Narcissista: Sonic Youth -- My Date With Ultherapy

10 Jun 2013 at 12:00pm

by Becca Smith,

Narcissista is New York ad exec, RealSelf community member, mom, wife, and self-described “beauty veteran” Becca Smith, whose blog,, deliciously and incisively examines the intersection of beauty, anti-aging, and loving (and navigating) life.

I took the plunge and got a full face Ultherapy treatment.

After speaking with a handful of plastic surgeons and dermatologists, I knew that if I was going to get serious about treating the Bermuda Triangle of Sag (those baby jowls, chin dumpling and neck crepe), Ultherapy followed by fillers was in my immediate future.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’m encouraged by Ultherapy versus Thermage because of its specific FDA approval for lifting skin on the neck, chin and brow. It also works differently, using ultrasound (sound waves) that penetrate more deeply and precisely than the radio frequency technology used in Thermage.

However, even the most enthusiastic doctors were quick to point out that Ultherapy doesn’t replace a facelift and that results can vary from subtle to substantial.


Still, I’m considered a worthwhile candidate. I’m not quite facelift material, but have just enough mild sag to give Ultherapy a shot. But the cost gives me pause.  Most people only need one treatment to see results, but with starting prices around $2500, Ultherapy isn’t cheap.

Knowing I was writing this series, the Ultherapy team sponsored a treatment so I could share the experience first-hand. You would think this would be an easy yes on my part, but I’m cautious with new technologies even though Ultherapy has an excellent safety profile.

Enter Dr. W. Matthew White.  A facial plastic surgeon from NYU Langone Medical Center and early pioneer of the Ultherapy technology.  Dr. White made me feel especially comfortable about Ultherapy because he knows the ins and outs of the technology, was involved with the clinical trials and has written two white papers as a result.

Bottom line, Dr. White’s treated a lot of patients and knows what he’s doing.

“What’s the chance of me looking a little strange afterwards?” I asked, knowing the results gradually build over a period of 3 to 6 months. “Let’s say I get Botox the following week, will my eyebrows lift up to some unnaturally high place on my forehead by August?”

“There’s very little risk of over correction,” Dr. White assured me.

“What about the pain?”

“I’m going to use the Amplify protocol, which means we treat at a much lower setting that gets the same result,” he said. “I do a few things during the treatment to lower the pain such as using acupressure points and lifting the tissue off the bone in more sensitive areas."


I felt like a beauty astronaut on the verge of discovering a new planet.

Until my appointment when I realized the internet chatter about how much Ultherapy hurts was screaming at me from deep inside my subconscious.

That, and Dr. White didn’t have Xanax.

“I don’t recommend patients take Valium or Xanax because it can make the sensation more startling” said Dr. White. “With the Amplify setting, you’re better off with nothing expect Tylenol afterwards.”

“Ok, let’s do this” I said reminding myself of all the things that probably hurt more, like child-birth and urinary tract infections.  Still, there was something guillotine-like about a man wearing rubber gloves holding a lot of powerful energy over my throat.

“Do you want to reschedule?” he asked gently.

“No, I’m fine,” I said, eyes closed and teeth clenched tight.


There was no sensation on my skin, just a small prickle of heat that felt like it was landing on a deeper layer.  Odd yes, painful no.

“Did you feel that?”  he asked.

“Uh…actually, no” I said. “That was it?”

The following 90 minute treatment was a breeze compared to the bottled up anxiety of the imaginary pain. The prickling heat sensation culminates after each pass, so Dr. White did one half of my face and gave me a 15 minute break. Some areas are more sensitive than others, and varies from person to person.  On me there was a gland near the bottom of my cheek that when hit with the Ultherapy pulse, created a hot sensation of wetting my pants inside my mouth.  The outer eye and forehead area can be sensitive for a lot of people, but for me it was fine.

When it was over, I had a mild headache and my jaw felt stiff for a few days, but not unbearable.  I looked fine for public consumption too, just a little redness on my face and no swelling, which I’ve heard is common.

What’s important to know about Ultherapy is that there is a strict map for where it can and can’t be used on the face. 

Ultherapy should not be used directly over your windpipe or directly under your eye, only on the outer rim. Dr. White advised me to avoid ibuprofen before, during and after because there’s some speculation it might interfere with the body’s response to collagen stimulation.

The next morning I rolled out bead, marched past the coffee pot and headed straight for the mirror.


I turned my jaw to the left, to the right, then up, then down. Chin pulled in, chin jutting out. I couldn’t keep my hands off my slightly sore neck and jaw, rather enjoying the minor stiffness because it made me believe this just might work, but I won’t know for sure for at least three months, which means August.

Until then, I wait and I hope.