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Advanced Facial Aesthetics
by Professional Doctors

Laser Tattoo Removal

"I have had my old tattoo removed at Dermaskin and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it was removed by laser. "  Sylvester - Cardiff 2013

Professional tattoos involve the injection of pigmented inks into the deep layers of skin (also known as the dermis). Once injected the skin will form protective layers of collagen around these inks that prevent removal by the body. This also means that any external method of removal is very difficult and can cause damage to the adjacent tissues.

Q-switch NdYAG Laser Tattoo Removal

Laser Tattoo Removal

There are a variety of reasons why people decide to have a tattoo and although at that time they have decided a permanent inking will always be right for them unfortunately sometimes circumstances change and the tattoo is no longer wanted. Until recently the methods of removal involved surgical excision and skin grafting, dermabrasion or the injection of acids and salts to physically remove the tattoo or try to bleach the pigment. All these methods resulted in scarring and unsatisfactory results.

It is important to remember that tattoo’s are designed to be permanent. As such their removal is not straight forward and will require investment both in time and money. There is no magic wand that can be waved to rid you of that permanent fixture and in some cases even after several treatments it may not be possible to remove the tattoo completely.

What is Laser Tattoo Removal and how does it work

The term LASER originated as an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. In other words a Laser is a device that emits a high energy beam of light of any spectrum (visible, infra-red, UV etc). The use of lasers for medical procedures developed in the 1960s as cutting tools but since then has developed a wide range of uses from skin treatments & hair removal to vision correction.

The laser light wavelength used can be varied so it will be absorbed by a certain pigment colour in the ink. Ideally the laser should be Q-switched which delivers very short pulses of light. This causes the pigment to breakdown and then it can be removed by the body. As the pulse is very short it stops diffusion of the energy to the surrounding tissue thus limiting damage to the adjacent tissues.  Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) lasers, such as those used for hair removal, should not be used for tattoo removal as they use a much broader spectrum of light lengths and energy and therefore often cause damage to the adjacent tissue resulting in scarring.

Can all tattoos be removed with lasers

This is dependent on the colours of pigment used. The easiest to remove are black/blue pigments and are normally virtually completely removed in 5-10 sessions. Red colours often take a little longer. White and UV pigments cannot be removed as they don’t absorb any wavelength of light. Yellows and greens can be very difficult to remove and therefore if this is a large amount of the colour in your tattoo you may need a patch-test but several repetitions would be required to see if would respond to treatment.

It is important to remember that it is impossible to guarantee complete resolution of your tattoo. If you have a realistic expectation that ultimately your tattoo may be vastly reduced in intensity of appearance but it may not be completely gone then you are more likely to be satisfied with the result. Many of our clients are happy to accept this possible outcome if it means they are able to cover the tattoo with make-up for special occasions.

Semi-permanent pigments (ie. In semi-permanent makeup) and UV pigments are not suitable for laser removal. They can often turn black due to the types of iron-oxide compounds used and will often remain in-situ in their discoloured form.

What will happen when I come for my treatment

Initially you will have a full consultation to assess your tattoo. You will be given an indication of the likely outcome of treatment, the number of sessions required and the price. If you are happy to go ahead then it is imperative that you have not had exposure to large amounts of UV in the last 6 weeks, for instance sunbathing or sunbeds. You will then be asked to apply sunblock to your tattoo daily for at least 2 weeks prior to treatment and throughout your treatment time.

At each session the tattoo will be cleaned and if required an anaesthetic cream will be applied. The whole tattoo will be treated with the laser at the required wavelength for the colour. Even with anaesthetic cream it is important to understand the procedure can be quite uncomfortable. The skin will become red and inflammed and there may be a small amount of bleeding. Once the treatment is complete the area will be dressed and you will be given instructions on how to care for the area.

What happens after treatment

The area will scab-over after a couple of days but it can take up to 3 weeks for the area to heal completely. It is important not to interfere with the healing process at all and let the scabs fall off naturally. If you have any small blisters these should be left to resolve naturally and under no circumstances should be burst as this can lead to infection and scarring. We recommend taking anti-inflammatories to minimise inflammation and reduce any discomfort.

How often can I have treatments carried out

We recommend a minimum of 4 weeks between treatments, this allows the body ample time to dissipate the freed pigment and also allows the skin to heal. As the tattoo fades this interval should be lengthened to 6-8 weeks between sessions to minimise any chance of pigment loss in the skin or scaring.

How many treatment sessions will it take to get rid of my tattoo

Firstly, anyone undergoing treatment must bear in mind it is impossible to guarantee complete dissolution of the tattoo regardless of the number of treatment sessions. The average tattoo takes between 5-10 sessions to remove at least 70% of the tattoo. If any part of the tattoo remains after 20 sessions it is normally accepted that that part is unremovable and further treatment is not advisable.

There are certain factors that make it more difficult to remove the tattoo: 1) colour – green,white, yellow 2) location – the further from the heart the harder to remove 3) thickness of skin – fleshy areas respond better e.g. arm, leg, torso than thin areas e.g. foot, wrist, hand 4) professional tattoos are much harder to remove than amateur tattoos 5) multi-layered tattoos (i.e. tattoos placed over existing tattoos) are very difficult to remove. Depending on the number of risk factors you have the more sessions you will need and the higher the likelihood that the tattoo cannot be completely removed.

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