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Thermage: The new non-surgical facelift

Amy Otto, 33, undergoes the thermage procedure, which only takes a couple of hours.
Amy Otto, 33, undergoes the thermage procedure, which only takes a couple of hours.

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CNN's Sanjay Gupta examines 'Thermage' a nonsurgical procedure for performing face lifts (May 19)
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FACE FACTS
•Nearly 8.5 million cosmetic procedures were performed in 2001.
•From 1997 to 2001, there was a 304 percent increase in the number of cosmetic procedures.
•People ages 35-50 had 44 percent of the procedures.
•Thermage procedures cost about $2,000; facelifts run between $7,000 and $15,000.

Source: American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery

(CNN) -- Facelift benefits without going under the knife? A new procedure called thermage is the latest non-surgical tool in the fight against time, promising to erase wrinkles and tighten skin.

Approved by the FDA late last year, thermage uses heat from a radio frequency device to tighten or lift the skin. It's currently being used in the eye and forehead areas on patients.

"It would not replace a facelift," said Dr. Randall Roenigk with the Mayo Clinic. "It would probably be used best in people who are in their mid-to-late 30s, or 40s and 50s who have just a little bit of photoaging or wrinkled skin."

Amy Otto, 33, recently decided to undergo thermage, which only takes a couple of hours, to get rid of some of the lines in her forehead and around her eyes.

No anesthesia is used. Instead, a numbing cream is applied to the areas worked on. But Amy still found that it wasn't a totally pain-free experience.

"It's like a burning and pinching sensation," she said. "By the time you think this really hurts, it doesn't hurt anymore."

Doctors use a device that sends out a cooling spray to protect the outer layer of the skin at the same time that radio frequency energy generates heat in the lower layer of skin. In time, the skin's natural collagen contracts. But results are not immediate and it may take weeks or months before patients notice a change.

While minor blistering was seen in 6 percent of the patients in early clinical trials, they healed without scarring.

But does it work?

Dermatologist Dr. Scott Karempelis cautions against being over-optimistic.

"(Patients will see) probably in the 30 percent range of tightening of what they'd really like," he said. "So if they really want a really tight jowl, or raise their forehead 4 millimeters, they're really going to get 1 or 2 millimeters and hopefully, that's enough."

Thermage costs around $2,000 and lasts from six months to two years. Traditional facelift surgery costs between $7,000 and $15,000 and lasts five to 10 years. Also, with a facelift, the recuperation time is at least two weeks while Amy, for instance, returned to work the same day she had her procedure.

Experts say the best way to retain a youthful appearance is simply to avoid the sun. The National Institute on Aging says sunlight is a major cause of wrinkles, dryness and age spots, things normally associated with older skin.

CNN Medical Producer Leslie Wade contributed to this article.


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