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Tattoo Removal Q&A

Why is a Tattoo removal so difficult?

A tattoo results when the skin is punctured and pigment inserted into the lower layer of skin. The body's own defence mechanism reacts to this 'injury' but is unable to cast out the larger particles of pigment. Before the development of laser therapy, the only alternatives available to people seeking to have their tattoos removed were surgical excision, skin grafts and the use of salt, acid and other chemical abrasives.

Not only do these techniques cause considerable discomfort, they usually require a lengthy period of after-care and will typically replace the original tattoo with a scar.

How does the Q-Switched Ruby Laser work?

By firing a beam of light through the skin in extremely short pulses. The light is absorbed by the tattoo ink creating a reaction which breaks it down into very tiny particles. This allows the body's defence mechanisms to take over and gradually remove the pigment over a period of time.

Because each pulse is so short (typically 25 billionths of a second) and is targeted directly onto the pigment, there is normally no lasting damage to the skin or surrounding tissue. The whole procedure is repeated several times, usually at four to six weekly intervals, so allowing time for the body to remove as much pigment as possible.

Can a Tattoo be removed with just one treatment?

Only in rare cases - for example, with an amateur (self-inflicted) tattoo where there is only a fine layer of blue/black pigment lying just beneath the skin's surface. With most tattoos, this is the exception rather than the rule.

How many treatments are required to remove the average Tattoo?

Due to the many variations in size, colour and type, there is no such thing as an average tattoo. The number of treatments required will also depend on the body's own defence mechanism and how effective it is. As a guide, most Indian ink amateur tattoos should respond with between one and eight treatments. Coloured professional tattoos can take longer, sometimes between eight and fifteen treatments.

What are the costs likely to be?

The actual cost of a single treatment will depend on several factors such as the size of the tattoo and the number of pulses required to treat it. Most tattoos are irregular in shape and the pigmented area cannot readily be converted and rounded up to square inches or centimetres. Without first examining the tattoo it is impossible to give an average guide to cost.

The total cost will depend on the number of treatments required. This is determined by the physical make-up of the tattoo, which not only varies enormously from person to person, but can also vary as the course of treatment progresses. It is therefore impossible to predict the number of treatments required and it would be misleading to quote examples of total cost which are based merely on assumptions?

Do all Tattoos respond to treatment?

Yes, in the majority of cases, although it is impossible to give an absolute guarantee as some pigments can resist treatment. Dark blues and blacks are generally the first to respond and usually all the pigment will be removed. Bright colours, especially greens are less predictable, they may take longer to fade, and in some cases may not go entirely. Some red, white and flesh coloured inks have been known to turn black in the early stages but this is rare. People who have experienced any allergic reactions to their tattoo(s) in the past should inform the therapist as this may be relevant to their laser treatment.

How long does the treatment take and does it hurt?

A typical treatment session can last anything between five minutes to an hour depending on the size and number of tattoos the client wishes to have removed. The treatment stings and may cause some minor discomfort which will start to subside when the session is over.

Are there any after effects following treatment?

Some clients may blister. This is quite normal and does not indicate potential scarring. Rarely is any specific treatment required and it will usually clear within a few days. A dry dressing may be applied to avoid contact with clothes, etc. When bathing or showering, the area should be patted dry and not rubbed. If blistering occurs, prolonged immersion in water, e.g. swimming should be avoided.

During the period over which the tattoo is being removed, the treated area should be protected from strong sunlight or sunbeds by means of a reputable sun-block cream or by covering the tattoo.

Doesn't the Laser Treatment scar?

It depends on the type of laser used. In the past, certain types of carbon dioxide and argon lasers have been used to remove tattoos. Many of these induced localised burning of the tissue and caused unsightly scars which were cosmetically unacceptable.

However, scientific research initiated in Glasgow in 1980 by Strathclyde University and the Canniesburn Hospital, has led to the development of a new generation of lasers. The most proven of which is the Q-switched Ruby. This laser, which neither burns nor cuts the skin's surface, has been used extensively in medical practice for a number of years.

Are there alternatives to the Q-Switched Ruby Laser?

Yes, the Q-switched Nd:Yag laser and the Alexandrite, however neither of these two lasers have been in use long enough to achieve the proven track record of the Q-switched Ruby laser which, over the past 20 years has been extremely well documented in several leading American and British medical journals. Although the Q-switched version of the Nd:Yag is effective in the treatment of certain coloured tattoos and of patients with dark skin, its deeper penetration can sometimes cause more surface damage. In some patients, this may result in a permanent 'frosted' appearance over the treated area.

Will the skin be normal when the treatment has finished?

During treatment with the Q-switched Ruby laser, it is quite normal for the tattoo area to become paler and any freckles may disappear. This is because the laser is also effective at removing natural skin pigment. Once all the treatments have been completed, the pigment should slowly return, usually within six to twelve months.

However sometimes there may be some permanent loss of natural pigment and the area may remain pale. If this does occur, continued protection from strong sunlight and sunbeds is recommended. A tattooed area which is particularly hairy, should be shaved prior to treatment. The hair should grow back normally but in some cases may be slower than expected.




 

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