What is Laser Tattoo Removal?
The Nd:YAG Q-Switched Laser removes tattoo ink with photoacoustic energy and is the gold standard of lasers for tattoo removal, with a strong history of efficacy worldwide. The laser is a device which is designed to produce a specific wavelength of light. Specific wavelengths of light that are passed over the tattoo, into the skin and absorbed by the ink itself, giving the desired lightening effect. Q-Switched simply refers to the laser’s ability for rapid absorption of light energy by the ink causing it to break into tiny particles, which are then removed by the body’s normal filtering systems. Because the laser delivers the energy in a very precise beam the tattoo can be removed without damaging the surrounding skin.
Will I be left with a scar?
Ideally, laser tattoo removal will remove all evidence of the tattoo colour and image, leaving the skin as it was before the tattoo was placed, i.e. “normal”, with no mark whatsoever. While we always strive for this outcome, and use the most advanced laser technology available to achieve an optimal result, this may not occur.
After the tattoo is placed, some mild scar can form in the skin. Also, any previous attempts of tattoo removal can leave marking in the skin, and years of sun exposure on the tattooed skin may alter the skin’s appearance. These changes may not be apparent while the colour of the tattoo is still present, but once the tattoo colour is gone, some of these minor variations in texture and colour can become more noticeable and make the tattooed area appear different than the surrounding skin. In general, after the final laser procedure is completed, the treated skin usually looks much like the normal skin surrounding the spot. However, occasionally use of laser to remove the tattoo will leave a scar.
With each treatment some redness, bleeding, bruising, swelling, blistering and crusting is common, but wound infection is rare. Irregular pigmentation and mild texture changes can occur as a result of laser treatment, but these changes usually return back to “normal” over a few months. Rarely these changes are permanent. True scarring with the newest, most advanced lasers is rare.
How many sessions will I need?
We can only estimate the number of treatments it will take to completely remove the tattoo. This is because: (1) The wide variation of inks and pigmented materials used for tattooing, (2) The inks themselves are made up of a combination of different chemical substances, (3) The amount of ink placed in the tattoo, as well as the depth of pigment placement varies from one tattoo to another, (4) The ability of your white blood cells to “break down and remove” different pigment particles varies, (5) Your healing response. As a result of these many issues we cannot be absolutely certain how your particular tattoo will respond. Most “amateur or home-made” tattoos will generally require about 5-7 laser treatments. “Professional” tattoos and those done with harder inks, tend to be more variable in response, and average about 8-12 laser treatments. Some stubborn tattoo inks may require even more treatments. Some cosmetic tattoos on the lips and white or flesh coloured tattoos can undergo a dark brown or black colour change that may or may not fade in a couple of weeks.
While the most noticeable lightening of the tattoo usually occurs after the first treatment, continued lightening occurs with each subsequent treatment, although it may not be as easily seen. Before and after photos have been taken of thousands of patients demonstrating that every patient will fade to some degree after every treatment.
Before starting each treatment session, we often compare the tattoo with the original photos (taken before the first treatment) to assess the amount of colour that has already been removed. With this information we can evaluate your progress and discuss the need for continued treatment. The decision to continue is always made jointly and made with a clear understanding of potential outcomes.
How long between treatments?
The tattoo is ready to be re-treated at 6 weeks; however through experience we have found that waiting longer in between treatments is more beneficial as the tattoo will continue to fade with time. It is preferable that you wait at least 8 – 12 weeks before your next session.
The laser treatment may create a superficial burn wound. There is immediate whitening (frosting) of the treated area, which lasts for several minutes. May patients then develop blisters, crusts or scabs within 24-72 hours, which may last for 1-2 weeks. Some patients may experience bruising or swelling. Do not pick at the scab or allow the skin to become abraded, as this may result in infection and scarring. The treated area may be pink or pale after the scab separates. Loss of skin pigment in the treated area (usually temporary) is common. Complete healing is usually seen by 6-8 weeks.
We advise patients to protect the wound as you would any other minor burn for a few days. A dressing may help to protect the area and minimize further injury. Cold compresses and over the counter analgesics like Panadol and Nurofen, can be taken for minor discomfort during the first few days. Most patients are able to resume normal activity and work the same day. Showering and bathing are usually not a problem, but sun exposure should be avoided in the treated area. It is very important to follow our instructions carefully especially regarding the use of any medications or specific wound care that we may recommend.