A method and apparatus applies radiant energy through the skin to underlying collagen tissue without substantially modifying melanocytes and other epithelial cells in the epidermis. A porous membrane is adapted to receive an electrolytic solution and become inflated to substantially conform a contacting exterior surface of the membrane to a skin layer. The membrane includes a cooling lumen for receiving cooling fluid. One or more thermal electrodes is positioned in the membrane and transfers thermal energy to the electrolytic solution. The electrolytic solution and cooling fluid creates a reverse thermal gradient from the skin surface to the underlying collagen tissue. A thermal power source is coupled to the thermal electrodes, and a source of electrolytic solution is coupled to the membrane.