What is laser tattoo removal?
Laser tattoo removal is a procedure that has been FDA approved for about twenty years. Both the process and technology have come long ways over the past couple of decades to become a safe and effective procedure. The tricky part of tattoo removal is the art of getting all the hundreds of variables lined up to achieve complete and successful removal. Tattoo removal is a relatively complicated and involved process.
However, it can be broken down into three main components which are the laser, the body, and the tattoo.
Laser Tattoo Component #1: The Laser
The First component of tattoo removal is the laser. When the laser beam comes in contact with the ink in a tattoo in the subdermal layer, it causes the ink to break down into tiny particles. The truth of the matter is that your body has always tried to break down the particles of your tattoo from the moment the ink was introduced. The reason your body has not been successful is that the ink particles have been too large for the body to digest successfully. This is why you can tell when a tattoo is older by its lighter hazier appearance. After ink molecules are shattered into microscopic particles by the laser, the body can finally be successful at doing what it’s been trying to accomplish since the tattoo was applied.
There are two different types or laser technologies available to someone seeking tattoo removal.
The laser that has been around the longest is the traditional Q-Switch ND YAG laser. A Q-Switch laser utilizes nano-second technology and a thermal wave to break ink particles down into a digestible size. Mostly seen as an “older technology” a q-switched ND Yay laser is extremely effective on dark, thick black inks. Working with darker Fitzpatrick scale skin tones of level five or six is most safely achieved with a traditional 1064 nanosecond laser.
The second and newer technology is Pico second technology. The main difference this type laser has brought to the table is the rate at which the laser goes in and out of the skin. Picosecond technology goes in and out of the skin in 1/10000 of a second while Q-Switched ND Yag technology is at 1/1000. The faster rate causes the ink the break down into even smaller particles than those hit with a nanosecond technology which allows the body to digest these particles at a faster rate. We have found that Picosecond technology works best with the 730/785/532 wavelength to remove colors like blue, green and purple which were nearly impossible to remove before. The pressure wave technology also typically leaves your skin in less discomfort during removal and post treatment.
Laser Tattoo Component #2: The Body
The second component to tattoo removal is the body on which the tattoo resides. After the laser has done its job by breaking down the ink, the body is left to dispose of it. The body’s natural immune system will begin to attack the shattered particles of ink and dispose of them through the bodies lymphatic system. This is why your health is an essential key determinant in laser tattoo removal, and also why the number of sessions needed for removal varies from person to person.
The healthier your immune system, the more quickly it will be able to digest and dispose of the shattered particles. If you have a healthy immune system with very few external stresses, the process should be relatively quick and easy. This is the part where you come in! There are four main factors of your health that we are concerned about. The first is your immune system, the second is metabolism and circulation, the third is the age of the client and the tattoo, and the fourth is your lifestyle.
What to Expect
Laser Tattoo Component #3: The Tattoo
The last component of tattoo removal is the tattoo itself. In the United States, there is no FDA clearance on tattooing ink. The composition of the ink itself will determine a significant portion of how quickly a tattoo is removed. Some ink compositions are relatively organic, lending itself to an easy breakdown and removal, other ink types can have very synthetic components like plastics or metals causing those inks more reluctant to break down when exposed to a laser beam. Elimination of this kind of ink is lengthier with more sessions needed to finally break down all the particles.
The application of the tattoo is another variable. If the artist was heavy handed depositing ink lower in the sub-dermis, the removal process is going to be more difficult. If a heavy-handed artist created scar tissue, the laser would not be able to remove the scar tissue. Sometimes we get lucky, and scarring is reduced because of stimulation, but this is off label and only a bonus if achieved. If scarring is present, it appears slightly raised on the skin and is most likely found in the outline of the tattoo because the outline is typically done with a lining needle which penetrates the skin at a deeper level.
Those tattoos that are applied by an artist with a light hand are much easier to remove completely. So, a very deep and dense application of a tribal tattoo or an Asian symbol is much harder to remove than a fluffy cloud like tattoo. The way a tattoo comes off is directly representative of how it was applied. The uneven application will result in uneven removal. It’s easy to tell when an artist has paused in a corner or gotten a little deeper in a bonier area. Just another reason why your tattoos should best be created by one of the amazingly talented artists rather than some guy in a basement who tattoos for cheap.
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