We’d all love to drink from the fountain of youth and bask in our 20s forever, but no one is immune from the aging process. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of options. One of the most effective options on the market? Radio frequency (RF) technology.Efficient and noninvasive, RF is a non-surgical cosmetic treatment that smooths wrinkles, boosts collagen (aka the building blocks of strong, healthy skin) and is particularly effective when it comes to extra-delicate skin, such as the area around the eyes. Easy to use at home, RF requires zip-zero downtime while providing long-lasting results.
Why we chose RF
- One of the most effective non-invasive anti-aging treatments
- Requires no downtime or surgery
- Stimulates collagen production
- Provides immediate and long-term results
- Reduces wrinkles
- Softens fine lines – especially around the eyes, nose to mouth
- Increases dermal volume
- Promotes fat cell reduction
- Visibly lifts skin
How RF technology works
The term “radiofrequency” (also known as radio waves) might bring to mind microwaves or transistor radios, but it’s not as complicated as it sounds. Essentially, RF is at the lowest end of the electromagnetic energy spectrum, meaning it will have relatively low penetration depth that’s safe for human bodies.
RF heats skin tissue until it reaches an optimal temperature of 38-44 degrees Celsius. This enables radio waves to penetrate the deeper skin layers where it can stimulate the production of collagen and elastin fibres.
One of the first non-invasive treatments to enter the market, RF’s history as an aesthetic tool dates to the early 2000s, although it was used in medicine long before that. Today, RF treatments can be done from the comfort of your home, thanks to a number of clinically-approved, highly precise hand-held devices available on the market. The upside? No wait time, extra fees, or appointments are required.
With any home tool, you can control the temperature, exposure time and treatment zones. With the optimal temperature, devices are able to penetrate tissue anywhere from 1mm to 4mm deep, depending on the polar range (more on that in a moment).
For fully visible benefits, RF must be used on a regular basis. The collagen renewal process really kicks in after a few weeks, and it’s then that you should start to see dramatic improvements in terms of skin texture, elasticity, tone and structure.
Furthermore, RF can also be used on larger areas of the body, such as the thighs or stomach, to triggers apoptosis of fat cells – a form of programmed cell death. This results in a reduction in fat, cellulite and smoother contouring. As with any beauty treatment, the overall physiological effect varies according to your skin type, the tissue treated, level of energy used, duration of the treatment, and type of radiofrequency applied.
Related: Overall of all Anti-aging Beauty Treatments
Two terms you might hear floating around are monopolar and bipolar. These are the two major categories for RF devices, often used but rarely explained. Here’s what you need to know:
Monopolar RF devices emit radio waves through one electrode – there’s usually a single probe or contact point placed on the skin, then a grounding pad at a distance. That means the current has no choice but to travel through the body’s many layers of skin and fat to connect with its grounding pad. Remember in school when you learned about positive and negative electrical conductors, which connect together in a circuit? That’s what’s happening here.
Depending on its temperature, monopolar RF can extend to the dermis, as well as the subcutaneous fat deposits below the skin itself. Thanks to this powerful reach, monopolar RF is commonly used to contour larger tissue areas, such as the abdomen, thighs, arms and buttocks.
Whereas, with bipolar RF, the electrical range is delivered from a probe with two symmetrical electrodes (one positive; the other negative) placed over the treatment area. The alternating current of energy goes back and forth between these two points.
The depth of heating and tissue reached depends on the distance between the two points, but is typically between 2 to 4mm. Overall, bipolar RF penetrates a smaller volume of tissue at a more superficial depth. While less penetrating, bipolar RF is more suitable for sensitive areas, such as the eyes and face.
RF vs other technologies
IPL (intense pulse light) and LED treatments use higher-frequency light waves, which works well for surface-level treatments such as acne scars, hair removal, wrinkles and pigmentation concerns, but not so much if you’re targeting deeper tissue. It’s also worth noting that lasers can be problematic for those with darker skin tones, since there’s an increased risk of hyperpigmentation.
RF, meanwhile, gets into well below the skin’s surface to spur collagen production, lift tissue and improve skin structure – and there’s no down time required. It’s also highly versatile; You can use RF to tighten and sculpt everything from the eyes to décolletage, arms, abs and thighs.
In terms of skin-tightening results, HIFU is perhaps the only other worthy alternative to RF. While both offer promising results, RF is recommended for more sensitive areas, such as the eyes, nose and mouth.
Let’s talk specifics:
What are the benefits? Skin tightening, collagen rejuvenation, cellulite and fat reduction. It also works especially well for volume loss.
Who’s it for? RF is suitable for all ages and complexions.
Where do you use it? RF can be applied on the face, as well as upper and lower abs, inner and outer thighs and upper arms.
And how often? Three to four times a week, depending on the program outlined by your device of choice.
Does it work? Yes! Studies have shown results can last for up to two years.
Are there any side effects? RF does not have many side effects, though occasionally, women have reported mild redness or swelling in the treated area.
Any safety precautions? Be careful with the temperature setting. If it’s too hot, you could experience blistering and bruising. It is not suitable for people with rosacea, broken blood vessels or capillaries. As with most aesthetic treatments, we don't recommend it for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
What about post-treatment instructions? It’s best to avoid sunlight, tanning, hot baths or showers, waxing, threading – or anything that can heat or aggravate recently treated skin, which has already been exposed to high heat and needs time to recover.
Try RF at home
Our picks of best devices on the market? The Vi-Anode Elegante MFIP Multi Function Beauty Device or the Tripollar STOP and Soma.
An effective, non-invasive device that’s recommended to contour the face and smooth fine lines, Tripollar STOP harnesses RF technology to stimulate subdermal collagen production. Learn more about Tripollar STOP here.
One of the latest handheld devices, Soma is especially effective for body toning. It’s been clinically proven to reduce waist size in one month with just 10 minutes of use per day. Learn more about Soma here.