Tattoo Laser Removal
Tattoos have become a very popular part of our culture in the west and in Australia there is no difference here with lots of people getting tattoos both young and old. As they get more tattoos, more people want to either remove those tattoos or remove some of the older tattoos to replace them with new tattoos that are a bit more updated. Thus, they come to see us to reduce or remove their tattoos.
There are a number of ways of doing it but the best treatment are Q-switch lasers. We have a Q-switch yag laser which has a nanosecond pulse width. The reason that a nanosecond pulse is so important is that that is how the tattoo laser works. The laser light when it passes through the skin hits its target color. It converts it to sound and heat. Sound is really important because the sound is what shatters the pigment particles into lots of little particles. The macrophages, the scavenger cells, then can come in and mop up some of the tattoo ink particles that are small enough for it to swallow (phagocytose) and take away. Therefore, the tattoo laser does not actually remove the tattoo. What it does is that it breaks up the ink into smaller particles so that your own body can remove the tattoo ink particles. That is also why when you see some of the people who have got older tattoos they have faded for a while. So we are speeding up that natural process. The laser light hits black best so black outline and black color works best. Next are the reds, referring to pigment particles that are red, yellow, orange, and pink. After that are the blues, then greens. The other colors are a little bit more difficult to remove but our laser can reduce them and often remove them as well.
There is a new technique called the R20 technique. It is where we do 4 treatments at the same time at the same treatment. The advantage of this is when the laser hits its particles, it shatters it, a bit like shrapnel going in all directions, and creates channels through the ink. When the ink gets these channels you often get some gas and some inflammation. Once that disappears over the following 10 minutes, if you would hit it again with the laser straight away, some of that light will pass down those channels and break up some of the deep ink, speeding up the fading process.
DO THESE TATTOO REMOVAL LASER PROCEDURES HURT?
The answer is that it does a little bit and that is one of the advantages of coming to a doctor surgery for tattoo removal because we have lots of anesthetic options. We can inject anesthetic. We can use Penthrox, which are inhaled anesthetics. We can use Emla cream or elomex (3:32) cream. We can use coolers. There are lots of ways to reduce the pain with these treatments.
Because the laser works by breaking up the ink particles and letting the macrophages take them, we need to wait probably 6-8 weeks between treatments, to give those macrophages a chance to do their job.
WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS OF TATTOO LASER REMOVAL?
The side effects do not really come from the sound; it is more from the heat. When the laser light hits the tattoo ink particles it converts to sound and heat. The heat injury is usually just a bit of redness and swelling. If there is a lot of ink, there is often a little bit of blistering for a day or two and sometimes some pinpoint bleeding. When it blisters we have to just be a bit careful not to knock the skin off as it lifts or you will get some scabbing. If you keep that on, it is a natural dressing and it usually heals pretty quickly without any problems at all.
WHAT COLORS CAN BE TREATED?
As mentioned earlier, black works best. However, our laser unlike a lot of other lasers, have special dye particles hand pieces (4:59) that allow us to treat the blues and the greens which a lot of other lasers cannot do. Most lasers can treat the blacks and the reds. We can also treat the blues and the greens.
HOW MANY TREATMENTS DOES ONE NEED?
It depends whether you do the R20 or not. Most professional tattoos often need somewhere between 6 to 12 treatments. For amateur, like Indian ink tattoos, one would need less since there is usually less ink because amateur tattoos don’t tend to put as much ink as the professional tattooists.
IS THIS AN AREA THAT WILL GROW?
Yes, I do think that more and more people are going to either want to change their tattoos, or fashion will change and people will want to remove some of their tattoos especially what the tattoo industry calls the jobkillers, the ones that are coming out on the neck, face, and on the hands and wrists. I think that down the track, as people get a bit older, they might want to reduce those. The ones that they can cover up are usually not much of a problem.
DO THESE TATTOO REMOVAL PROCEDURES WORK ON AN OLDER PERSON’S SKIN?
Yes. It is not really related to the skin. In fact, when I use the tattoo removal laser on normal skin it leaves no mark at all. It only reacts when it hits the tattoo pigment. It only causes pain or any sound when it hits the tattoo pigment. There is no damage to surrounding skin other than the reaction of the laser targeting the actual tattoo ink and a bit of a shrapnel reaction around the skin causing a bit of swelling and inflammation and a bit of the heat injury as well as explained above.
Hopefully this makes sense and gives you an understanding of how we treat tattoos.
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Surgical Warning: Every form of surgery has a possibility of a complication and these are given to you in detail by Dr Lanzer. It is a good idea to understand your surgical procedure well, and to obtain further advice from another Specialist Cosmetic surgeon such as a Dermatologist like Dr Lanzer.
All photographs represent one person’s experience, and results may vary for each patient. All photographs are of actual patients of Dr Lanzer. The visible change in these photographs has occurred as a result of the procedure/s undertaken.