All You Need to Know About Sculptra, the “Nonsurgical Facelift” (+My Before & After)

Over the years, you’ve seen me doing procedures like Botox or fillers, which I’ve filmed and written about, taking you through the whole process and results step-by-step. But Sculptra is something else!

While injecting a solution in the complexion area is very similar, the way this treatment works is next level. Sculptra stimulates the skin’s collagen production, so you end up with volume produced by your skin instead of o foreign substance.

There are so many benefits to this method, starting from longer-lasting results than with other solutions, all the way to appearance and cost-effectiveness. I have used this procedure myself, and I can take you through the experience and the amazing results.

My trusted dermatologist, Dr. Marjory Nigro, has been on this journey with me, and her expert opinion and experience will be infused throughout this article. So please keep reading to get the full know-how on Sculptra, what it does, and what to expect from the process.

You can see my entire experience with injecting Sculptra and get vital information from Dr. Marjory Nigro here: 

What Is Sculptra?

Sculptra is an injectable dermal filler that acts by stimulating the skin’s natural collagen production. The substance in Sculptra is poly-L-lactic acid (PLLA) which is a form of milk, as Dr. Nigro explains.

The substance comes in the form of a powder in vials; this powder gets mixed in a saline solution, and it has to stay like that for at least three to four days before injecting it into the skin. The product is called Sculptra or Sculptra Aesthetic and has been around for a while.

sculptra dermal filler collagen production

Is Sculptra a Filler?

Technically, the answer is yes, Sculptra is a dermal filler. But it acts and feels different than other fillers. While other substances act by creating volume under the skin right when they are injected, Sculptra won’t act immediately.

Apart from a little swelling and possible bruising, you won’t look any different right after having Sculptra. Instead, over the course of two weeks, the substance will dissolve and start to stimulate your natural collagen production.

According to Dr. Nigro, this process will take 60 to 80 days, and after that, you will see your face becoming plumper and the skin more lifted.

Is Sculptra FDA Approved?

Poly-L-lactic acid has been largely used internationally since 1999. It was first used to correct the loss of fat cells in patients with HIV under antiretroviral therapy; these patients experienced lipoatrophy, meaning extensive fat loss at the face level. This would cause deep skin folds, lines, and recessed areas.

FDA first approved poly-L-lactic acid for HIV patients in 2004. In 2009, the substance use was regulated by the FDA for people with healthy immune systems to correct facial wrinkles and volume loss. The lather was approved under the name Sculptra Aesthetic.

How Does Sculptra Work?

Sculptra works by stimulating the body’s natural collagen production. Collagen is the most widely found protein in the body, which holds the structure of many parts. Among these are ligaments, tendons, and skin.

The collagen found within the skin works together with another protein called elastin to keep its structure, framework, and firmness intact. As we age, the production of collagen diminishes due to the natural aging process or outside factors such as sun exposure or smoking.

The decrease of collagen causes the skin to become saggy, as it’s less supported, and develop excess skin, folds, and wrinkles. The overall feel is a loss of volume; as Dr. Nigro puts it, this effect is more apparent in very skinny people, as a greater fat layer keeps the skin looking plumper and lifted.

While the process of collagen loss is natural after the age of 45-50, it is not irreversible. This is where products like Sculptra can be a massive help to restore volume, plumpness, and an overall youthful appearance.

Sculptra is a semi-permanent, absorbable, and injectable dermal filler that is mostly used at the face level. It contains poly-L-lactic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid type-substance that comes in powder form. Once diluted with saline solution and an anesthetic (lidocaine), it’s injected into the profound layers of the skin.

As Dr. Marjory Nigro explains, the solution starts dissolving into the skin in about two weeks and is absorbed only at the skin level, so it doesn’t get into your bloodstream. As the particles break down, they begin stimulating the formation of new collagen fibers.

These fibers continue to develop over the course of the next few months. You may see results after 60 to 80 days, and the effect will last anywhere between 12-24 months. As these collagen chains develop, the skin’s structure begins to lift because it now has the structure and the support to lean on. This will have a visible effect on sagging skin around your jawline area, the nasolabial folds, the under-eye area, and so on.

What Areas Is Sculptra Best For?

injecting sculptra dermal filler

Sculptra Aesthetic is FDA approved for facial wrinkles and folds, such as the nasolabial fold. So its main purpose is to be used in the facial area. A critical zone to consider is the temple area, as this sustains a large area of the face. The loss of collagen fibers here leads to those so-called jowls, or skin that sags in the jawline area, affecting the contour of the face.

Other targeted areas are the nasolabial folds which become very apparent once the cheeks start to droop. The under-eye area can also look sunken-in and with extra skin sagging, which is due to a lack of collagen to properly support the skin structure.

However, poly-L-lactic acid has reportedly been used off-label for other body areas. These range from hands, neck, thighs, and chest deformities. The term off-label means that a medicine that is FDA-approved for a certain area is being used differently.

For the neck and hands, Dr. Nigro recommends a different filler called Radiesse (more on this below, where we compare Sculptra to other dermal fillers).

Sculptra Before & After

sculptra before and after result

It takes about two months to produce collagen molecules, so the results from Sculptra are best observed after 60 to 80 days. If you want immediate results, then other fillers such as hyaluronic acid-based products are your best bet. But Sculptra is amazing for long-term, very natural effects.

As Dr. Marjory Nigro puts it, the results look and feel natural, and no one would say you’ve had work done looking at you. Because the truth is your body is the one that did the work with a little help from the Sculptra procedure.

I went to my follow-up appointment three months after the treatment with Sculptra to evaluate the improvements I got. And I have to say the results are fantastic! My complexion looks fresh and plump, and everything is more lifted.

The specific areas where the doctor injected Sculptra will cause certain effects. The under-eye area becomes less hollow, and the sagging skin is lifted. Heavy cheeks that once drooped are now more lifted, and the added volume gives the complexion structure. And the injections in the temple area create support for a large part of your face, lifting the jowls, and recreating a firm bone structure.

The overall effect is natural because you look as you did 15, maybe 20 years ago, and not overdone. To keep building that new collagen, doctors recommend you renew the treatment every year or year and a half, depending on your body’s reaction and its ability to keep those initial results.

I believe my before & after photo speaks volumes about the impact this Sculptra treatment has had on me.

Aftercare – What to Expect After the Procedure and Potential Side-Effects

The procedure is almost painless and very quick and easy. The poly-L-lactic acid comes in a powder form, and the microspheres get mixed with saline solution and with lidocaine. The latter is an anesthetic that helps to lower the pain.

The doctor will also apply numbing cream to the areas where the injections will be, and this will sit on the skin for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on everyone’s pain tolerance. The needles are tiny, so the procedure itself is not very invasive, quick, and mostly painless.

However, as with any injectable-type treatments, you will have some minor after-effects. The usual reaction with Sculptra is some swelling at the injection site; people may confuse this for an immediate gain of volume as with traditional fillers, but it is only minor inflammation. This will go down in three to four days.

Another aspect that may occur is a little bruising where the needle was inserted. The bruising should be minimal when going to a board-certified dermatologist with experience in such treatments (which is always mandatory!). This effect should go away in a few days up to a week. You should also avoid taking any blood-thinning medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, or fish oil) for ten days prior to the procedure because they increase the risk of bruising and bleeding.

There is a risk of developing lumps under the skin, but this risk increases if the solution isn’t diluted enough or if you don’t perform the recommended massage (more on this below). There is a risk of hitting a blood vessel when injecting or getting an infection in very rare cases. Going to a highly trained medical professional should decrease these risks to a minimum.

In my case, some swelling and a little bruising were all that I experienced after the procedure. Dr. Nigro recommends using an arnica-based cream because this can alleviate the bruising.

It’s very important to massage the injected areas right after injecting and for a few days after the treatment. This helps evenly distribute the solution’s microspheres, stimulates the collagen molecules, and prevents lump formation. More on how to perform the massage movements below.

Massaging After Sculptra

facial massage after injecting sculptra nasolabial folds

Dr. Nigro calls this specific massage” the rule of three” because you have to do it for three days after the procedure, for three minutes, one for each injected area (the temple zone, underneath the eye, and the nasolabial fold).

Always go in circular motions with a soft hand, so you don’t cause additional bruising or inflammation. Clean your hands properly before starting, and use something emollient or oily, so you have some slip and avoid tugging on the fragile skin. When you get to the under-eye area, try not to push against the eye but rather massage down on the bone of the eye.

Dr. Nigro recommends using Cerave ointment, as it has a simple, non-irritating formula, and it’s very rich, almost greasy. You can also use simple cosmetic vaseline or any other oily lotion that you prefer.

No matter what you use, it’s so important to do the massage for the recommended time. The microspheres in poly-L-lactic acid have the tendency to attach to each other, and the massage is what separates and keeps them apart. If you forget, you will most likely end up with lumps under the skin that are more difficult to reverse.

How Long Does Sculptra Last? How Long Before You See Results?

Sculptra may give you minor immediate changes but only due to local inflammation at the injection site. This effect should subside in two to four days, as well as the slight bruising. According to Dr. Nigro, for other visible effects, you should wait for 60 to 80 days. 

The poly-L-lactic acid starts to break down about two weeks from the procedure. As it dissolves, the substance begins to stimulate the production of new collagen fibers in a few months. Depending on how visible the effects are after this period of time, you may need more sessions for a greater effect.

Research says that people who got Sculptra injections still have more collagen after three years from the procedure compared to the average of their age group. The way to maintain these results is by freshening up the treatment every one to three years, depending on each person’s individual reaction to Sculptra. Some may have faster results than others, while others may stop producing the new collagen fibers earlier, thus needing a touch-up.

Put in a simpler way, even if you don’t renew your procedure by injecting Sculptra, you will still keep that initial collagen for up to two or three years. For best results, you can freshen up your treatment every year to a year and a half; by doing this, you won’t have ups and downs but rather continue to build that very important collagen production.

Is Sculptra Better Than Other Fillers?

Dr. Marjory Nigro says a very convincing” yes!”. Sculptra gets your own body to work, making the results more natural-looking and more durable. The key resides in the fact that poly-L-lactic acid is a biocompatible substance, so the body treats it as a natural one. This means it will process more slowly, as opposed to other fillers that the body attacks and goes through more quickly.

dermal filler

Sculptra Vs. Radiesse

Radiesse is a dermal filler made of a calcium derivative. This is a filler with immediate results that also helps the natural collagen production, so the volume of the injected area will increase over time also. Dr. Nigro says Radiesse is ideal for the neck that has less support over the years, and the skin gets saggy.

There are real benefits of injecting Radiesse in your hand area too. The newly produced collagen will make your hands look plump and more youthful. As we age, they become veiny and too thin, giving us an elderly appearance that nobody wants. The effects of this type of filler last anywhere between 15 to 24 months. One syringe of Radiesse costs around $650, and the number of injections depends on the treated area.

Sculptra vs. Bellafill

Bellafill is another FDA-approved dermal filler; this contains bovine collagen and microspheres that act as a classic filler. So the effects are both immediate and time-built because the synthetic collagen stimulates your own production even after it’s absorbed.

Bellafill is technically considered a permanent filler, as the results last the longest (around five years). However, if you are unhappy with the results or you have a bad reaction to them, the effects may be difficult to reverse. This is why doctors don’t usually recommend this product if it’s your first time with fillers.

Bellafill is used for filling the lips, correcting hollows under your eyes, or for severe acne scars. The cost is around $900 per syringe; the facial area may need multiple syringes of product, and depending on your initial results, the doctor may recommend follow-up injections after a few weeks.

Sculptra vs. Renuva

Renuva is an injectable substance that stimulates your own body’s fat cell production. Different from autologous fat injections, this procedure doesn’t involve having fat previously taken from other parts of your body. Instead, the Renuva treatment helps you build volume over time in areas where you need it, anywhere on the body or face. It is typically used on cheeks, and nasolabial folds, hands, correcting body divides caused by breast implants or liposuction.

You will see the maximum results with the Renuva injection in about a year, and they will stay for a very long time. This FDA-approved treatment costs around $1100 for a small area, but it depends on the treated site and how many follow-ups the doctor has to do.

Sculptra vs. Juvederm (Voluma)

Juvederm is a hyaluronic acid-based filler suited to add volume to the lips and cheeks or correct lines around the nose and mouth area. The substance is too thick to inject into the fragile under-eye area, so there are different hyaluronic acid solutions more suited for that.

There are different types of Juvederm that target specific areas of the face. For example, Juvederm Voluma is best suited for cheek enhancement, while Juvederm Ultra XC is used for injecting into the lips.

One syringe of Juvederm costs $550-600 on average, but you will need several syringes for the entire face. The effects will last anywhere between one to two years, considering the area injected and the individual patient’s reactions.

How Much Does Sculptra Cost? How Many Vials Do You Need?

dermal filler vials sculptra microspheres

One vial of Sculptra costs $1000, and that is usually enough for your entire face. For my treatment, Dr. Nigro used one vial of poly-L-lactic acid, which was diluted with saline solution and anesthetic and resulted in three syringes. Depending on the targeted areas and how affected the zone is, you may need more or less.

The results vary from person to person, so some will need to follow up treatments one or two times during the next few weeks. But the overall result will last you for two to three years, so the overall value for money is very good with Sculptra.

Amazing Results With Sculptra

Sculptra is a cutting-edge technology because it combines the power of fillers with your own body’s ability to repair itself. Even though the results take a bit of time to show up, they are well worth the wait! The general aspect is incredibly natural and almost seamless – no one will suspect you’ve had any work done because it doesn’t look like work.

To add to the list of benefits, consider that the effects are very long-lasting, as the newly produced collagen will last you for up to three years. This means a fresher and younger-looking skin for longer and a great value for money. I personally believe that this treatment is an incredible asset for any woman that wants a bit of help for that youthful glow without looking overdone.