The clinical utility of radiofrequency (RF) devices is to deliver various morphologies of energy to biologic tissue, with objectives ranging from destruction to denaturing and rejuvenation.
In the context of dermatology, three fundamental types of RF devices exist: monopolar, unipolar and bipolar. These are differentiated by the configuration of electrodes and corresponding electromagnetic fields.
Fractionated RF is a variant of bipolar RF, wherein an electrode array is patterned to divide the treatment field into multiple RF thermal zones (RFTZs) with intervening areas of untreated tissue. The application of these technologies include tightening of the skin, rhytid reduction, striae reduction, as well as heating of adipose tissue used in body contouring and cellulite reduction.
Fractionated bipolar RF creates superficial RFTZs, and it is most commonly used today for rejuvenation of the skin. Because RF devices function independent of chromophores, they can be used on all skin types with little to no risk of pigment alteration.
Radiofrequency refers to oscillating electromagnetic waves within the range of 3 kHz to 300 GHz. To provide perspective, cellular telephone signals operate from 800 MHz to 2.69 GHz, and there is rarely a moment a person in the industrialized world is not being infinitesimally irradiated by one source or another such as these cellular carrier signals, WiFi or Bluetooth. These signals are typically distant from the transmitter and have low power density, and thus a presumed negligible biological effect. At higher power densities, achieved adjacent to an RF emitter, plentiful physical interactions can occur.
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