Laser tattoo removal

Tattoo removal with Q-switched lasers

Q-switched lasers are recognised as the only really effective lasers for tattoo removal.

They have the ability to reach deeper layers of skin tissues compared to other, especially older generation, laser technologies.

With new advances in Q-switched laser technology, tattoo removal can be achieved with minimal risk of scarring and permanent pigmentary alteration.

Since many wavelengths are needed to treat multi-coloured tattoos, not one laser system can be used alone to remove all the available inks and combination of inks.

Three types of Q-switched lasers are needed to remove the full spectrum of pigments used in tattoos:

  • Q-switched ruby laser (694 nm) – black, blue and green pigments
  • Q-switched Nd:YAG laser (532 nm, 1064 nm) – red, yellow, orange, black and blue pigments
  • Q-switched alexandrite laser (755 nm) – black, blue and green pigments.

How does it work?

The Q-switched laser produces an intense, focused beam of light into the pigment (colour) used in the tattoo.

It delivers light energy in very short ‘pulse-durations’, and at a specific wavelength for each pigment.

Each pigment absorbs the light energy at the corresponding wavelength produced by the laser, which causes the tattoo pigment particles to shatter into tiny particles.

The pigments are therefore broken down into a size that the body can process and eliminate more quickly.

Removing a multi-coloured tattoo will involve a number of treatment sessions using all three of the Q-switched lasers above.

Can all types of laser treatment remove tattoos?

Non-Q-switched lasers (such as IPLs – Intense Pulsed Light lasers) are unable to deliver the targeted bursts of intense light energy at the wavelength that is absorbed by tattoo pigment.

They are ineffective at destroying the tattoo pigments and may damage the surrounding skin.

Is Q-switched laser treatment suitable for all tattoos?

There are different types of tattoo (for example amateur as well as professional and cosmetic), which may respond more or less effectively to treatment.

It may be that certain pigments used in the tattoo do not respond to any available wavelength. Also, some pigments may simply turn brown or black rather than be removed, and not respond to further treatment.

We will discuss the various factors involved in evaluating the laser removal of tattoos, and the likely outcome, during your consultation for the procedure.

We may also need to do a test patch to find out if a particular pigment will respond to treatment.

Preparing for laser tattoo removal

We recommend that you avoid excessive sun exposure in the few days before the treatment starts.

Is the treatment painful?

Laser tattoo removal can be painful, as with other types of laser treatment.

Before the procedure starts, we numb the area we are treating, either with an anaesthetic cream or by injection with lidocaine. You may need to allow up to 2 hours for the anaesthetic to take effect.

We wipe off the anaesthetic cream just before starting the treatment.

What happens during the procedure?

As well as the anaesthetic, before starting the procedure we may take a photograph of the tattooed area of skin, to monitor progress during the course of treatment.

We can offer you a cold air device to help further minimise discomfort.

As the laser starts to work on the tattoo, you will feel a stinging sensation, often described as like an elastic band flicking sharply against your skin.

Each treatment session can last from 5 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the tattoo we are treating.

At the end of the procedure, we apply an antibacterial ointment to the treated area.

Are there any side effects?

Possible side effects from Q-switched laser tattoo removal are:

  • irritated skin
  • hyperpigmentation
  • hypopigmentation
  • scarring.

Irritated skin – you should expect mild or moderate irritation of the overlying skin for up to a week after treatment, depending on the amount and depth of the pigment removed.

Hyperpigmentation – your skin may appear darker (especially if you already have a darker skin type) in the treated area. While any darker patches should eventually disappear, you can use skin products to conceal uneven skin tones if needed.

Hypopigmentation – your skin may appear paler in the treated area. This is because the laser treatment targets natural skin pigment (melanin) not just the colour in the tattoo inks. Your natural pigmentation may take months or even years return to normal, if it ever does fully. The likelihood of this increases for people with darker skin, and if you need a number of treatment sessions to successfully remove the tattoo.

Scarring is possible but less likely, as the laser does not affect surrounding skin tissue. If scarring does occur, for whatever reason, you may find a silicon scar-reduction gel helpful.

Aftercare

For the week after the treatment session, you should:

  • wash and dry the treated area gently using a mild soap, then apply a soothing moisturiser
  • protect your skin with high factor sunscreen
  • avoid excessive UV exposure
  • avoid strenuous exercise and
  • not drink alcohol.

How many treatment sessions will I need?

The number of sessions you need depends on the type (such as amateur or professional) and the size of the tattoo, as well as the depth and type of the pigment used.

You may need anything from 3 to 20 sessions, at intervals of 8 to 10 weeks, to achieve an acceptable result.

The process could take a year or longer to complete, and even then some trace of the tattoo may remain for some time.


Treatment prices

Q-switched laser tattoo removal
Tattoo areaEach treatment sessionEight treatment sessions
Up to 4cm by 4cm£80Discounts available - please contact us for details.
Up to 6cm by 6cm£100Discounts available - please contact us for details.
Up to 12cm by 8cm£180Discounts available - please contact us for details.
Plus size - larger than 12cm by 8cm£250Discounts available - please contact us for details.

For more information about Q-switched laser tattoo removal, and to book your consultation with one of our specialists, please contact us at Dr MediSpa.