Radio Frequency (RF) Therapy

Radio Frequency (RF) therapy uses beams of radio waves to heat sub-cutaneous tissue. RF Therapy is most widely used in treatments designed to improve skin laxity and diminish the appearance of cellulite. Certain types of RF Therapy are occasionally used for the treatment of active acne and acne scars.

How does Radio Frequency (RF) Therapy Work?

RF Therapy systems produce intense beams of high frequency radio waves (generally around 5 MHz). These beams of radio waves are absorbed by the target tissue, producing heat. Most RF therapy systems have a coolant system that sprays the surface of the treated area with cold gas. This prevents the surface from heating to the same degree of the internal tissue.

RF Therapy has many dermatological and cosmetic applications. The intensity of the radio beams and their specific frequency are optimized for specific types of treatments. Low-power RF Therapy is used for to tighten skin and reduce the appearance of cellulite. This application works by inducing small amounts of thermal damage that then stimulate the production of new collagen, elastin and other components of the Extra-Cellular Matrix (ECM) that supports the skin.

RF Therapy can also be used with high-power radio beams. High-power RF therapies are used for ablative treatments, such as resection of cancerous or damaged tissue.

RF Therapy for the Treatment of Acne Scars.

RF Therapy is primarily used for the treatment of mild acne scars.. It is frequently combined with complementary scar treatments.

RF Therapy can help improve the smoothness of the surface of the skin by inducing the growth and remodeling of the underlying tissue that supports the skin (eg. the Extra-Cellular Matrix “ECM”). Dermatological applications of RF Therapy generally use low-power RF systems.

Low-power RF systems are designed to cause small amounts of thermal damage and are considered non-ablative. Because effective treatment of moderate-to-severe acne scars often requires more aggressive skin resurfacing treatments (eg. ablative treatments), RF Therapy tends to be ineffective for the treatment of severe acne scars. For the treatment of moderate-to-severe acne scars, ablative laser treatments (eg. CO2, Er:YAG and Nd:YAG) are more frequently used.

RF Therapy and Active Acne

RF Therapy has been tested as a treatment for active acne. RF Therapy is rarely used for this application (and is not currently FDA-approved for this application at the time of this writing). However, some preliminary clinical research has indicated that RF therapy may be an effective treatment for active acne and some dermatologists are currently offering this treatment..

In studies that have examined the efficacy of RF Therapy for the treatment of active acne, researchers have observed significant improvements in acne symptoms following treatment. However, it is important to note that relatively few clinical studies have been done on this topic, and many of those were funded by the manufacturer of the RF Therapy systems being tested. RF Therapy for acne is generally considered experimental and is not widely available. That may change if continued research supports the initial findings about the general efficacy of RF acne therapy.

In the treatment of active acne, RF Therapy may have two mechanisms of action that explain the observed benefits. First, the increased temperatures in the skin caused by RF Therapy may directly damage acne-causing bacteria (eg. P. acnes). The reduction in bacterial load following therapy could lead to a decrease in inflammation. Second, RF Therapy may decrease the size and activity of the sebaceous glands, causing a decrease in sebum production. Both of these effects could cause an improvement in acne symptoms.

How and Where is RF Therapy Administered?

RF Therapy is administered in many spas, dermatology offices, cosmetic surgery clinics and hospitals. RF Therapy is not widely available as an acne treatment.

The cost for RF Therapy can vary significantly depending on the application, area treated and system used. Generally speaking, RF Therapy tends to be fairly expensive. For example, treatments with Thermage (a popular RF therapy platform) generally cost over $2,000. Since RF therapy is not widely available as an acne treatment, there is little information available on the cost for that application.

Some RF Therapy platforms are capable of delivering fractionated (pixelated) radio beams. Fractionated RF systems tend to have fewer side effects, but can require additional treatments to achieve the same end result as complete (unfractionated) RF treatments.

Common RF therapy Systems

3DEEP Fractional, Aluma, Duet RF, eLIGHT, Exilis, INFINI, Intensif, Pixel RF, SecretRF, Sublative RF, Syneron Matrix RF, Thermage, VelaShape, Venus Freeze.


Nonablative Radiofrequency for Active Acne Vulgaris: The use of Deep Dermal Heat in the Treatment of Moderate to Severe Active Acne Vulgaris (Thermotherapy): A Report of 22 Patients. Ruiz-Esparza, et al. 2003.
Nonablative Radiofrequency Treatment of Facial Laxity. Fisher, et al. 2005.
Laser Treatment of Acne Vulgaris. Jih, et al. 2007.
Procedural Treatments for Acne Vulgaris. Taub, et al. 2007.
Evaluation of pulsed light and radiofrequency combined for the treatment of acne vulgaris with histologic analysis of facial skin biopsies. Prieto, et al. 2005.
A novel fractional micro-plasma radio-frequency technology for the treatment of facial scars and rhytids: A pilot study. Halachmi, et al. 2010.
Novel technology in the treatment of acne scars: The matrix-tunable radiofrequency technology. Ramesh, et al. 2010.