Permanent body art, otherwise known as tattooing, is an ancient practice dating back to the bronze and stone ages. In 1991, a study revealed that between nine and eleven percent of adult American men had tattoos; over half of them regretted their body art and said they would have it removed if possible. According to a study conducted in 2003, the number of American adults with tattoos had increased to sixteen percent! Despite the prevalence of regrets, tattooing continues to increase in popularity, as it is practiced frequently by entertainers, athletes, and other celebrities who serve as role models for teens and young adults.
It is much easier to get a tattoo than it is to get rid of one. Most non-laser removal techniques have disadvantages such as scarring, incomplete removal, or non-selective destruction of tissue. Older techniques often involved caustic chemicals, which destroyed the ink as well as the skin. Such methods are associated with color change, scarring, and they are rarely used today.
Slight improvements in removal techniques have included treatment utilizing an infrared coagulator, electrocoagulation, dermabrasion, cryosurgery, and salabrasion (abrasion with salt). Such techniques can cause scarring, and patients often complain that the result of treatment looks worse than the original tattoo did. Tattoos have also been removed using conventional surgery, but this method can only be used for very small ones, as the results are unsatisfactory with larger ones.
MedLite Q-Switched Neodymium-YAG Laser revolutionized tattoo removal when it was introduced in 1991. It is a long wavelength laser device, which allows the energy to be absorbed by ink deep within the skin, and minimal impact of the melanin, minimizing the risk of skin color changing. The earliest studies of this technology yielded excellent results in treating professional or amateur tattoos done in black or dark blue ink. This device also emits green (532nm) light, which is very effective for orange or red ink.
Professional tattoo will require multiple treatments, which are performed on the same day. We have found that this technique more rapidly clears the tattoo with fewer treatments. For amateur tattoos, the same process is generally the same. Often, complete elimination (or at least 95 percent removal) will be achieved. However, some new types of ink are more durable, and may be less responsive or non-responsive to laser energy. On rare occasions, usually in darker skinned patients, there may be a lightening of the skin in the shape of the tattoo (ghosting). If this does occur, it usually is temporary. The discomfort associated with laser treatment is comparable with that of receiving a tattoo, and anesthetic is usually not needed. However, topical anesthetic cream is available by prescription if you wish. Currently, the Nd:YAG is the premier solution for tattoo removal. However, unfortunately it is less effective on specific colors of ink, most notably greens.
Laser treatment is not reserved for cosmetic tattoos. Your skin can be discolored when foreign particles penetrate the skin, which is called traumatic tattooing. This often happens with road rash or falls, and it can be treated with the Nd:YAG laser. It can also be used for permanent cosmetics such as eyeliner or lip liner, which are actually tattoos.
Simply stated, the laser treatment available at California Skin & Laser Center is an excellent option for tattoo removal, which results in little to no scarring. It has clear advantages as compared to older alternative techniques, and currently it is considered the premier solution for removal of blue or black tattoos. We also offer laser vein removal and laser hair removal.