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

Dermatol Surg. 2003 Apr;29(4):333-9; discussion 339. doi: 10.1046/j.1524-4725.2003.29081.x.


Background: Acne vulgaris is an exceedingly common condition in adolescence and may extend into adult life in some individuals. Even though this condition is at times minimized, it has been found to have a profound impact in the quality of life of many affected individuals. Acne scarring can be even more of a source of psychological and social problems than active acne is, and when inadequately treated, the latter can lead to the former. Moderate and severe acne vulgaris usually require a regimen of systemic and/or topical medications, which are given for several months or even years and frequently require multiple visits to the physician office, the laboratory, etc. This results in loss of time at school and considerable expense. Side effects from medications and the frequent need to use alternative drugs when there is no response to medical treatment are possible.

Objective: To evaluate the role of a novel medical device that uses radiofrequency as a source of energy to produce volumetric tissue heating, while sparing the epidermis, allowing for a procedure with no down time and no postoperative care required.

Methods: Twenty-two patients, 10 women and 12 men, ranging in age from 16 to 28, with moderate to severe, scarring, cystic, active, acne vulgaris participated. Only nine of these patients were on concomitant medical treatment such as oral antibiotics or topical agents. All 22 patients were treated with a new nonablative radiofrequency unit, which delivers a concomitant spray of cryogen for epidermal sparing. One session was done in 20 patients and two sessions in 2 patients. The average fluence per energy delivery was 72 J/cm2. Follow-up ranged from 1 to 8 months. Patient questionnaires and active acne lesion counts were used to evaluate the response to treatment.

Results: Excellent response was seen in 82% (n=18). Modest response was seen in 9% (n=2), and no response was seen in 9% (n=2); t-test on active lesion counts before treatment and after treatment was less than 0.009004. No side effects were identified on any of these patients. No down time from the procedure was seen. Only topical anesthesia, ELA-Max 5% (Ferndale Labs, Ferndale, MI) was used; 59% of patients were on no acne medication before, during, or after the procedure.

Conclusions: Nonablative radiofrequency appears to be a new safe and effective treatment alternative for moderate to severe acne vulgaris. Further research is in progress to evaluate this treatment modality in a larger number of patients.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris / therapy*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anesthesia, Local
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Hyperthermia, Induced / methods*
  • Male
  • Radiofrequency Therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome