Advances in Laser Tattoo Removal Can Give Your Skin a Fresh Start

March 30, 2013

I have been personally removing tattoos for the last 10 years, and have often thought my patients’ stories would make a great reality show. Who you were “once upon a time” your job, love interests and what you liked is different from who you are now. It is estimated that close to 10% of the U.S. population has some sort of tattoo and that over a 1/3rd of them want to have at least one of their tattoos removed. (I just found a study done by the American Academy of Dermatology that states 24% of Americans between the ages of 18-50 are tattooed.) The great news is that advances in laser tattoo removal techniques and technologies can eliminate your tattoo with minimal side effects.

How Does It Work?

Specific tattoo removal lasers such as Q-switched Nd:YAG with 532nm (wavelength) are designed for red and orange colors; the 1064nm handles darker tattoos. Also the Q-switched Alexandrite Laser 755nm targets green, blue, and dark colors. These lasers remove tattoos by breaking up the pigment of the tattoo with a high-intensity laser beam. Your body then takes the broken-up pigment and, through your immune system, processes it and eliminates it. Treatments are spaced out about every 2 months to give your body time to eliminate the ink. A research study published this past October in The Journal of American Academy of Dermatology introduced the “R20” method of tattoo removal. The study suggests that tattoo removal is more effective when 4 laser “passes” are given about 20 minutes apart versus 1 “pass” in a treatment session. I have treated several patients with the R20 method and will have my own final analysis of its effectiveness in the next few months.

How Are Different Colors Handled?

Black tattoos are the easiest to treat. Various colors can only be treated by select lasers based upon the pigment color. Make sure that your medical practitioner has multiple lasers providing the wavelengths required, or you will not be satisfied with the results.

What Can I Expect During Treatment?

Depending on the size, quality (amateur or professional), age and color of your tattoo, the number of treatments will vary. Your simple, low quality, old black tattoo may be removed in as little as 2-3 visits, whereas your new, professional, multi-colored tattoo can take as many as 7 or more visits. You should schedule a consultation during which time I will evaluate your tattoo and advise you on the process. The color of the patient’s skin, as well as the depth to which the tattoo pigment extends, will also affect the removal technique and type of laser used. Depending on the location of the tattoo and the pain threshold for the patient, we may elect to use some form of anesthesia (topical anesthesia, ice, or Lidocaine injections at the site of the procedure for small tattoos). The actual procedure is very short, generally 5 to 15 minutes depending on the size of the tattoo. Immediately following treatment, an ointment and bandage is applied. After each treatment, the tattoo will become progressively lighter.

What Are The Possible Side Effects?

There are minimal side effects to tattoo removal by lasers. However, you may risk hypopigmentation, where the treated skin is paler than surrounding skin, or hyperpigmentation, where the treated skin is darker than surrounding skin. Avoiding sun exposure will decrease that risk. Also good aftercare will minimize that risk.

How Much Does It Cost?

A good rule of thumb is $100 for each square inch, more if there are multiple colors as that requires the use of 2 lasers. Prices are per treatment and discounted packages are available when you purchase multiple treatments.

by Erin Owoc, Dermatology Nurse Practitioner  

Erin Owoc, ARNP-C has been practicing cosmetic dermatology for the last 7 years in Florida. Erin can be reached at (954) 680-8330.

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