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The tattoo industry is thriving with 25% of Americans flaunting at least one tattoo. The skin serves as a popular canvas for the full expression of an individual’s artistic side, inspired by a past love, a new child or a re-creation of something aesthetic.
While tattoo placement is at an all-time high, what happens to the person with the regrettable tattoo with faded ink or wrinkling of the underlying skin, or simply no longer serves as a form of inspiration?
The antiquated methods used many years ago for tattoo removal included inducing a blister over the tattoo with topical chemical irritants, abrading the tattoo with mechanical abrasion or simply excising the tattoo. All of these methods posed a high risk of unacceptable skin complications and often times the tattoo was replaced by a fibrotic scar.
With the advent of q switched nano second pulsed laser technology the tattoo can be effectively fragmented with wavelength specific laser absorbed by the tattoo pigment. This technology has given us the capability of removing tattoos with a more precise and skin friendly method. With that said, tattoo removal can still be difficult in selective patients with different colored ink, or if there is layering of tattoos.
So if you are looking to clear away a tattoo to make room for another, here are some important points to remember:
Tattoo removal can be achieved with a q switched laser such as Revlite (Cynosure, Westford, MA) which is the industry standard. Any pulse that is longer than the nano second wavelength will not allow for the ink to be fragmented and subjects the skin to greater thermal issues.
2. Skin Type
A q switched laser has to traverse the epithelium to reach the ink in the dermis. So when tattoo removal is considered on darker skinned individuals, the Nd:YAG laser is typically used and it may be difficult to remove colors such as red/yellow/green, however dark inked tattoos can still be removed. The lighter the skin type, the more energy and varying wavelengths can be used.
The small fragments of ink created by the Revlite Q switched laser are immediately engulfed by specialized cells (keratinocytes, fibroblasts and macrophages) and carted off by the blood to the lymph nodes. Tattoos placed in areas with higher regional lymph nodes and vascular supply will be more amenable to treatment, such as the head and neck location. Tattoos on the distal extremities (hands and feet) are further away from the regional lymph nodes and therefore require more treatments.
By far the easiest color to remove is black! Amateur tattoos are easier to remove than professional tattoos because amateur tattoos use elemental carbon particles like cigarette ash, pencil, graphite or India Ink whereas professional tattoos use organic dyes mixed with metallic elements. Black color typically has smaller sized particles and are easier to remove.
5. Amount of Ink
The more ink, the more treatments. Also if there is layering of tattoos, this too may take more time to clear as well as the condition of the underlying skin. If there is scarring at the site, removal becomes more challenging because the ink can be trapped within the dermal fibrosis.
Typically it will take multiple treatments spaced 6-8 weeks apart for the removal of a tattoo, so choose your tattoo colors and creation wisely and place an even greater importance on the laser technology and professional who removes it.