further stimulating collagen production by heating deeper layers of the skin, resulting in enhanced skin tightening and improved skin elasticity.”

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What are the benefits of RF microneedling?

The list of potential RF microneedling benefits is lengthy, Dr. Garshick says. “It helps improve tone and textural changes on the skin, shrinking pores, minimizing the appearance of scars, including acne scars, smoothing fine lines and wrinkles, and helping to address skin laxity to firm and tighten skin,” she explains.

I am fortunate not to have any visible acne scarring, but I do have large pores and fine lines around my eyes. Now, after three treatments, friends have stopped me on the street and remarked on how great my skin looks. My skin appeared brighter and more supple after just one treatment.

Dr. Garshick adds that RF microneedling can also troubleshoot specific areas and concerns such as neck laxity, dark circles under the eyes, or smile lines around the lips. It can even smooth stretch marks, according to a March 2024 review study in Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Medical researchers in China found that RF microneedling worked better than lasers for reducing the appearance of stretch marks and was less likely to cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), a common type of skin darkening that develops after wounds, burns, or injuries.

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Does RF microneedling work?

Yes, RF microneedling works. I’m living proof.

Specific benefits can be traced back to the depth of the microneedles, says Joel L. Cohen, MD, the Director of AboutSkin Dermatology and DermSurgery, and AboutSkin Research in Denver, Colorado.

RF microneedling devices are best at improving facial acne scarring when they target around 2 millimeters in depth, he says. The device doesn’t have to go as deep if it is aiming at crepey skin in the neck and décolletage or smile lines, he says.

Some devices penetrate even deeper into the skin and can reduce fat too, he says.

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Who is RF microneedling best for?

Pretty much anyone can benefit from RF microneedling. Dr. Garshick says this procedure is said to be safe and effective in darker skin types, as well as lighter. “There is a low risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation in darker skin,” she says.

A 2021 review in Dermatologic Surgery backs this up. Radiofrequency microneedling can be used repeatedly and safely in combination with other treatment modalities and people with darker skin types, according to a review of 42 studies on the procedure, including 14 for skin rejuvenation, seven for acne scars, six for acne vulgaris, five each for stretch marks and underarm sweating, two for melasma, and one each for rosacea, cellulite, and hair loss. The main finding was that RF microneedling works and continues to produce noticeable improvements even six months after treatment.

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Who should not do microneedling?

RF microneedling is safe on sensitive skin, including rosacea or acne, Dr. Garshick says. “You just shouldn’t use it during active flares.”

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What are the downsides of RF microneedling?

If you’re prone to cold sores, take an antiviral agent for two days before your microneedling treatment. “The treatment doesn’t cause cold sores, but if you were to develop a cold sore during recovery, the virus that causes cold sore can spread in other areas,” she explains.

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How many RF microneedling treatments are needed to see results?

It’s generally said to take a series of treatments to see results, but I saw a difference in radiance after one treatment. Most doctors recommend three treatments spaced four to six weeks apart for optimal benefits.

Dr. Garshick says RF microneedling results appear gradually over the ensuing months as collagen production picks up momentum over time.

Certain skin conditions may require more RF microneedling sessions. “If you have acne scars or significant skin laxity, we may recommend up to six treatments to really get optimal results,” Dr. Garshick says.

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What is it like to get RF microneedling?

I admit I was anxious when I arrived for my first appointment. I was worried about pain (Is it possible that so many darts in your skin wouldn’t cause discomfort?). I was also worried that I was going to leave the doctor’s office while actively bleeding or be unable to leave my house for days on end.

Fortunately, none of these fears came to pass.

I was asked to arrive an hour before my treatment so that I could have numbing cream applied to my face. (Warning: if the numbing cream gets on your lips, it may feel strange and tingly, which caused a moment of panic on my part.) I suggest bringing a book to pass the time.

The dermatologist who treated me used Candela’s Matrix Pro, which boasts some of the smallest needles on the market, meaning that there is less discomfort as the smaller the pinprick, the less likely it is to cause pain. Just one pass around the face is needed. The actual treatment takes about 30 minutes. It doesn’t hurt. (I swear.) There are, however, some parts of the face that are more sensitive than others, such as the upper lip. I was told my skin may be pink or red after treatment, but it really wasn’t. No one in my home even looked twice at me when I returned from my appointment.

“With RF microneedling, some people do get some ‘patterning’ on the skin from the treatment that generally resolves in seven to 10 days,” Dr. Cohen says. “Sometimes bruising can occur, especially around the cheekbone and temple areas, as well as on areas of deeper treatments like below the chin and the belly.”

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What is the aftercare like with RF microneedling?

There isn’t any significant downtime after RF microneedling, but my doctor did tell me not to exercise on the same day (which, if I am being honest, was a welcome break). I was told not to put anything on my face until the following day when I could use a cream designed to speed healing and reduce inflammation,

Certain topical products can facilitate healing, Dr. Cohen says. And don’t forget to apply sunscreen. ‘It’s important all of the time but after procedures, our concern is that patients can get post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.”

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How long do RF microneedling results last?

Most people can see improvement in their skin texture within a few weeks to a few months after treatment, Dr. Vayner says.

Dr. Garshick suggests coming back once or twice a year for maintenance treatments, which I plan to do. “Maintenance treatment can help sustain the benefits,” she says.

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What does RF microneedling cost?

Exactly how much RF microneedling costs varies by the areas treated, the number of treatments, and often the geographical location of the practice. Most practices offer packages to make it more palatable. In general, expect to pay around $500 to $1200 per session, Dr. Garshick says. Insurance doesn’t cover the cost of RF microneedling.

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What are the best RF microneedling brands?

There are a handful of microneedling devices on the market. Some devices just utilize microneedles to create wounds and stimulate collagen production, while others add radiofrequency energy to the mix.

The main RF Microneedling brands—Candela’s Matrix Pro, BTL’s Exion, Cynosure’s Potenza, the Scarlet RF, Inmode Morpheus 8, Scarlet RF, Vivace, and Lutronic Genius all employ similar technology.

Some offer specialized handpieces that allow for targeted treatment on the body such as Morpheus8, which goes deeper and can melt unwanted pockets of fat with RF energy. The Exion uses artificial intelligence to help optimize how much RF energy is delivered.

With additional reporting by Aubrey Almanza.