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Skin care specialists for over 15 years
Procedure - Laser Tattoo Removal
Laser Tattoo Removal
Lasers have been used for tattoo removal for more than 20 years and we have used a Q-switched ruby laser since 1996. The ruby laser is the acknowledged laser of choice for tattoos removal. The following information is designed to cover the most commonly asked questions.
Why is a tattoo so difficult to remove?
The tattoo pigment injected into the lower layers of skin (the dermis) becomes sealed away by a tough collagen ring. It is very difficult to remove the tattoo pigment without affecting the surrounding tissue. The alternatives to laser treatment are, either to physically remove the pigment with the surrounding skin by surgical excision and skin grafting, or chemically destroy the pigment using concentrated salts or acid. In either case the surrounding skin is damaged and significant scarring would be an expected outcome to these, non-laser removal methods.
How are Q -switched Lasers different to other lasers used for tattoo removal?
Q-switched lasers produces extremely short pulses of high-energy, light. This light is absorbed strongly by the tiny particles of tattoo pigment, but not very well by the surrounding skin. The tattoo pigment particles heat up and break down into smaller particles; these minute particles are targeted by the body's own immune system and removed. Because the energy is selectively absorbed by the tattoo pigment, surrounding tissues are not heated up to such a high temperature and there is no lasting damage to the skin.
I have seen other light treatments offered for tattoo removal, what are these?
In some cases Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) systems are advertised for tattoo removal. These systems were designed to target melanin in hair follicles for hair removal and differ from tattoo removal lasers in producing non Q-switched energy. This energy is not delivered in such a way as to crack up the tattoo particles and much more heat is absorbed and accumulates in the skin tissue than is the case with our laser. More energy in the skin equates to skin damage and an increased risk of scarring. Unlike the Ruby, where over 20 years of scientific study backs the process, there is little, or no evidence for the efficacy of IPL systems for the removal of tattoos and such treatments should be avoided.
There are also ‘soft' or ‘gentle' Q-switched YAG lasers. These are re-badged, low powered hair-removal lasers and are marketed on the basis that they are pain free. This is because they use very low powers (2 joules compared to our 20). All the clinical evidence indicates that high powers are required to clear tattoo pigment – if this was not true, then we would turn our own systems down and achieve the same results at lower powers.
Can a tattoo be removed in just one treatment?
Only very rarely; some amateur tattoos may disappear after only a small number of treatments; professional tattoos usually take a higher number.
How many treatments will be required to treat the average tattoo?
There is no such thing as an average tattoo; every tattoo is different and every individual responds differently. As a guide, amateur tattoos can take anywhere from 1-6 treatments; professional tattoos from 8-12, although they may take more than this. Without seeing the tattoo it is impossible to be more accurate and even then, we will only be able to give an estimate.
What are the costs likely to be?
The cost of a single treatment will depend solely on the size of the tattoo. The bigger the area, the more time it will take to treat and the higher the charge. Again, until we can see the tattoo, we cannot measure the area or price the treatment.
Do all tattoos respond to treatment?
Unfortunately not; most pigments, especially blacks and blues, do respond very well to the Ruby laser with reds being more difficult. Green pigment can be quite resistant to treatment.
How will I know if there are any resistant colours present?
In most cases it will be apparent to the assessor whether there is likely to be a problem. Where there is any doubt, a test patch will be required to determine the likelihood of successful treatment. If required, a test patch will be carried out for a fee, as it is better to find out about potential problems before the whole tattoo has been treated and a larger sum of money has already been spent.
How long does the treatment take?
This depends on the size of the tattoo; a small tattoo might take 5 minutes, where a large, or multiple tattoos could take an hour or more of treatment. Again, the assessment will provide this information.
Does it hurt?
The amount of pain felt will depend on the type of tattoo, the amount of treatment required and your own pain threshold. Some clients would describe it as no more than uncomfortable, where others will describe it as an elastic band flicked against the skin. The truth is that you will only know how painful you find it until you try it! We can offer advice on pain relief which will be given during your assessment.
Does the laser cause scarring?
Although there is a risk of scarring with any laser, in most cases, scarring is not a significant risk for tattoo removal with the ruby laser. Tattoo removal has become associated with scarring because the first lasers used for tattoo removal were very aggressive and carried a very high risk of scarring. The ruby laser does not heat the surrounding skin significantly and the risk of scarring is much reduced. The risk of scarring is mainly associated with a genetic pre-disposition to forming scar tissue and the presence of resistant, green pigment. To reduce the risk, we carry out an extensive medical evaluation to identify high-risk clients; we also have an adjunct treatment that can stop scar tissue forming and even improve existing scarring. In eight years, we have had little evidence of scarring in thousands of treatments.
Are there any other side-effects?
After each treatment, the area may blister; this is quite normal and usually resolves in a few days. Once any blisters or crusts have subsided, the skin around the tattoo will look shiny for a number of weeks. Treatment cannot be repeated until your skin has returned to normal; this will usually take from 4 to 5 weeks.
The highest-risk side effect is skin de-pigmentation . (loss of natural skin colour) Because the Ruby laser targets dark pigments, the energy is also absorbed by the melanin in the skin. The most frequent side effect is for the natural colour in the skin to ‘bleach' after a number of treatments.
While normal skin pigment will usually recover, it can take months, or even years to do so. As a general guideline, the darker the skin or the more treatments required, the more risk there is of long term de-pigmentation.
Because of the risk of damage to skin pigment, we will not treat tanned skin and will postpone treatment until any sun-tan has faded.
Is the treatment safe?
Ruby lasers have been used around the world for more than 20 years and has treated millions of tattoos safely. The ruby laser energy is really just a strong red light and there is no linkage with any skin disorder or any increased risk of skin cancer.
How much does it cost?
Prices depend on the size of the tattoo, therefore we can only quote at your consultation. Prices usually start from £50 per treatment for a very small tattoo and we offer great savings if you buy a package.
* These prices are a guideline only and do not form a contractual relationship between The Body Clinic and the client. They vary according to the treatment area and during promotional campaigns.