Changing the game of tattoo removal

The tattoo removal arena has been radically changed with the introduction of PicoSure to Australia.

Historically, laser tattoo removal has been associated with a realm of somewhat negative connotations – from the arduous process, to the risk of scarring and incomplete results. Now, however, with the latest technology from Cynosure, the process has been shortened, the downtime lessened and the results improved for more effective tattoo removal.

PicoSure represents an unprecedented innovation in laser technology. It uses ultra-short pulses of energy to cause a photomechanical reaction in the skin, clearing tattoo pigment more effectively over fewer treatments.

How it works

The PicoSure difference stems from the pulse duration. It uses a pulse length of a trillionth of a second (a picosecond), which is 100 times shorter than that used in previous technology. Queensland cosmetic physician Dr Mary Dingley says the shorter duration causes a different, more effective reaction in the skin.

‘The short pulse duration enables the laser to produce a much “cleaner” fracturing effect on tattoo pigments within the skin, while producing less in the way of heat effects on the surrounding skin,’ Dr Dingley explains. ‘The upshot of this is that generally one needs fewer sessions, there is less unwanted skin reaction and treatment is more comfortable.’

As well as shortening the process and reducing down time, PicoSure achieves superior results in tattoo removal. Melbourne cosmetic doctor Dr David MacDonald, who has worked in tattoo removal for 25 years, describes the unique and unmatched results he has experienced using PicoSure.

‘PicoSure’s ultra-short pulses deliver a “shattering” effect on the ink, breaking the ink down into tiny dust-like particles which are then easily eliminated from the body,’ Dr MacDonald explains. ‘Previous technology relied on a photothermal (or burning) effect which would deliver heat to the ink and surrounding tissues. This “burn” could damage skin and result in scarring. With PicoSure, because the pulse width is so short, less injury and damage is caused to the surrounding skin.’

Treating coloured ink

Traditionally, colours such as blues and greens have been difficult to clear during tattoo removal. Again, PicoSure has changed this reality and Dr Dingley says that the chance of success has significantly improved with the new technology.

‘Most colours respond better with PicoSure than with prior lasers, including blues and greens,’ she says. ‘It is always hard to say, however, if a tattoo will completely disappear. Our chances are certainly better now, but some tattoos are done very heavily and there are some very unusual inks out there at times which may, perhaps, not respond completely to any laser.’

The procedure

Typically, topical anaesthetic is required for treatment with PicoSure and several treatments are recommended to achieve the best results. Victorian dermatologist Dr Philip Bekhor has been using PicoSure since its arrival in Australia. He has achieved effective results, with less adverse reaction, using this picosecond technology.

‘It is still early days but the PicoSure is very gentle, and we have seen a difference compared with other lasers,’ he explains. ‘With PicoSure, there is less reaction, less pain during treatment and a faster result.’

Dr Bekhor commonly performs five to seven treatments, eight weeks apart, to achieve adequate clearance – as opposed to between 10 and 20 treatments with other lasers. There is some downtime involved following treatment, and redness, swelling and scabbing can occur directly after the procedure. A dressing is often applied to assist in recovery and, because PicoSure calls for fewer treatments, the risk of scarring is considerably reduced compared to other systems.

‘After treatment, side effects are generally the same, but to a lesser degree, than with prior lasers’, Dr Dingley says. ‘Scarring is a possibility with any such skin treatment, however, because the effect on normal skin is less and there are fewer treatments, this risk is proportionately lower than with prior lasers.’

In revolutionising tattoo removal, PicoSure grants fresh hope to those who have given up trying to erase a past decision. Tattoo removal can be a life-changing venture, for both personal and professional reasons, and Dr Dingley explains treatment with PicoSure can boost confidence in certain patients. ‘Most patients say that their tattoos seemed like a good idea at the time but then their circumstances changed or they just didn’t feel like the same person that the tattoo suited,’ Dr Dingley says.

‘Parents often want tattoos removed because of the effect they might have on their children. I remember one father, who had amateur tattoos of some swear words on his hands and wanted to have them removed before his children could read them,’ she recalls. ‘As amateur tattoos tend to be very easily removed, after just one treatment the words were already illegible, with just a few spots left which disappeared with the following treatment. I remember he stood straighter already when he came for the second treatment and no longer felt ashamed.’

Before and after photographs of PicoSure treatment