Tattoo Removal Options and What to Consider When Choosing

There are many tattoo removal options, but some are safer and more effective than others. Tattoos used to be considered permanent. You were told to make the decision carefully because you would have it for the rest of your life. And, that is still somewhat true today.

Since they were intended to last forever, they can be difficult to remove. However, improvements in technology and equipment have made it possible.

While your skin will likely never look like it did before, there are processes that have minimal risk of side effects such as scarring or discoloration.

When making your decision there are several factors to consider such as skin type, cost, and size, color, or location of your tattoo.

It is important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each  method so you can remove your tattoo without causing serious damage to your skin. 

DIY Tattoo Removal Creams
Some tattoo removal procedures can be quite costly, so these over-the-counter creams may seem like an inexpensive place to start. However, they are usually more effective at fading the tattoo, rather than removing it completely. It can take a long time before you see any results. In many cases, they don't work at all. Also, most of these products contain dangerous chemicals that can cause burning, scarring, or discoloration of your skin. While they may be inexpensive, they are also typically ineffective, so you will likely be wasting your money.

Chemical Peels
Although this method is often suggested, chemical peels will never completely remove a tattoo. You may notice some significant fading, but the markings will still remain. Tattoo ink is injected quite deeply into the skin, and chemicals peels do not penetrate through enough layers to reach all this ink. Also, the harsh chemicals used in the peels can often cause scarring and discoloration.

This is a procedure that involves sanding off or removing the top layers of skin. Generally, a local anaesthetic is given, and the skin over the tattoo is scraped away, taking the ink with it. Again, since tattoos can be quite deep, it is difficult to completely remove them using dermabrasion. Multiple sessions are required, with several weeks needed between each treatment to allow for healing. This method can be painful, and there is some risk of infection. Since dermabrasion can be very aggressive,  scarring is usually expected.

Sometimes, doctors will recommend surgically removing your tattoo. Results are immediate, tattoos can be removed completely, and recovery is quick. Since it leaves a scar, this method is usually reserved for smaller tattoos. It is not the best solution for large tattoos.

Laser Removal

Lasers are the most common, most popular, and most effective means of removing tattoos. Pulses of high intensity light/energy beams penetrate the skin and shatter the ink into tiny particles. These fragments are then removed through your body's natural processes. The tattoo will slowly fade over the course of several sessions.

Laser tattoo removal is a safe procedure with minimal risk of scarring or other damage to the skin. Results will vary depending on your skin type, as well as the size and color(s) of the tattoo. Various ink colors react differently to treatments. Some colors are more difficult to remove than others. 

Currently, the two main types of laser tattoo removal are:

  • Q-Switched Lasers
  • PicoSure Lasers

Q-Switched: These lasers have been used for decades with very successful results. They are still considered by many professionals to be the most effective tattoo removal method. There is little risk of scarring or other side effects, especially if used by a properly trained and skilled technician. Newer Q-switched lasers now have multiple wavelengths to target a wide range of colors. 

PicoSure: These lasers are a more, and some people believe that they are able to deliver superior results. However, many doctors and clinicians claim that this is a matter of opinion. PicoSure can be very effective when removing black tattoos and, in some cases, fewer sessions may be necessary. Risk of scarring and other side effects is very low

So, which type of laser tattoo removal is better? 

First, both Q-Switched and PicoSure do the same thing – break down the ink into small particles that can be absorbed and then removed by the body. How they make this happen is a little different. Q-Switched delivers energy bursts in non-seconds, while PicoSure delivers them in Pico-seconds, which  are faster. Q-Switched uses photothermal heat, while PicoSure uses photomechanical pressure waves.

Advertisements claim that since PicoSure does not use heat, there is a reduced risk of scarring. They also imply that since delivery is faster (in pico-seconds), less sessions are required. However, neither of these advantages have been proven. Doctors and technicians have offered pros and cons to both methods. Sometimes, it may be a matter of personal preference. 

Bottom line, both Q-Switched and PicoSure can be very effective; but, there are certain circumstances where Q-switched is preferred:

  • If  the tattoo being removed has a lot of color, especially reds. Different colors require different wavelengths in order to be broken down. PicoSure lasers work well on black tattoos, but are weaker when it comes to removing tattoos with colors. In fact, they cannot remove reds at all. Q-Switched lasers have multiple wavelengths to target a wide spectrum of colors.
  • If hypopigmentation is a concern. PicoSure lasers lighten the skin more than Q-Switched lasers, so if you have darker skin, or if the tattoo is located in an area where discoloration will be obvious, then Q-Switched is the better option.
  • If cost is a factor. PicoSure treatments will cost anywhere from 2-4 times more per session than Q-Switched laser treatments. There have been claims that you will require less session with PicoSure due to the faster technology, however, this is not usually the case. The session times may be shorter, but the number of treatments needed to completely remove the tattoo is often the same with both methods. 
  • If location is important. Since it is a newer technology, it is much more difficult to find a location that offers PicoSure laser treatments. Tattoo removal requires several sessions, so the time and cost of travel are a consideration. 

Although both of these laser treatments are highly rated options, in most cases, Q-Switched is the best choice. It is good for almost all skin types, will effectively remove tattoos of any size or color, and is much more affordable that PicoSure. 

Some claim that PicoSure is less painful, has a lower risk of scarring, and a shorter healing time. However, many doctors and clinicians believe that this can be attributed more to technique than the actual type of laser. If the procedure is done by a highly skilled and trained technician in a licenced professional clinic, Q-Switched laser should not be more painful or require a longer healing time. In fact, it is one of the safest, effective, and most proven means of tattoo removal available today.

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