Wouldn’t it be nice if you could make years of aging disappear with the swipe of a pen? Well, there’s something some dermatologists are now promoting that may be as close as you can get to that. It’s called the Plasma Pen and is a device that promises to make you look more firm. It’s also referred to as fibroblasting. The idea is that it eliminates wrinkles and sagging or dull skin, all things that have traditionally been treated with fillers or plastic surgery. The pen promises a quicker and easier fix. So, does it work, and if it does, how?
Let’s start with what it is and how it works.
As we age, the outer layer of our skin begins to thin, making it look paler and more translucent. We produce less collagen and lose elasticity, contributing to a sagging, wrinkled look. The promise is the pen will rejuvenate the skin by stimulating collagen production.
The hiccup? Well, there are many pens out there, and even some you can buy online to use at home. But not all of them have FDA approval or clearance, at least not to be used for improving the appearance of wrinkles or skin on your face. And those that do have governmental sign-off need a trained professional using the technology. This is your face and body we’re talking about, and you could end up with much bigger issues than sagging skin if you’re not careful.
How it works
How does it work? Essentially, the pen (or handpiece) is part of a system that uses a plasma generator. The system creates an electric arc to generate a plasma discharge, which is then used to heat and remove material from the skin’s surface. According to the FDA, in the past, the device was used in medical procedures, like surgery, to heat, coagulate (stop bleeding), and eliminate soft tissue.
Now, new versions of the handpiece are being created and used for cosmetic procedures to treat moderate or severe wrinkles in patients with certain skin types. Some have FDA approval to be used on people with Fitzpatrick skin types I, II, and III (on the pale end of the spectrum). That does not mean they’ve been approved for other skin issues or for people with darker skin types.
It works by essentially causing a burn to the skin, with the idea being that the natural healing process will lead to rejuvenated skin with better tone, texture, and elasticity. And that may happen if it’s used by a trained aesthetician. But it may also lead to bigger issues, so it’s essential to go to someone skilled in the field and not purchase the knock-off pens on the market or to have someone with no training trying it out on you.
The FDA has reported side effects including “second- and third-degree burns, infection, change in skin color, scars, nerve damage, significant bleeding…” along with other issues. In some cases, adverse reactions required treatment in an intensive care unit.
The FDA advises anyone considering using a Plasma Pen to ask their provider which device they’ll be using and whether it’s FDA approved or cleared (or check for yourself on the FDA’s 510(k) Premarket Notification database). Also, talk through the benefits and risks with your healthcare provider.
Sounds risky – what are the benefits, and how long does it take?
When used by a qualified professional, plasma pens are generally safe and effective. A treatment session typically takes about an hour, though larger areas, such as sagging arm skin, could take up to two hours and may need multiple sessions. Numbing cream helps reduce pain during treatment, which is described as “mildly to moderately uncomfortable.” Certain body areas are more painful than others, and different people have different pain tolerance levels.
After treatment, the area will be very red, much like a burn, with swelling after about three days, then scabbing after that. Scabs typically start to fall off of the face and neck after a week or so, and healing can take an average of more than a week, up to two weeks. And, of course, that will vary based on the aftercare protocol (i.e., no alcohol, smoking, or picking/scrubbing the scabs) and your overall health.
Where on the body can it be used?
It’s most often used around the face, jowls, or neck for sagging and excess skin. It can be used for puffiness on the eyes, hooded lids, and drooping “bags” around the eyes, along with crow’s feet and furrows. It’s also used around the mouth for laugh lines and marionette lines. Some people also find success treating acne scars, stretch marks, and spider veins with the plasma pen.
What does it cost?
The fee varies depending on the treatment you’re getting, how large an area it is, and how many sessions are required. Most parts of the face are a few hundred dollars per zone, but most people prefer to treat more than one zone.
Is it permanent?
The effects may diminish within a few years or require additional treatments to maintain. Three to four years appears to be the average length for benefits to be seen.
The bottom line
For some, it’s the miracle cure they desire without forcing them under the knife for more invasive options. If you’re considering a plasma pen treatment, consult with a qualified professional, and they can help you decide if it’s the right treatment for you.
Note: On May 25, 2022, the FDA cleared the Renuvion Dermal Handpiece to be used with the Apyx Medical Helium Plasma Generator to treat moderate to severe wrinkles and rhytides, limited to patients with Fitzpatrick Skin Types I, II, or III. The labeling and training for the new handpiece include instructions for device power settings and the number of treatment passes.