Tattoos no longer have to be permanent. Intense, fast-pulse Q-switched lasers can remove or significantly lighten a tattoo by training pulsing light on the tattoo’s ink particles, which convert the energy to heat and break up into tiny pieces that are absorbed harmlessly by the body, without any damage to surrounding tissue. Ideal candidates for laser tattoo removal are typically fair-skinned, and have tattoos that are on areas, such as the arms, legs, buttocks or chest, that have a greater concentration of body fat. Prior to laser, techniques for removing tattoos included dermabrasion, cryosurgery and surgical excision.
THE LASER TATTOO REMOVAL PROCEDURE
A few hours before the laser tattoo removal procedure begins, it is recommended that acetaminophen be taken to help minimize discomfort. Just before the procedure begins, the patient is given a shield to protect his or her eyes from the laser. A topical anesthetic is applied to the skin; in some instances, a cooling system is used before, during and after the procedure to help with discomfort. The tattoo removal specialist then tests the skin’s response to the laser to determine the most effective approach, and intense nanosecond pulses are sent from the Q-switched laser to the skin.
Each laser tattoo removal session lasts only a few minutes and, at the end of each session, the tattoo is iced for about 30 minutes. A topical antibiotic and a bandage are then applied. Patients are advised to keep the skin around the tattooed area dry, and to treat it as if it were sunburned.
RESULTS AND RISKS OF LASER TATTOO REMOVAL
Depending on the complexity of the tattoo, removal results vary. Simple tattoos may be eliminated within four treatment sessions, while more complicated tattoos might require ten or more. Although they rarely occur, there are certain side effects associated with laser tattoo removal. They include hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, infection and permanent scarring.