Laser Tattoo Removal: What You Need To Know

Laser Tattoo Removal: What You Need To Know


The ink used in tattoos is made from minerals. To understand how tattoo removal works think of the ink as tiny “rocks.”

Traditional lasers used for tattoo removal are called Q-Switches. These nano-second lasers predominantly rely on photothermal action and deliver heat into the pigment and surrounding tissue. With multiple treatments the “rocks” are broken down into smaller and smaller “pebbles.” Often, 11-15 were required to slowly clear the ink and total clearance is rarely possible with this older technology.

A newer technique that many clinics are offering with the Q switch laser is the R-20 method. The R-20 technique consists of several passes with the Q switch laser (usually 4) per visit, with 20 minutes rest between each pass. Each visit can be separated by a few additional weeks than the standard tattoo removal treatment (usually 8 weeks between visits).

Because the R-20 technique makes more passes over the tattoo, there is greater risk of skin damage like bleeding and weeping. Results with the R20 method vary between clinics and depend greatly on the system used and the skill of the technician. A better, more skilled technician will produce better results and cause less damage to the patient.

The newest laser technologies operate at much higher speeds than the old Q Switch lasers. The Picosure laser is the fastest of the new technologies, measured in trillianths of a second. It uses pressure-wave technology that creates an intense mechanical impact that shatters the ink into tiny particles. The “rocks” are not reduced to “pebbles,” but instead become “sand.” These tiny ink particles are easily eliminated from the body. Tattoos are cleared completely in as few as 3-5 treatments, with less fluence, and without injuring the surrounding skin. These higher speed lasers are effective on previously treated tattoos that failed to clear and even stubborn inks can be removed with fewer treatments. Tattoos can be cleared in one third the time as traditional lasers and with less discomfort.

Healing time after a tattoo is treated with the newer laser technology is similar to that of traditional lasers but far fewer treatments are required. Dark colours such as black and dark blue will fade the fastest and may require only 1 to 3 treatments. Other colours fade more slowly and may require 5 (or more) treatments. Red and white will fade much slower than other colours. Overall, skin looks clearer as the pigment diminishes gradually over a period of 6 weeks. Treatment may then be repeated if necessary.

The cost for any tattoo removal is based on the size and colour(s) of the tattoo so laser tattoo removal clinics required an assessment to determine the exact price. Prices may vary somewhat from clinic to clinic but expect to pay a minimum cost per treatment is $200; the maximum will probably not exceed $1000.

The cost for newer technology treatments is higher per square inch of ink than that of traditional lasers, but the total cost to remove the tattoo will be lower because the clearance is so much faster than older technologies that the overall cost is much less.

Picosure laser technology was FDA approved in the U.S. in December 2012 and was approved in Canada in July 2013. As at the date of this writing there are 17 Picosure lasers in the U.S. and only 1 in Canada.