January 2011
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Radio frequency (RF) 101: Understanding (RF) Skin Treatments

radio frequency
Radio frequency is not the same as laser, however it is often used in conjunction with laser treatments in a clinical setting. Radio frequency (RF) usually refers to oscillations in electrical circuits. Aesthetic treatments use non-ablative (RF) energy in short intense pulses that oscillate through the skin to heat targeted tissue. Radio frequency (RF) is often used to tighten the skin. The (RF) energy penetrates the skin and stimulates the contraction of collagen and the production of new collagen for skin tightening.

[ Read more about Laser technology ]

Radio frequency devices use a variety of delivery systems and penatrate to varying depths. Radio frequency can be monopolar or bipolar. Bipolar devices are often combined with other types of technology such as infrared light.

Monopolar vs Bipolar

For the purpose of aesthetic treatments Monopolar radiofrequency is delivered by applying a single electrode to the treated area and an opposing electrode that is relatively far removed so that the current goes deeply through the body. Unipolar (RF) penetrates deeper and more intensely than bipolar( RF). Thermage uses monopolar radiofrequency (RF) energy to tighten and contour skin.

bipolar vs monopolar
For the purpose of aesthetic treatments bipolar radiofrequency is delivered by applying two closely positioned electrodes to the treated area. The electric current travels from one electrode through the tissue and back up to the other electrode, the current that goes between the electrodes is small and shallow. As a result, the tissue in the treated area is heated less deeply and less intensely than monopolar (RF). In aesthetic treatments bipolar RF is usually combined with light or energy based sources, including lasers, intense pulsed light, infrared light, or vacuum assisted. Infrared light heats the tissue down to the deep dermis and acts to “pre-heat” tissue, for improved (RF) penatration.

Bipolar Radiofrequency used with Laser and IPL

Unlike laser and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) energy, radio frequency is not absorbed by a specific chromophore. When RF is combined with other energy sources such as lasers and IPL, the laser or IPL energy will be absorbed by the targeted chromophore (melanin or hemoglobin), resulting in an increased temperature in the target areas. The increases in tempeture lowers the tissue impedance to those areas and the RF energy will stream preferentially to the warmer areas with lowered impedance. Elōs is the first and only technology that simultaneously harnesses the power of bi-polar radio frequency (RF) and optical energy.
elos, rf

refirm, bipolar rf The ReFirme™ ST procedure combines safe and effective levels of infrared light and bipolar radiofrequency energies to remodel the dermal layer of the skin by stimulating new collagen growth.

Bipolar Radiofrequency(RF) used with Suction

RF with vacuum Bipolar radiofrequency can also be combined with negative pressure ( suction), to help improve and control the absorption of the RF energy. The tissue is suctioned into the hand-piece and the RF energy passes through. The Aluma uses a vacuum-assisted and bipolar radio-frequency (RF) handpiece for skin tightening methods.

radiofrequency skin treatment VelaShape uses a combination of Infrared light, bi-polar radio frequency (RF) and negative pressure (suction) to heat deep adipose (fat) tissue. Infrared light, tissue mobilization, and suction, all work synergistically with RF to reduce cellulite.

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2:06 pm - Posted by Kristy

31 Responses to “Radio frequency (RF) 101: Understanding (RF) Skin Treatments”

  1. Maurizio says:


    I was told that RF is not anymore the most effective technique for aestetic treatment and that microwaves applications can avoid the use of laser. if this is true, I would rather apply this tecnique to my nephew. can you please confirm?


    • Kristy says:

      I am not familiar with any treatments that use microwaves, if you could give me the name of the treatment you are considering I would like to look into it. I am always cautious of anything new,
      ( I am a hard sell ) I would also like to know what your nephew is seeking treatment for. In most cases RF isn’t used alone, it is often used with other technologies to enhance results.

    • hal says:

      Microwave is R/F. Just a different Frequency. All of them are R/F including Light just a different frequency. The trick is to get a frequency the harmonizes with the Laser(which uses R/F but is ‘phased & directed’ so the R/F being transmitted is going all in 1 direction in a very precise beam)

  2. Deniz says:

    I would like to have done radio frequency but I don’t know where to go will you please recommend for me some wher. Many thanks

  3. Tishani says:

    i want to know RF (radio frequency) pre & post instructions

  4. vemis says:

    is it the same as high frequency?

    • hal says:

      actually depends on what you mean by high frequency.
      ALL of it is R/F including the LASER. LIGHT is R/F. Microwave is also. There happens to be a set of frequencies call HIGH. Just as what we think of as Radio (FM & AM). Just different Frequencies.

    • Kristy says:

      No – we use a small hand held high-frequancy device to help kill superficial bacteria. A high frequency skin tool is often used in spas while an RF device is used in a medical setting.

  5. Kristy says:

    I am not familiar with tripolar, that is something I may want to look into. Do you know of a specific treatment (RF device) that uses tripolar?

  6. LizzyP says:

    There is a tripolar device called Tripolar Stop. Can google it. I’m confused whether to get the Tripolar Stop or panda box which is bipolar only. Would the bipolar alone be enough to firm skin? Tripolar combines both Monopolar and bipolar, so maybe its more effective? I just don’t want to burn any fat in my face too, and Monopolar RF reaches fat levels to shrink fat cells..

    • Kristy says:

      I am sorry, I am not familiar with any tri-polar device, I would be skeptical. There is a newer device that uses ultrasound for skin tightening and lifting, maybe you would be interested in Ulthera.

    • Kristy says:

      are you a esthetician or are you looking for a home device? Monopolor seems to be more aggressive than bipolar. I do not know anyone who has worked with the tricolor. If the RF device is designed to treat face, it should not cause necrosis of fat, however RF is not as specific as Ultasound, maybe look into Ulthera.

  7. riza says:

    good day.

    Do anyone know which is better for eye bag, eye circles removal, the mono or bipolar rf?

    Thank you.

    • Kristy says:

      To tell you the truth, I would not expect much improvement at all with any RF or non-surgical treatment. You need to have the fat pads removed. The good news is… it is probably a lot less expensive than you imagine. We offer RF treatments in our office, but I would advise you to save your money that you would use for RF treatment and consult with a Plastic surgeon. They can do this procedure in the office with little to no down time. I had this done myself in the office and it was easy, no recovery at all for me.

    • Kristy says:

      Both RF devices would work well to tighten and improve the skin as would Ultherapy.
      If you have actual “bags” which are fat pads, you will most likely need them surgically removed, which you may find to be easier and less costly than you might expect. Often times removing the fat pads under eyes will also improve dark circles. – I know this may sound crazy, but a surgeon may even suggest to remove the fat pads that create the bags and then strategicaly inject fat under the eye and perhaps the upper face. As we age the fat pads in the face become “seperated” , where a youthful face has volume that is not seperated. All of this will address bags, tissue volume and perhaps dark circles, but not elasticty or texture. You may also want to consider a Fractional Erbium or Co2 laser under eyes (Profractiol or Active FX) another less invasive option would be a TCA peel under eyes. This all may seem overwhelming, but when you have a consultation with a surgeon you can better map out a plan that is appropriate for you. Try to find a good plastic surgeon that offers non surgical options as well.
      Read this post –

    • Kristy says:

      Both are good for skin tightening, but if you truly have bags then you will not see much improvement. Bags are actually fat pads, and RF can tighten the skin that holds the bags, but the actual fat pad has to be removed with surgery. I had Dr Shapiro remove the fat pads under my eyes, he was able to do it in the office and I didn’t have any down time – not even a bruise. It was awesome! He put my before and after photos on the website if you want to check it out, go to You will probably spend the same amount of money on non-invasive treatments as you would for a simply surgical procedure that can be done in about an hour.

  8. freeha says:

    I need your help ,, I am getting Fractional Radio-frequency treatment ,,after my first session my skin was full of red patches and its take 4 days to go clear,,, but when I get second session it was not so red and not much patches just want to know that means the frequency of sessions was different or it was because my skin use to after first session,,,

  9. kathi says:

    I had VelaShape with a doc who got some good results in the first three sessions, but successive sessions (10) offered no further results. He discontinued the machine. Three years later I went elsewhere when I heard of VSII, on the third treatment I had a depressed imprint of the device head, and gouges and loss of fat on both thighs, as well has excessive volume loss. I stopped treatment. Two years later there is no improvement after trying many topical treatments. The “doctor” who allowed this spa said my damage didn’t look as bad as his wife’s botched lipo!! Beware of RF and all other lasers.

  10. Scott says:

    I didn’t know that radio frequency treatments are used to tighten the skin. I can see why this would be an option to consider if you want to get rid of any wrinkles you might have. I’ll have to comment this to my mother the next time I see her.

  11. Jen says:

    Which is better for skin tightening- Panda box or Tripollar Stop? Is there a more effective one you could recommend?

    • Kristy says:

      I am not familiar with those treatments. Skin tightening generally means building collagen, so we look to treatments that create a wound healing process in the dermal layer of the skin. Peels like the Obagi Blue Peel or ZO controlled depth peel will provide tightening, as will fractional laser treatments, RadioFrequency Microneedling like Fractora. While all these treatments will stimulate collagen, the percent increased and duration it is up regulated will vary, typically a more aggressive treatment will offer greater correction, but also increase risk of complication. If I had to choose a best skin tightening treatment, I would go with Ultherapy, because it works deep in the dermis AND at the top of the muscle in what is called “SMAS”. Ultherapy has an indication for lift and tightening, however it is a non-surgical treatment and provides a non-surgical result. Collagen production with Ultherapy is increased up to (I believe) 60% for up to a year. Nothing will up regulate collagen permenatly, so you may want to repeat treatments every year or two. Using a prescription tretinoin Retin-a can help keep collagen production up, a topical vitamin-c will aid in collagen production and help prevent collagen break and a broadband SPF is a must, because sun exposure will cause a decrease in collagen. Ultherapy treatments run about $3000 per treatment and are repeated every year. A non-ablative fractional treatment might only be $750 each and repeated 4 times, scheduled 6 weeks apart, so it is still $3000.

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  16. […] Radio frequency (RF) 101: Understanding (RF) Skin … – Radio frequency is not the same as laser, however it is often used in conjunction with laser treatments in a clinical setting.Radio frequency (RF) usually refers to oscillations in electrical circuits. Aesthetic treatments use non-ablative (RF) energy in short intense pulses that oscillate through the skin to heat targeted tissue. […]

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