Tighten Up

What Is Sofwave? Everything You Need to Know About the Skin-Tightening Device

Here's our honest review of the new collagen-stimulating technology.
writer after skin treatment and device
Ingrid Frahm // Allure

I'll admit it: I find in-office skin treatments intimidating. I know they're perfectly safe and effective (heck, I've made a living writing about how safe and effective they are, and still, I've never worked up the courage to try anything beyond Botox

But as I cruise through my 30s, I'm considering being more proactive about preventative skin treatments, especially around my dark and baggy undereye area (a strong, hereditary Clark family trait). I recently interviewed New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Blair Murphy-Rose, M.D., about the newest treatments and devices for fine lines, and she specifically raved about the efficacy and next-level technology of a new device called Sofwave. The treatment the tool offers is marketed as a quick, 30-minute, no-downtime procedure that stimulates collagen to reduce the appearance of fine lines as well as tighten mild jowling and loose skin.

Honestly, it sounded too good to be true. Painless? No downtime? Preventative and corrective? Low to no risk? What is this unicorn of a treatment? I figured that if this device checks all these boxes then there could be no easier entry-point to skin treatments, so I booked an appointment.

What is Sofwave?

"Sofwave is a noninvasive tissue tightening and lifting ultrasound device that targets the dermis, which is a layer of the skin that is important for tissue tightening," says Philadelphia-based double-board certified facial plastic surgeon Jason Bloom, M.D. The treatment works to tighten skin as an immediate benefit, and it incites cellular activity to stimulate collagen production that continues long after your appointment ends. 

"The ultrasound causes small injuries in the dermis and as the body repairs itself and heals those injuries, it produces new collagen and tightens the tissue," explains Dr. Bloom. "It's literally the exact same idea as radiofrequency and microneedling, but you are noninvasively going through the skin," explains Dr. Bloom.

Since fine lines and wrinkles are a result of the loss of collagen and elastin, this constant boost of new collagen continues to plump and firm skin for up to a year. Sofwave is primarily designed for the face and neck — which I opted for — but it can treat anywhere on the body, the most common areas being on top of the hands and above the knees.

The Test Run

During a visit with Dr. Murphy-Rose in her New York City office, she applied extra-strength numbing cream — a formulation she devised herself — to my face and neck while giving me a rundown of the treatment to come. I had heard varying opinions from friends on the level of pain Sofwave inflicts, so being the wimp that I am, I asked to sit with the numbing cream on for a little while longer so it could really soak in. 

After about 35 minutes when I was good and numb, Dr. Murphy-Rose wielded the Sofwave: a slim, L-shaped handheld ultrasound device that was hooked up to a sleek-looking piece of equipment. The large screen above displayed the treatment depth — which your doctor will customize to your specific skin type and goals — and energy level, along with a real-time skin temperature monitoring mechanism to pinpoint the target area and protect the skin. I had no idea what to expect — what does ultrasound even feel like? — and as I gripped the arms of the chair, Dr. Murphy-Rose placed the device under my ear at the base of my jawline

After a beep, she started the treatment by moving it a grid-like pattern across a section of my chin and jaw. My skin felt warmer and warmer until it reached an intensity that almost made me pull away, but then the device beeped again, signaling that the 30-ish second cycle was complete and it was time to move to a new section. Each following cycle reached a strong, smoldering pinch at its peak, and then Dr. Murpy-Rose would start again in a new spot. Because those saggy undereye bags do run in my family, I asked her for a few extra zaps in the eye area to really oomph up the collagen stimulation. 

Courtesy of brand

Courtesy of brand

There's not much real estate on the applicator's tip — it's about an inch long and an inch wide — which is both a blessing and a curse. It aims the ultrasound in a highly targeted beam in order to reach every nook and cranny on the face and provide maximum benefit, but on the flip side, the small applicator means that it took about 50 cycles total to finish the treatment. 

The writer immediately after the treatment.

Kaitlin Clark


The treatment was definitely quick — it lasted a little less than 30 minutes — but my extra-sensitive, reactive skin still needed the rest of the day to chill out. About an hour after the treatment ended, my face started to feel warm — not painfully so, just as warm it feels when the sun hits your face — but there were areas of my face that bloomed into a range of reds from rose to crimson depending on the spot, especially my undereyes (which in fairness, I did ask for more attention on). The redness lasted for a few hours, and it was noticeable and uncomfortable enough that I canceled my dinner plans for later that night. 

One hour post-treatment.

Kaitlin Clark

The tight feeling wore off after a day or two, and the other side effects, like the warmth, also became more subtle. For those lucky patients who are blessed with non-reactive skin, Dr. Murphy-Rose says that they may also feel a warm sensation, but other than that, they're typically good to go that same day.

The Results 

I was skeptical of this machine's ability to provide an instant tightening effect. In fact, part of me hoped it wouldn't live up to the hype so that I could use this story to tell the world to not waste their money. But as Dr. Murphy-Rose wrapped up the treatment and clipped the applicator back onto the machine, I could actually feel that my skin was taut in a way that it wasn't before, especially along my jawline. When she handed me a mirror, I saw that both my jawline and forehead appeared visibly tighter

And it wasn't just me who noticed a change — the publicist who joined me was truly stunned at the difference in my skin (turns out, we all were doubtful). But the real coup de grâce was my roommate's reaction as soon as she saw me: "What did you just get done and where did your forehead wrinkles go?!" And maybe it was just the oils from the numbing cream, but I swear I had a glow, too.

One day post-treatment.

Kaitlin Clark

According to Dr. Murphy-Rose, patients see their plumpest results around three months post-treatment. And, just to humblebrag for a moment, she said that I was the ideal candidate: a generally healthy, non-smoker in my mid-30s. She explained that my skin still has some snap to it, meaning I can use this device preventatively, while patients with more significant fine lines or jowling aren't appropriate candidates, as their results would be softer and less visible. 

One added benefit Dr. Bloom notes, though this wasn't part of my treatment plan: Sofwave has now been approved to be used for brow-lifting. "You can fire the Sofwave on the muscle of the forehead, and it tightens the muscle of your forehead to lift up your brow," he says. "It's a noninvasive brow lift, and it has FDA clearance." 

Like any noninvasive treatment, it's important to remember that results are temporary and won't be as dramatic as a surgical procedure. I'm currently at two months post-treatment, and to be honest, I can't really tell if my skin is still becoming firmer or plumper. But as the results are gradual, it could just be happening in such slow motion that I can't measure it.

The Takeaway

The treatment's short-term effects were immediately noticeable, and I'm still hopeful that the results from the collagen stimulation will continue to improve —  and I do think I can see a difference in my undereye hollows. It's an expensive experience, averaging $7,000 for both the face and neck, but it's one-and-done treatment without a follow-up appointment. Though it's a relatively new treatment and devices aren't in every office, you can find a provider who has one here.

Results two weeks post-treatment.

Kaitlin Clark

I'll note that under no circumstances would I ever recommend trying this procedure without a numbing agent. Even with Dr. Murphy-Rose's special cream, I felt sharp zings. The major pinch-y points were my lips and Cupid's bow, that section of the face where your nose meets your cheek, and my undereyes.  I wouldn't say that you get used to the treatment's zaps or that it's a particularly relaxing experience, but the discomfort is manageable because the device doesn't linger in one spot for too long. And when the device beeps and moves on, the sensation completely disappears. 

My final takeaway: I think the excitement from seeing immediately visible results riled me up for an even better outcome, and I lost my grip on reasonable expectations. But I'd definitely do it again, which means that collagen stimulation goes an even longer way than I thought.

Sofwave is currently available in dermatologists' offices across the country for an average of $7,000 per treatment.

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Now, watch one dermatologist walk us through her entire day:

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