Tattoo regret: Removing mistakes with laser technology

October 15, 2013 by
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ASDS Blog laser tattoo removal While a tattoo may be reminder of a past event or experience – or designed to indicate personality traits – a poll conducted in January 2012 by Harris Interactive reported that 1 in 8 tattooed American adults ultimately regret their decision.

If you’re experiencing tattoo regret, the laser removal technology available today is your best option. These lasers break down the inks and dyes in tattoos so that our bodies can easily remove the pigment.

Q-switched (Q-S) lasers are the primary method of laser tattoo removal, delivering laser energy to the skin in nanosecond pulses that are absorbed into tattoo pigments, shattering them into smaller pieces that the body can remove naturally.

A small amount of heat-generated pain is possible, but topical and injectable anesthetics can help make you more comfortable. Still, these lasers have the least risk of burning your skin since the pulses are extremely short and the amount of heat generated is so small.

Depending on the colors and metal composition of your tattoo, treatments may cause it to fade but not completely disappear. Additional treatments, spaced four to eight weeks apart, may be necessary. In fact, due to the unknown composition of the tattoo, its removal could require as few as three or four treatments or as many as dozens of treatments.

The operator of the Q-switched laser must be an expert familiar with the device, energy level and the wavelength to adjust for the patient’s skin tone and specific tattoo. Dermatologists developed this technology, so an ASDS member dermatologist is your best bet for successful outcomes and most expert care.

While the Q-S has been the standard for tattoo removal for several decades, there’s another option now.

The newest laser, PicoSure by Cynosure, delivers light pulses on a trillionth of a second scale (100 times shorter than the Q-S laser) allowing greater light energy to shatter your tattoo’s ink molecules into much smaller particles without damaging the skin. This literally allows the device to physically break apart the tattoo using much less heat energy than before.

The net result is that the procedure hurts less and takes fewer treatments (typically three to four) with greater fading. Some pigments that couldn’t be removed in the past now may be reduced as well. However, because tattoo pigment is not FDA regulated and varies widely for each tattoo, some pigments may remain resistant.

PicoSure is still only available in a few select practices in the United States, but if you are looking to have a tattoo removed with fewer treatments, less risks and less pain, it’s definitely worth seeking this new method.

Note: Dr. Weiss is a member of the speaker bureau for Palomar/Cynosure.


Robert A. Weiss, M.D., director of the Maryland Laser Skin and Vein Institute (, is a former President (2008) of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. He is the author of numerous dermatology textbooks and publications. Dr. Weiss lectures internationally and leads research on the latest advances in dermatologic technology. Dr. Weiss is board certified by the American Board of Dermatology and holds his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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