What is Laser Tattoo Removal?
As technology advances..
a variety of safe, sophisticated and bloodless treatments are available for patients who are seeking to remove tattoos that they no longer desire.
Although tattoos are considered permanent due to deep penetration of the ink in the dermis layer of the skin , the laser is capable of breaking down the ink’s pigmentation embedded in the layer of the skin.
The procedure does not require any incisions but consist of a laser that is connected to a machine. The laser is placed over the skin and emits a pulsating beam of light that occurs every nano-millisecond.
One session of the procedure does not simultaneously remove the tattoo but several sessions must follow with breaks over a period of time. The breaks are required to allow for the skin to heal. Therefore, dedication and patience is essential in order to successfully remove the tattoo.
Nevertheless, scars may or may not be present after treatment. The results will vary from patient to patient.
What does the laser do?
The laser penetrates through the first layer of the skin (epidermis) and reaches the area of the dermis. When tattoos are applied onto the skin, the needle goes through the epidermis, melanin, then enters the dermis. The dermis is where the pigmentation of the ink is injected, thus giving tattoos a permanent-like effect. The laser is capable of reaching the same layer of the skin as the ink of the tattoo, therefore making it possible to remove the ink.
What happens to my skin during laser tattoo removal?
The technology of laser tattoo removal exists due to the discovery of selective photothermolysis.
Selective phototheromysis refers to using the heat produced by the wavelengths of the light to destroy the pigmentation of the ink of the tattoo. The heat is able to damage the target area while avoiding the skin that surrounds it. Therefore, removal of the tattoo is capable without destroying skin.
If the target area (tattoo) possesses colours like browns, yellow and pink, it will be harder for the removal of the tattoo since the target colours are similar to skin colours in wavelength. (colours are composed of wavelengths).
If the pigmentation of the skin and ink are farther away from each other on the wavelength spectrum, the laser is able to remove the target area with less difficulty.
This is why those with lighter skin with black ink tattoos are easiest to remove since black and light skin colours are farther away from each other on the wavelength spectrum. Therefore, it is much easier for the laser to differentiate between the two colours.
Dependent upon the patient’s circumstances,
the duration and number of the procedure(s) will vary according to:
1) Size of the tattoo
2) Location of the tattoo
3) Colour of the tattoo
4) Skin type
5) Application method of the tattoo
6) Age of the tattoo/patient
These factors will also account for the level of discomfort a patient may feel during their treatment.
What types of treatments are offered?
To meet different patient’s needs, a variety of treatments are available to choose from, such as, dermabrasion, camouflage, creams, and excision of tattoo. Nevertheless, the most effective method that removes tattoo and also significantly reduces the risk of damaging skin and excess scarring is laser. Since we live in a world filled with a diversity of skin types and tattoos designs, there is not one standard laser offered and used.
The Q-switched lasers are one of the more popular lasers physicians choose to use. They come in three different types that differ and specialize according to the colour pigmentation that they treat. The nm in the name of the laser indicates the wavelength range it is most ideal for treating. More complex coloured tattoos have more wavelengths, therefore a combination of these lasers are needed to target the variety of wavelengths present in the coloured tattoo.
The Q-switched lasers can be accompanied with anesthetic (local injection of lidocaine or topical anesthesia cream) to decrease the level of pain the patient experiences.
Topical broad-spectrum antibacterial ointment is applied immediately following the procedure.
The different types of Q-switched laser are:
1) Q-switched ruby laser (694 nm):
2) Q-switched Nd: YAG laser (532 nm, 1064 nm)
3) Q-switched alexandrite laser (755 nm):
How much does treatment cost?
The cost of the overall treatment is dependent upon the number of sessions needed, which is dependent on the state of the tattoo and the age/health of the patient.
Multiple treatments are required and usually one treatment could range from $300 and up.
How long does a treatment take?
A session is dependent upon the size and complexity of the tattoo. The larger and more complex the tattoo is, the longer the time frame of one session will take.
Smaller tattoos usually take only a few minutes to complete one session.
The time of the breaks after each session ranges from 1-2 months and usually, 3-20 treatment sessions could be required for complete removal. Overall, the procedure could be quite lengthy.
What should I expect during the treatment?
The patient must wear protective eye shields at all times during the procedure. A test to see the skin’s reaction to the laser is done prior to treatment. Anesthetic is optional but can be given to the patient at the site of the procedure.
The treatment starts with the physician placing their hand against the patient’s skin while stimulating the laser light onto the target area. The physician guides the laser to areas where the tattoo resides. The patient will feel the pulsation of the beam during the procedure. The pain is described to be similar to a rubber band being snapped across the surface of the skin. After the session, another one will be schedule in 1-2 months.
Are there any side effects?
Infections and although rare, permanent scarring, excessive colour or fading of the skin may occur.
What should I expect after the treatment?
After treatment, the patient is given a pack of ice to place on the treated area, which will help reduce swelling caused by the laser. Topical antibiotic ointment is placed on the tattoo after half an hour then covered with sterile dressing.
Aftercare of the treatment:
The patient must treat the treated area as if they were treating a sunburn and must let the skin dry.
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