A tattoo is a design applied to the body for decoration. A tattoo is applied by means of a tattoo needle filled with ink, by puncturing the dermis. Professional tattoo artists use a tattoo machine with which the skin is punctured by multiple needles at the same time, 100 times per second, in order to leave the ink in the dermis and create the desired drawing. Although the colours may fade with the years, it is envisaged a tattoo remains on the body for life.
Laser treatment to remove tattoos
About 5% of the people who have a tattoo, choose to have it removed later on. Today, we can successfully remove the ink particles from the dermis through laser treatment.
The laser device produces a very powerful light wave of a specific wavelength which is selectively absorbed by the tattoo ink. The flashes of laser light are purposefully aimed at the ink particles. They penetrate through the epidermis and cause a photo-acoustic (PicoWay) or photo-thermal explosion (TriVantage) in the intended ink particles only. The affected ink particles crush or crumble into many smaller particles which are discharged through the white blood cells. After the laser treatment, the body is actively involved in the removal of the crushed ink particles. This clean-up process takes 1 to 2 months.
The optimal result after one laser treatment can be expected after 1 month approximately. After which, an optional further treatment can be performed. In the case where you wish to achieve faster results for personal reasons, we can consider treatments with shorter intervals. However, this means that you will probably have to endure more treatments.
The number of treatments depends on the colours, the colour density, the depth of the coloration, and the location of the tattoo on the body. It is expected that the majority of tattoos can be removed with 3 to 8 treatments.
Types of laser devices to remove tattoos
At the Cutaneous Laser Centre, we have different types of laser devices to remove tattoos:
- the Candela PicoWay laser, a picoseconds 532 and 1064 nm YAG laser
- the Candela TriVantage laser, a combination of the Q-switched YAG and Alexandrite lasers with three different wavelengths
With these laser devices, we can treat all kinds of tattoos without risk of cicatrisation. Due to the different pulse durations and the different wavelengths, it is possible to treat almost all the colours for both ineptly and professionally applied tattoos.
Is laser treatment for tattoos painful?
- The removal of tattoos by means of laser treatment is usually well tolerated. A mild to moderately pronounced pain is experienced similar to that of a rubber band shot against the skin.
- Although a local anaesthetic is not usually required, it can be considered for patients with a lower pain threshold.
What to expect after the laser treatment?
- After laser treatment for the removal of tattoos, a slight swelling (oedema) can occur and sometimes a blue dyschromia (purpura).
- Sometimes, point-size bleeding, moisture blisters or a certain degree of scab formation may also occur. If you suffer from moisture blisters, you can pierce them with a disinfected needle.
- The risk of scarring is negligible.
- A slight lightening of the texture cannot be ruled out entirely, but is rather rare. If it occurs, it is usually in the case of very dark tattoos.
- After the removal of tattoos by means of laser treatment, a temporary lightening of the surrounding skin colour usually occurs (hypopigmentation). This lightening usually disappears within a few months, provided you are not exposed to UV radiation from the sun or a sunbed during the last month prior to each treatment.
- A permanent depigmentation can never be ruled out, but is usually attributed to recent UV exposure prior to one of the treatments.
Aftercare following the removal of tattoos through laser treatments
- For comfort reasons, it may be recommended to apply Flamigel on the treated zone 1 to 2 x daily after the laser treatment. This gel reduces the risk of contamination in the case of scab formation. You only need to do this for a couple of days, usually.
- Afterwards, it can be useful to apply a moisturising cream for several weeks.
- Rubbing or using soap on the treated zone is advised against during the first few days after the laser treatment.
- When washing the treated zone, it is recommended to only dab the skin lightly with water.
- Maximum sun protection is strongly recommended at least 1 month before and after each laser treatment. Use a sunscreen with a SPF50+ factor. This needs to be reapplied every two hours in the case of prolonged exposure to the sun.
What you also need to know
- Although complete disappearance is possible for the vast majority of tattoos, we can never guarantee this perfectly in advance. The complete removal of certain light colours, including yellow and orange, is difficult to predict. When the surrounding darker part of the design has disappeared, however, the remaining yellow and orange will be less noticeable.
- During treatment, the patient, the physician(s), staff and any attending family have to wear special glasses to protect their eyes from the laser light.
If you have any question about the removal of tattoos by means of laser treatment, do not hesitate to contact us.