Many years ago, the only options for tattoo removal were surgical removal of the affected layer of skin or dermabrasion. Today, the most common way to remove tattoos is with a laser. The Q-switched (quality-switched) lasers deliver ultra short laser pulses to the targeted pigments in the tattoo ink. The laser energy produces a photo acoustic effect: the intense heat causes the granules of ink to shatter, breaking the walls of the skin cells holding the ink. The body then sends special scavenger cells to carry away the debris.
Laser removal of a tattoo is a long, costly and painful process. A single treatment session lasts from 15 to 30 minutes and is repeated about every two months. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates many amateur tattoos can be removed in three to six sessions. Professional tattoos (which often contain more then one color) may take six to 10 sessions. Side effects of the laser treatment can include scarring and loss of natural pigmentation.
Some tattoos are very difficult to remove, despite many treatments. Black, dark blue and red respond best to the laser treatment. However, Dermatologist/Cosmetic Laser Surgeon, David Vasily, M.D., says some of the more unusual tattoo colors, like dark green, yellow and aqua-blue are stubbornly resistant to laser treatment. Many of the newer tattoos contain a lot of ink and thus, are more difficult to erase. Sometimes doctors can remove most of the tattoo, but residual ink remains, leaving behind an image of the tattoo or a “stain mark.”
Vasily has developed a tattoo removal approach that combines two technologies – the traditional Q-switched laser and the Palomar Lux1540™ Fractional Laser handpiece. The Lux1540 delivers infrared light to remodel scars (replace the damaged tissue with healthy tissue.). Patients with treatment-resistant tattoos often have a lot of scarring in the affected area of skin – both from the trauma of the original tattoo and the efforts to remove it. Vasily first uses the Lux1540 to reduce the scarring. Then he uses the Q-switched laser to target the remaining ink in the skin.
Vasily says he's had very good success with his combination attack on tattoos. But it still takes a long time to erase the design – often at least two years. He says people who are thinking about getting a tattoo need to consider if they will still want to show it off twenty, thirty or even forty years from now.