What is picosecond laser tattoo removal?

Picosecond laser tattoo removal affords superior results in fewer treatments.

Once upon a time, tattoos were a lifetime commitment and, regrettable or not, the design was there to stay. Now, thanks to advancements in tattoo removal technology, those decisions don’t have to be so permanent. The new PicoSure laser from Cynosure is the first and only picosecond laser, delivering ultra-short pulses of energy to shatter tattoo pigment in the skin.

‘The PicoSure delivers laser energy 100 times faster than traditional Q-Switched lasers, making laser tattoo removal safer and more effective than ever before,’ explains Dr John Relic, a dermatologist in Lake Macquarie, NSW. ‘Traditional tattoo removal can take between five and 15 sessions, while the PicoSure can completely remove tattoos in as little as five sessions.’

Picosecond technology

It is the extra short pulses – at a trillionth of a second – that distinguish PicoSure from traditional tattoo removal lasers. The system uses patented Pressure Wave technology to target and shatter the ink particles, meaning tattoos can be cleared in fewer treatments.

‘The PicoSure delivers a lot more energy, in a shorter period of time, compared with traditional tattoo removal lasers,’ explains cosmetic dermatologist from Neutral Bay Dr Terence Poon, who specialises in laser treatments. ‘It is more effective in breaking up the tattoo particles – like breaking boulders into sand grains. This helps the body’s immune system remove the particles more rapidly.’

Because of the intensity created by the Pressure Wave, lower fluencies (the energy delivered per unit area) can be utilised to achieve ink particle fragmentation.

‘The PicoSure causes a photomechanical action in the skin – which is the shattering of ink particles – as opposed to a photothermal action delivered by traditional lasers,’ Dr Relic says. ‘This means there is lesser risk to the surrounding tissue, and helps create those smaller particles that are easier for the body to clear.’

Treating coloured tattoos

PicoSure is equipped with an Alexandrite wavelength (755nm), which has the ability to target green, blue, purple, black and brown inks – colours that have been typically difficult to move. ‘Green inks are particularly difficult to remove, and the PicoSure is effective in targeting these,’ Dr Poon explains. ‘In some cases, the PicoSure might be used in conjunction with a traditional Q-Switched laser to combat some of the more stubborn colours, for example to help remove red ink.’

The specified wavelength also reduces the risk of pigmentation or textural irregularities following treatment. The wavelength targets tattoo ink without affecting the surrounding melanin – the skin’s natural pigment. ‘The 755nm wavelength means there is very little, if any, absorption of melanin,’ Dr Relic explains. ‘This means the PicoSure can specifically target the tattoo ink, leaving the surrounding skin untouched. Some people may experience minor textural or pigmentation changes to the treatment site, but these are usually short-term.’

Treatment with PicoSure

The treatment itself is relatively comfortable, and does not require anaesthetic. Patients may experience some blistering and redness immediately post-laser, but this should subside over the next day or two.

‘The sensation during treatment is similar to the snap of a hot rubber band on the skin, and the process is usually very well tolerated,’ Dr Relic says. ‘We use a cooling system to cool the skin before and during treatment, to reduce any discomfort.’

‘Immediately following treatment, the tattoo will turn a frosty white colour. This lasts approximately 30 minutes before the colour returns to normal,’ Dr Relic adds. ‘Clients need to ice the treatment area, on and off, for up to four hours following PicoSure and, if the treatment area is on the legs or feet, we encourage our clients to keep the area elevated.’
There are some potential risks associated with PicoSure treatment, and Dr Poon explains patients should consult an experienced operator before undergoing treatment. ‘There are risks involved with any laser treatment, and it is the experience of the operator that makes the difference,’ he says.

Changes to the tattoo can usually be seen within the first week following treatment with PicoSure. These changes – particularly after the initial treatment – usually involve fading and “fuzzing” of the ink around the edges of the tattoo, before the ink completely disappears.

‘We see a vast array of tattoos, and clients want them removed for a multitude of reasons,’ Dr Relic explains. ‘Some clients need to have their tattoos removed so they can start a career or, in some cases, so they can move on from a painful past.’

‘PicoSure is the treatment of choice for our tattoo removal clients, and we have seen some amazing results. It can help clear stubborn tattoos, and the treatment period is significantly reduced. With PicoSure, our clients can have their tattoos completely removed much sooner,’ Dr Relic concludes.