Effectiveness of Q-Switched Lasers for Tattoo Removal

Although tattoo removal has come a long way since the days of amputation and dermabrasion, there are some stubborn ink stains that just won't come clean. A recent study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology looked at the safety and efficacy of the 1064-nm Q-switched Nd:YAG laser and found a relatively high clearance rate after multiple treatments for most patients.

Let’s call it like it is: everyone who gets that Tasmanian Devil tattoo thinks their relationship with Taz is going to be life-long. Alas, love can be a fleeting thing, and although they say love is blind, most tattoos remain stubbornly visible long after the newness of the relationship has faded away.

Tattoo removal has been around almost as long as tattoos, of course, but technology now makes the impossible (sort of) possible. In 2013, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) physicians performed just under 100,000 laser- light- or energy-based tattoo removal procedures, a number that grows every year and is likely to continue to grow; reliable estimates reveal that 1 in 5 Americans are all inked up.

All fun aside, tattoo removal is a serious and challenging business. Though tattoo removal has come a long way since the days of amputation and dermabrasion, there are some stubborn ink stains that just won’t come clean. A recent study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology looked at the safety and efficacy of the 1064-nm Q-switched Nd:YAG laser and found a relatively high clearance rate after multiple treatments for most patients.

Different lasers are better for different tattoo colors, so multi-colored tattoos are the most difficult to remove. A Q-switched Nd:YAG laser creates a green light which is highly absorbed by red and orange targets.In this study, 64 patients with 75 unwanted tattoos were enrolled based on color intensity: group I was comprised of 34 “black” tattoos, while group II contained 41 “gray” tattoos—gray generally referring to older or less pigmented tattoos. In group I, after the second treatment session, the median of clearance was 40% (30—50%), and the median of group II was 70% (50–80%). After the highest number of treatments in the study (7), the median grew to 75%, in group I and 90% in group II.

According to the study authors, “Tattoos with large quantities of ink, obtained by filling, required the greatest number of treatment sessions. The final outcome in tattoo clearing can only be assessed following treatment completion, which may in some cases take 2—3 years.Presumably, in some cases, complete clearance is impossible.”

Watch out, Taz, your days may be numbered.