Tattoo Reduction & Removal

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Tattoos are inks, dyes or pigments suspended in the dermis of the skin. They remain suspended in the skin because the ink particles are too large for skin macrophages to them take away. Lasers work by shattering the ink particles into smaller particles thereby allowing the macrophages to do their job. The best lasers for tattoo removal are the Q Switch YAG and more recently the picosecond laser. The Q Switch Ruby can also be used but can be a bit more destructive to skin tissue. Other methods for removing tattoos include surgery and topical acids but these usually do not give a positive aesthetic result.

The success of tattoo removal depends on several factors including skin type, the density and colour of the ink used and after care. Generally, black tattoos are easier to remove than coloured tattoos. Blues, greens and purples are more stubborn as are reds, yellows and orange. This is because the currently available lasers are absorbed best into black colour. As a general rule it takes several treatments to fade a tattoo. For black tattoos expect between 4 and 10 treatments. The interval between treatments is 8 to 12 weeks. So think in terms of a year for removal. Coloured tattoos will take much longer to fade and sometimes not at all. ‘Does the treatment hurt’? Yes it does. It feels like a very hot electric shock.

Cooling of the skin with ice or cold air can alleviate the discomfort and for smaller tattoos a local anaesthetic injection ( eg xylocaine ) will give total pain relief. Topical anaesthetics are not that effective.

‘Will it scar’? If treated at the correct settings there should be zero to minimal skin changes. After-care is also important to avoid post treatment infection and scarring.

Finally, tattoo removal should be carried out by a skilled and licensed medical doctor.

by Dr Mandy Hu