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Health Phys. 2016 Dec;111(6):528-541.

Thermal Response of Human Skin to Microwave Energy: A Critical Review.

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*Department of Bioengineering University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA; †Temple University Medical School, Philadelphia, PA; ‡Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Maryland, College Park, MD.


This is a review/modeling study of heating of tissue by microwave energy in the frequency range from 3 GHz through the millimeter frequency range (30-300 GHz). The literature was reviewed to identify studies that reported RF-induced increases in skin temperature. A simple thermal model, based on a simplified form of Pennes' bioheat equation (BHTE), was developed, using parameter values taken from the literature with no further adjustment. The predictions of the model were in excellent agreement with available data. A parametric analysis of the model shows that there are two heating regimes with different dominant mechanisms of heat transfer. For small irradiated areas (less than about 0.5-1 cm in radius) the temperature increase at the skin surface is chiefly limited by conduction of heat into deeper tissue layers, while for larger irradiated areas, the steady-state temperature increase is limited by convective cooling by blood perfusion. The results support the use of this simple thermal model to aid in the development and evaluation of RF safety limits at frequencies above 3 GHz and for millimeter waves, particularly when the irradiated area of skin is small. However, very limited thermal response data are available, particularly for exposures lasting more than a few minutes to areas of skin larger than 1-2 cm in diameter. The paper concludes with comments about possible uses and limitations of thermal modeling for setting exposure limits in the considered frequency range.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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