Tattoos are a pretty common sight these days, especially on those under 30. In fact, recent statistics show that in the 20-29 age bracket, 22% of Australian men and 29% of Australian women have at least one tattoo.
But not everyone is happy with their choice and tattoo regret is common, with as many as a third of this group wishing they could make it disappear. The good news is that, thanks to laser tattoo removal, it is now possible to safely remove unwanted tattoos. The bad news is, the spike in demand has led to many unsafe and inexperienced operators performing the procedure – and when used incorrectly, lasers can cause burns and permanent scars.
If you are considering tattoo removal, it’s important to educate yourself, know the facts and do your research before choosing a provider. To get the best results, you need to understand which is the best laser for tattoo removal, what you should look for in a clinic, and how the procedure works.
Which is the Best Laser for Tattoo Removal?
The tattoo removal industry is unregulated in Victoria, which means that anyone can buy a laser machine, set up shop and start removing tattoos. This has resulted in lots of different lasers being used for tattoo removal, and many are not suited to the job.
The Q-switched laser is the industry standard machine of choice, but because they are expensive, unfortunately many tattoo removers are buying and using cheap and inferior versions of the Q-switched laser, or in some cases IPL lasers. When it comes to lasers, you get what you pay for. Quality Q-switched lasers cost around $150,000, while you can get yourself an IPL laser for between $10,000 and $15,000.
The quality of the machine and its suitability to the job has a big impact on the success of the removal, the pain experienced and the chance of any permanent damage to the skin. The wavelength of Q-switched lasers is well-suited to tattoo removal as they function in nanoseconds, but IPL lasers function in milliseconds, making the wavelength on them too broad.
Dr Philip Bekhor, Director of the Laser Unit at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital, has seen firsthand the damage an IPL laser can cause, as he explained in a recent Choice article. “They’re marketed as an all-purpose machine, including tattoo removal, but shouldn’t be used for that purpose. They often cause distorting of the tattoo and horrific burns and scars.”
The Benefits of Q-Switched Laser Treatment
Many unskilled practitioners and beauticians are now using IPL lasers for their tattoo removal service, and unless you know how differently these two lasers work, it might not seem like a big deal. But the difference is huge – IPL lasers shoot out blocks of light that measure around two by six centimetres, compared to the much more precise five to eight millimetre pinpricks of Q-switched lasers.
The Q-switched lasers work by gradually breaking up the ink of the unwanted tattoo into minute particles that are small enough for the body’s immune system to break down and dispose of. The wavelengths are adjusted for each treatment accordingly, depending on the colour and location of the tattoo and the skin type.
Removal is performed gradually during multiple sessions and the number of treatments required varies. Smaller tattoos with blank ink are removed in fewer sessions than larger coloured ones which can take up to 15 sessions to remove.
Choose Your Clinic Wisely
The key things to look for in a tattoo removal clinic is a quality laser and a qualified and experience practitioner. When weighing up your options, exclude any clinics that don’t use Q-switched lasers – the results will be disappointing and the risk of permanent scarring is high. Check the qualifications of the person performing the laser removal and enquire about their experience.
Quality operators should offer a free, no-obligation consultation to assess your tattoo and go through the process in detail. From this meeting they should be able to provide you with an estimate on the number of sessions required to successfully remove your tattoo, and of the cost involved to do so. Be wary of overly optimistic estimates – because once you begin treatment, if the removal is not complete within the sessions you expected, you can be up for a lot more than you planned for.