Your Best Friends in Laser Tattoo Removal: Q-switched Yag and Alexandrite

Do you want to shrink your ink?

Whatever your reason for getting the tattoo, it probably falls into the category of “seemed like a good idea at the time”. We’ve all been there in some way or another, you’re not alone. You got inked and now you want it gone.

Luckily, modern advancements in laser technology have made it possible to safely and effectively remove permanent ink from the skin.

Armed with this new technology and under the care of a qualified professional, there is much less chance for unsightly scarring and pigmentation changes from tattoo removal than there was with past methods.

If you got penned by a friend, you may be in luck because amateur ink is generally placed more superficially in the skin, making it easier to remove. Professional tattoo artists, on the other hand deposit the pigments deep within the dermis, making removal a more complex and potentially problematic process. The type of ink and color spectrum also ranges from amateur to professional, making the removal process more or less complex.

The gold-standard laser used for laser tattoo removal today is called a Q-switched laser. In order to target the different color pigments in a tattoo, the selection of the appropriate Q-switched laser must be determined. Here we will discuss the Alexandrite and the Yag lasers.

The Q-switched Yag laser has been the preferred laser of choice and really the “gold standard” in laser tattoo removal since laser tattoo removal came on the scene. It is the only laser suitable for all skin types and dark skin in particular, as the light it creates is not absorbed by the melanin (skin pigment) and therefore less likely to result in hypo or hyper-pigmentation.

Unlike other lasers, the Yag overcomes the issue of excessive melanin absorption, targeting the ink and not the melanin. It is used to effectively remove all ink colors, but particularly targets darker inks like blue, black or red pigments in all tones.The Yag laser will be used at each of your tattoo removal appointments, if you have color in your tattoo a dye handpiece will also be used at some point during your treatments to target each specific color.

The Q-switched Alexandrite laser is also used for tattoo removal, but less frequently. The Alexandrite or “Alex” laser can only safely treat skin types I-IV so this excludes darker skin types from being treated with this laser without serious risk of burns, hyperpigmentation and even scarring. The Alex laser creates a red light that is absorbed well by green and dark ink pigments. Similarly to the Yag it will be necessary to use dye hand pieces to treat colors.

Most Q-switched, both Yag and Alexandrite lasers deliver laser energy in nanoseconds, however there is new Alexandrite laser on the market that delivers energy in picoseconds. A nanosecond is equal to one billionth of a second. Wikipedia further defines a nanosecond by saying “one nanosecond is to one second as one second is to 31.7 years.” Now that’s fast!

Conversely, a picosecond is one trillionth of a second. The theory is the faster the energy is delivered it breaks the tattoo ink up into smaller particles making it easier for the body to filter it away. There is not enough clinical data available to show that a picosecond delivery versus a nanosecond delivery really makes that big of a difference. At best it could save you a couple of sessions, but this too is not clear at this point.

A medical professional will be able to determine which laser or handpieces combination are needed to effectively remove your tattoo. They will take into account several factors including your skins natural pigment and the pigments in the ink. Dark blue and black inks respond really well to laser treatments, lighter pigments like white, reds and pinks can be harder to remove.

Q-switched lasers work by delivering energy at such a rapid speed that it breaks or splits the ink up into tiny particles. Your bodies filtration system (or immune system) then comes in to carry off the debris.

As with any cosmetic procedure, laser treatment is not without risks and potential side effects. The potential side effects include hypo or hyper-pigmentation, darkening of the tattoo (caused by changes in the chemical composition of certain inks), blistering, allergic reactions and scarring. The likelihood of of experiencing any of these things is a variable. Blistering can be a normal part of the laser tattoo removal process and in most cases should not leave you with a scar.

However, it is imperative to seek treatment from an experienced provider that will supply you with aftercare instructions and care should you experience a complication. They should also thoroughly explain the numerous factors that influence the outcome of treatments and they will help you to set realistic goals and avoid unwanted side effects.

You needn’t have to live with a constant reminder of impaired judgement from your past. With a little help from a laser, you may be able to restore your skin to a blank canvas, or at least a minimalist painting.

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