When it comes to skin tightening and wrinkles, there has been an increasing trend for the consumers to choose the less invasive approaches and opting out of surgery. Although results aren’t as dramatic, nonsurgical treatments offer less downtime, less risk, and less cost. These treatments are great for the people who are not quite surgical candidates because of very mild signs of aging as well as those that just want to delaying the sagging before it is even apparent. Then there are those who really are surgical candidates but can’t afford the downtime or are concerned about the looks of some of their peers who have had face/neck lifts.
The most recognized name for noninvasive skin tightening currently is Ulthera (Ultherapy). This technology uses highly focused ultrasound to cause a thermal coagulation zone beneath the skin without affecting the surface. This technology is akin to the one used to break up kidney stones or gall stones with ultrasonic energy (lithotripsy). The coagulation zones elicit an inflammatory response leading to collagen stimulation and contraction. This results in tissue tightening and wrinkle improvement. Ulthera was brought to market in 2009, with Dr. Weiner being one of the first 20 adopters in the US. Dr. Weiner has had significant experience with this device and with all the changes in protocols.
In 2013, the Infini was FDA approved and introduced in the US. This was a novel technology for the US, but it had been used in Asia for at least 1.5 years prior. Infini uses radiofrequency attached to microneedles to cause similar thermal coagulation zones as the Ulthera, below the surface of the skin. Dr. Weiner is the largest user on the Infini in the US and now lectures and precepts other physicians in it use.
The similarities of the 2 technologies:
- Both are fractional treatments (only treat a portion of tissue) which is safer and leads to faster healing.
- Both can treat at multiple different levels. While Ulthera is restricted to 3 levels, it is not uncommon for Dr. Weiner to treat at up to 5 levels with the Infini.
- Both have very little downtime – Ulthera has potential for bruising but otherwise no downtime. Infini has about 24-36 hours of redness and swelling. There are no activity or sun restrictions for either treatment.
- All skin types can be treated with both technologies.
- Both can be performed in the office with just topical – Patients who have had both technologies report that Ulthera had more discomfort in Dr. Weiner’s office.
- Both can improve skin laxity, particularly in the jawline. It is Dr. Weiner’s opinion that this is primarily due to fat destruction by both technologies. Both can reach into this layer (the Infini only if desired, Ulthera almost always by default with the deeper transducers).
- Both mechanisms of tightening are similar – create a controlled injury that leads to tissue contraction, tightening, collagen stimulation BUT the way the injury is produced is different.
- Both can be safely off the face – neck, chest, extremities, under arms (hyperhidrosis)
- Both are extremely safe technologies with very little side effects and don’t use lasers (so safer for the eyes).
- Both have better results with multiple treatments. Although Ulthera states one treatment is needed, the experience Dr. Weiner had with the technology was that better outcomes were seen with multiple treatments.
Comparing the differences of Infini versus Ulthera:
- Infini treatment of the face/upper neck lays down over 50,000 thermal coagulation zones VS Ulthera’s 16,000. It only makes sense that the more zones, the more results.
- Infini depths can be adjusted from 0.25 mm to 3.5 mm in increments of 0.25 mm. Ulthera has 3 depths: 1.5, 3.0, 4.5 mm. Using the ultrasound of the Ulthera, Dr. Weiner was able to measure skin depths over the face and neck. There were no areas of skin thickness greater than 2.5 mm in the entire face and neck (except in very thick skinned males in the upper cheeks). Therefore, MOST OF THE TREATMENT FOR ULTHERA IS BELOW THE LEVEL OF EVEN THE DEEP DERMIS. Only the 1.5mm transducer causes coagulation in the dermis. This is not included in most protocols, or if it is, is only a minor component. Studies have shown that the area of greatest collagen formation is in the deep dermis. Infini is able to lay the coagulation zones all throughout the dermis, including the deep dermis because of its ability to change it’s depths. The Infini can even treat different areas of the face at different depths, which is important because the face has significant variability of thicknesses between the forehead, eyes, cheeks, lips, jawline, submental, and chin area. Depths below the dermis injure the subcutaneous tissue, which is mostly fat. Fat is what we want to preserve, not destroy, except along the jawline and submental area.
- The treatment cost (consumable) of Ulthera for the physician is more than 10 times greater than for the Infini. The purchase price to the physician is also about 50% more for the Ulthera. The treatment time is also longer, sometimes up to 50% more for Ulthera. This all gets passed on to the patient resulting in Ulthera being about double the price of the Infini in most offices.
- Although Ulthera touts that deeper penetration causes contraction of the SMAS, to Dr. Weiner’s knowledge, this has yet to proven histologically. The deeper penetration does lead to more discomfort as well as potential for fat destruction. The Infini targets the dermis, particularly the deep dermis, the area for maximal collagen creation.
- Results seem to be more consistent with the Infini versus Ulthera. This seems to follow the science. More coagulation points in the correct zone of the dermis should lead to more collagen, more tightening.
- Superficial fine lines can be treated with the Infini but not Ulthera. In certain cases with skin type 1-3, shallow treatments of less than 1 mm can be used to treat these wrinkles and etched in lines. Ulthera doesn’t have this capability.
- Although there are some reports of Ulthera treating acne scars, Infini seems to be the best technology to treat these. It is probably the combination of the microneedles, RF energy, and adjustable depths that make it a superior technology to treat this difficult problem.
From about 2005 – 2009, Thermage was the most advanced noninvasive skin tighten device. This was replaced with Ulthera in 2009, which offered better, safer, and more predictable results because of precisely placed coagulation zones (albeit, maybe too deep). In 2013, Infini was introduce and it has been slow to catch on. However it is finally being adopted by the key thought leaders in the Aesthetic Industry. It will soon be recognized as the most efficacious noninvasive skin tightening technology on the market.