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Not all Lasers Are Created Equal. Know the Difference and Save Your Skin.

February 26th, 2017 by Tattoo Removal in Tattoo Removal

Just a few weeks ago a story surfaced about a Queensland man who had suffered severe burns in the aftermath of a tattoo removal gone wrong.
The horrific outcome of this botched laser tattoo removal stems from not only a lack of regulation of the industry, but misuse of laser technologies on the market. While the tone of these blog posts is often light hearted and at times mildly irreverent, this is an issue that deserves serious attention.

Regulation of the laser tattoo removal industry in Australia varies widely from state to state. In Western Australia, only medical doctors are permitted to perform the procedure. In Queensland, laser owners need to be qualified through a certification system to own the machine, but training does not cover tattoo removal. However, in New South Wales and Victoria there is no oversight of the industry at all. You require no qualifications or experience to set up shop; anyone who can afford to purchase a laser machine can, after a few hours learning how to use the machine, call themselves an accredited laser technician.

Cost being the only barrier to providing laser tattoo removal services has led to smaller operators purchasing the substantially cheaper Intense Pulse Light (IPL) machines for approximately a tenth of the cost of a Q-Switched laser. These machines are marketed as an all-purpose laser, however they are unsuitable for tattoo removal and can often be the cause of burns, scarring and distortion.

IPL vs Q-Switched Lasers

Before you embark upon any laser treatment it is important to understand the difference between two of the most common laser machines on the market used to perform laser tattoo removal. IPL machines and Q-Switched lasers work very differently to achieve different results. Once you understand the science behind the two different technologies, it is easy to see why they are not interchangeable.

Intense Pulse Light Therapy

Intense, broad-spectrum pulses of light up to 600 x 200 mm wide are delivered to the area using IPL machines. Producing a broad spectral range of light between 400 and 1200 nm, filters are used by the technician to selectively narrow down the wavelengths of light emitted to suit the condition being treated and filter out the potentially harmful ultra violet light at the lower end of the spectrum.
Functioning in bursts of light that last for milliseconds, chromophores in the skin and hair are destroyed by heating them to 70°C.
This heating process is called photothermolysis and makes IPL lasers suitable for destroying hair follicles in their anagen phase, treating skin discolourations such as freckles, sun damage and pigmentation issues as well as spider veins.

Q-Switched Lasers

Use of a Q-Switched laser allows the technician to produce a small 5 to 8 mm beam of light that targets a specific colour rather than the whole visible spectrum of light like an IPL machine.
Operating in nanoseconds, the rapid speed at which this technology functions lets the narrow beam heat up the ink particles enough for them to undergo thermal expansion; however it is so quick that half the particle stays cool. In the same way a hot glass plunged into cool water will shatter, the opposing hot and cold forces within the cell rip the ink particle apart.
The photomechanical effect of the q-switched laser allows it to affect the targeted area with the remaining energy collapsing into a shock-wave that is absorbed without harm to surrounding tissue.

Why This Matters

IPL lasers only heat the ink embedded in the skin, they do not shatter it. Two things are wrong with this, not only will the ink not be broken down into small enough particles for the lymphatic system to contend with, but the ink is likely to be set permanently in place. The type of permanent that no other treatment, short of skin grafting, can remove.
Using the broad spectrum, and wide beam produced by an IPL machine to remove a tattoo has been likened to “trying to crack an egg with a machinegun” by one skilled tattoo removal technician. And can lead to the kinds of blistering, scarring and ink distortion experienced by the man in Queensland.

With no medical training required to perform such an invasive and potentially harmful procedure there has been a steady increase in burns and scarring from laser tattoo removal. And without an industry watchdog to police the operators who are only there to make quick money in a rapidly expanding industry, how are you to know who to trust to provide reliable medical treatment?

In addition to using the industry gold standard Q-Switched lasers at Ashley and Martin Tattoo Removal Laser Clinics, we also work with medical professionals with years of experience in their field to ensure our technicians provide you with the highest standard of treatment and care.