A quarter of people with tattoos in Australia would like to have their tattoo removed. But many of them are confused by the numerous treatment options, and worried about scarring. This article outlines the most up to date information from the medical community on the most effective methods of removal and how to avoid scarring.
Here’s a few key points that are good to know when considering laser tattoo removal:
- Laser tattoo removal will not cause scarring if done correctly.
- The best laser and industry gold standard for multi-coloured tattoo removal is the MedLite C6 Q-Switched Nd:YAG laser.
- There are no side effects from laser tattoo removal if it is carried out by a professional practitioner and the correct pre and post care is followed.
- All other tattoo removal methods including creams, scrubbing, and cryosurgery are unsafe and should be avoided at all costs.
- Laser tattoo removal procedures vary in the number of treatments required and the time needed based on various factors. Because the ink particles are eliminated from your body through your lymphatic system certain lifestyle factors can make tattoo removal treatments more successful such as exercising, drinking more water and cessation of smoking.
- If you have previous scarring from when the tattoo was applied, this can be faded with other treatments such as skin needling or laser skin treatments.
- If you have any more questions about tattoo removal, please get in touch for a consultation with one of our qualified clinicians.
Common misconceptions about laser tattoo removal
All laser tattoo removal treatments are not equal. Due to lack of regulation within the cosmetic laser industry there are numerous poorly trained practitioners using sub-standard technology. Any treatment that is performed using a medical grade laser carries the risk of scarring, however, if laser tattoo removal is performed correctly by an experienced technician with the right training and the right machine this risk is minimal. Sometimes getting the tattoo itself may have caused scarring, which may only become visible once the tattoo is removed. In these instances, treatments such as skin needling or laser skin treatments can be looked at as an option to treat the scarring.
Types of lasers used for tattoo removal
Unfortunately, our industry is plagued by gimmicks and fads and this can make it hard to tell who to trust and where to go for reliable advice and safe, effective treatments. Naturally there are reputable clinics who are in it for the long term (we’ve been in the industry since 2005), but it is difficult for clients to know the difference. Many various fads and new technologies come along promising to oust the more tried and tested technology. Usually the manufacturers of these machines conduct their own studies to give an air of scientific credibility to their technology.
The Nd:YAG laser, if used by a qualified practitioner, can be tuned to target all of the different colours within a tattoo so that they break down and fade away. This is what ensures that the MedLite C6 Q-Switched Nd:YAG laser remains the industry gold standard for tattoo removal.
Other tattoo removal methods including DIY and creams
All alternative methods to laser tattoo removal carry the risk of scarring and should be avoided.
Tattoo removal creams
The cheapest and least healthy option available is to use a tattoo removal cream, many of which can be ordered online. This is worrying because in many cases these contain dangerous chemicals that cause skin reactions and leave permanent scarring. According to Dr. Lawrence E. Gibson, “there’s no evidence that they work” and tattoo removal should never be attempted at home. Dermatologist Arnold R. Oppenheim says a cream “would create a scar far uglier than the tattoo” and Dr. Davin Lim says simply, “laser only, never creams.”
Surgical tattoo removal and cryosurgery
Another removal method is surgically removing the tattoo. This involves cutting the tattooed skin out and sewing up the surrounding skin. This also inevitably leaves visible scarring. Cryosurgery is another approach which entails freeze-burning the tattooed skin with liquid nitrogen. Once again, scarring will occur. In reference to the above methods Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, Director of 5th Avenue Dermatology Surgery and Laser Center in New York City said, “You could throw kerosene on it and light a match – that’d be the same thing.”
Intense pulsed light vs. laser tattoo removal
But the most common methods of tattoo removal use intense pulsed light (IPL) or Q-switched lasers. These are often thought to be similar methods of removal and many clinics that use IPL refer to it as “laser” tattoo removal, although this is not accurate. IPL is not actually a laser, but rather a broad spectrum of light that often includes carcinogenic ultraviolet light. It causes more redness, pain and swelling, and is much more likely to result in scarring and can also cause serious damage to the eyes. Monash University Professor Alan Petersen notes that IPL is “largely responsible for injury and unsuccessful tattoo removal.” Nadia Maqiq from Victorian Cosmetic Dermal Clinics agrees, “IPL is very unhealthy for the skin because it is not a precisely targeted wavelength of light.”
Many IPL machines sell for less than $10,000, whereas a Q-switched laser machine costs upwards of $100,000. Q-switched lasers are lasers that shoot in short bursts in order to maximise intensity. The light they produce is monochromatic, so it is strictly one wavelength, rather than a broad spectrum like IPL. This means that the wavelength can be tuned specifically to target certain colours in a tattoo, thus minimising damage to the surrounding skin. The safest method of tattoo removal is that which uses a Q-switched laser that employs an Nd-YAG crystal. These lasers have adverse reactions in an extremely rare amount of cases and damage is much less likely to be permanent.
Frequently asked questions about laser tattoo removal
How much will a laser tattoo removal cost?
The cost of treatment varies depending on the size of the area to be treated and the number of treatments required (see below).
How many treatments do I need and how long will it take?
The answer to this question depends completely upon the size of your tattoo, the variety of inks used, and other factors such as your immune system and skin’s response to the treatment. Many people think all tattoos are equally easy to remove, but some colours are more difficult to remove, such as purple, lilac, aqua or yellow. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 47% of tattoos require up to 10 sessions to be completely removed with a Q-switched laser and 26% require more than 15 sessions. This could result in the overall process taking a few months before the tattoo is completely faded.
The removal process will be hampered if the patient has tattoo colours other than black and red, has a tattoo larger than 30 square centimetres or has a tattoo on their feet or legs more than three years old. In addition, the immune system of the patient also affects the time required. Interestingly, smoking actually reduces the chances of successful tattoo removal by an astounding 70%.
Does laser tattoo removal hurt?
Laser tattoo removal can cause slight discomfort, but not serious pain. Some patients opt for a skin numbing cream prior to treatment just to take away any uneasiness.
Does tattoo removal cause scarring?
As noted earlier in this piece, a laser tattoo removal treatment with a well-trained professional operating a high quality machine will not cause scarring. However, the process of getting the tattoo may have left scars, which become more visible subsequent to the tattoo removal process.
How can previous scarring be faded?
Many treatments can fade old scars, such as microdermabrasion or skin needling. Our cosmetic nurses can also recommend best practices in terms of skincare to also aid the healing process.
Do you still have any more questions about tattoo removal?
Get in touch and book a consultation with one of our professional cosmetic nurses. They can take a look at you specific situation and guide you on the safest and most effective course of treatment for your tattoo removal journey.