Types of Laser Tattoo Removal & How They Work
Tattoos are a way for people to display artwork on their bodies. Sometimes they get them with the intention of keeping them forever. But occasionally, they regret their decision and want to remove them.
Over the years, plastic surgeons have developed a range of techniques to remove permanent tattoos with minimal scarring. These interventions include chemical peels, dermabrasion, and surgical excision.
The most popular, and arguably most effective, however, is laser tattoo removal. Here, we discuss the types of laser removal treatments available and how they work.
How Laser Tattoo Removal Works
Lasers are currently the most common method for removing tattoos and returning the skin’s appearance to normal. The way they work is a miracle of modern science.
Tattoos are, essentially, suspensions of ink particles in the lower layers of the skin. Normally, the immune system removes foreign bodies trapped in the skin. But tattoo ink particles are too large for immune cells to process, so they linger indefinitely.
Lasers work by targeting individual ink particles and breaking them down into smaller chunks using the power of light. Once sufficiently fragmented, immune cells can remove them, just as they would regular particles.
The laser penetrates the upper layers of the skin down to the subcutaneous level. It then jiggles the ink particles at just the right frequency for them to fall apart. Once scattered, the body then cleans up, removing the foreign particles, processing them, and then eliminating them as waste.
The Types Of Lasers Tattoo Removal
Currently, there are three types of tattoo removal lasers in common use, each of which offers advantages and disadvantages.
- Q-switched ruby laser (694 nm). Surgeons use these lasers to remove black, blue, and green pigments from the subsurface of the skin. Q-switched ruby lasers have the advantage of being able to remove a broad spectrum of pigments, including the most prevalent colors found in tattoos. However, they are not particularly effective against blue dye. This type of laser can also have adverse effects on the skin, including changes in pigmentation, scarring, and textural alterations in the skin’s surface.
- Q-switched 532 nm Nd:YAG laser (532 nm, 1064 nm). By contrast, Q-switched 532 nm Nd:YAG lasers can remove bright pigments, such as red, orange, and yellow, while the 1064 nm variety removes black and blue. Pigmentation and textural changes are much less common Nd:YAG lasers than in the Q-switched ruby laser.
- Q-switched alexandrite laser (755 nm). The Q-switched alexandrite laser (755 nm) is designed to remove black and blue pigment, like the ruby laser. Surgeons also credit it with being the best of all lasers at getting rid of green pigments. Again, though, there are short term costs. Data suggests, for instance, that transient hypopigmentation occurs in around 12 percent of all patients receiving treatment using this particular laser.
While the Nd:YAG lasers seem to have the lowest incidence of adverse effects, surgeons cannot rely on them alone to remove most tattoos. They do not remove all of the colors from the spectrum due to their wavelength. Most tattoos require many wavelengths to eradicate them, so surgeons must often have all of these lasers at their disposal.
Currently, researchers are trying to develop new picosecond lasers that will better remove modern tattoos made with vibrant ink. The field has improved considerably since the early days of Q-switched lasers.
The vast majority of laser devices on the market produce one of the three lasers mentioned above. A laser is usually a floor-mounted unit with an extendable arm that the plastic surgeon then guides over the affected area of skin, removing the offending tattoo.
How Many Laser Treatments Do You Need
When you speak to your plastic surgeon about a tattoo you want to remove, they will first investigate it to see what type of removal you need. How many treatments you require depends primarily on your tattoo’s age, size, and pigmentation depth. The larger it is, and the deeper the pigmentation, the longer it will take to remove.
Professional tattoos usually require an average of 8.5 tattoo removal sessions to remove altogether. Amateur tattoos require around 4.6 treatments.
Each successive laser treatment jiggles the offending ink particles and causes them to fall apart a little more. The immune system then clears them from the affected area and processes them elsewhere in the body. After each session, the tattoo will fade further until it is barely visible, if at all.
At the start of the laser therapy treatment, plastic surgeons apply anesthetic ointment to the target area of skin. They also give you eye protection and provide a cooling device for your arm. Once you’re ready to start, they will then hold the laser arm close to your skin, directing the laser to destroy the tattoo pigment you want to eliminate.
When the laser pulses, it feels similar to the sensation of a rubber band snapping on the skin. Treatment usually only takes a few minutes, and once done, the tattoo will begin fading.
Laser treatments are a miracle of science. The fact that you can remove ink without penetrating the skin or surgically intervening seems miraculous. It all comes down to the inherent properties of lasers, and their ability to disrupt ink remotely, without coming into direct contact with it.
What Can You Expect After Laser Treatment?
Laser treatment relies on sending high-energy light waves through the skin. In the days and weeks following the therapy, therefore, you will experience a degree of swelling, blistering, and redness. Over the following weeks, the area may begin to peel and flake – all part of the normal healing process.
Despite the temporary damage to the skin’s surface, laser treatments are by far the safest and most effective ways to remove tattoos without scarring. Once you submit to a series of laser treatments, the tattoo you no longer want will virtually disappear.
Please note that some tattoos take longer to remove, even with the latest Q-switched lasers. Bright greens, blues, and yellows are typically the toughest to eliminate. Even so, they will fade substantially following a round of treatment.
Why Get Your Tattoo Removed in Mexico?
Bottom line: Pricing. You can generally get this procedure done at local plastic surgery offices near you. Or, you can save a lot of money by getting the removal process done in Tijuana, Mexico. Call today or schedule your free virtual consultation here