Frequently Asked Questions

Laser Tattoo Removal

Lasers have been used for tattoo removal for more than 20 years and we have used Q-switched ruby lasers since 2010. The ruby laser is the acknowledged laser of choice for tattoo 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 our Q -switched lasers are different to other lasers used for tattoo removal?

Q-switched lasers produce 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 which are then targeted by the body’s own immune system and removed. Because the energy is selectively absorbed by the tattoo pigment, surrounding tissue is 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 are designed to target melanin in hair follicles for hair removal and differ from tattoo removal lasers such as our Q-switched lasers. The energy from these other lasers 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 which is not the case with our lasers. More energy in the skin equates to skin damage and an increased risk of scarring. Unlike the ruby lasers 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 remove 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 where as professional tattoos usually take a higher number of treatments.

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 6-10, 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 on the size of the tattoo. The bigger the area the more time it will take to treat meaning higher the charge. Again, until we see the tattoo we cannot measure the area or give an accurate quote.

Do all tattoos respond to treatment?

Unfortunately not. Most pigments, especially blacks and blues do respond very well to the ruby laser, with reds and yellows 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 technician during your consultation whether there is likely to be a problem in removing a certain colour. Where there is any doubt, a test patch will be required to determine the likelihood of successful treatment, as it is better to find out about potential problems before the whole tattoo has been treated and a large sum of money has already been spent.

How long does the treatment take?

This depends on the size of the tattoo. A small tattooed area can take anywhere between 5-10 minutes, where as a larger area will take longer. The maximum amount of time a person can be lasered for during 1 sitting is 30 minutes, which means larger tattoos covering a bigger area may require 2 or more sessions to complete.

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 being flicked against the skin. We can offer any advice on pain relief during your consultation. We also sell ‘super numb‘ in our clinic which is a specially formulated topical anaesthetic cream that numbs the skin for a pain free procedure and is advised for anyone with a low pain threshold. Our ‘super numb‘ cream is highly rated amongst our clients.

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 and extra care is always taken during treatments to avoid any 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 5 to 6 weeks.

The highest-risk side effect is skin depigmentation (loss of natural skin colour), this is because the ruby laser targets dark pigments and 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 have treated millions of tattoos safely. The ruby laser is a powerful laser with high energy to remove tattoo pigment from the skin but there is no linkage with any skin disorders or any increased risk of cancer. All treatments are carried out by our fully qualified technicians with extra care to see that everything is safe and that the client is happy.

 

 

 

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