To many, tattoos are seen as a form of self expression and even an act of rebellion. But did you know that apart from cosmetic tattoos, there are also traumatic tattoos from asphalt or pencil lead injuries and medical tattoos that serve as alert bracelets for patients with serious medical conditions? 

Regardless of the reason, all tattoos are permanent, and the only way to remove them is through laser removal. With so much information and even myths surrounding tattoo removal in Singapore these days, I thought it would be good to share some of my knowledge and thoughts regarding this topic. Let’s dive in.

The type of laser matters

Tattoo removal works by using large amounts of laser energy to shatter tattoo pigments. These deconstructed pigments are then absorbed by the body’s immune system for removal. There are many types of lasers for tattoo removal in the market, with the most conventional one being Q-switched lasers. While they work, they are in my opinion not as effective as the pico laser. 

The pico laser’s ability to emit laser beams at shorter pulse durations (at picoseconds instead of nanoseconds, compared to Q-switched lasers) confine laser energy better, which minimises collateral damage. While there are different types and brands of pico lasers out there, I use Discovery Pico Plus. This particular machine comes with the highest peak power, which is crucial for tattoo removal — especially for harder to remove colours like yellow and green. Different tattoo colours actually require different wavelengths, but I will touch on this later. 

Essentially, the increased effectiveness and higher safety margin of pico lasers allow for safer and more aggressive treatment in a shorter period of time. Results can be achieved about twice as quickly compared to regular Q-switched lasers with lesser risk of complications, such as scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. You can expect about 80-90% improvement in a span of 5-10 sessions. Price-wise, on average, I would say that 10 tattoo removal sessions with Q-switched lasers would cost about $1500, compared to 5 sessions with pico lasers that would cost about $1400. 

Yes, one session with pico lasers cost more, but you save more in the long run with fewer clinic visits.

The brighter the tattoo colour, the harder it is to remove

Besides depth of ink, the colour of your tattoo also determines how successful your tattoo removal is. For example, black tattoos are the easiest to remove; they can be cleared 50% faster with the pico laser as compared to the traditional Q-switched laser. Yellow, green and blue tattoos on the other hand are a little harder — even more so if you have mixed-coloured tattoos! 

It would then make sense to go for pico lasers with multiple wavelengths. The Discovery Pico Plus comes with 4 wavelengths which work fantastic on multi-coloured tattoos.

Tattoos on darker skin are harder to remove

It’s known that pigmentation removal is more challenging for individuals with darker skin — the same goes for tattoo removal. This is because dark skin absorbs more laser light; when the laser beam hits the targeted area, some energy is absorbed by the skin thus “weakening” the laser beam. Thankfully, the pico laser’s ability to deliver high amounts of energy in ultra short pulses makes tattoo removal a lot safer and efficient for dark skin.

Expect the process to be painful

Unfortunately, there will be some pain during tattoo removal. Some patients have said that the pain is comparable to getting a tattoo itself. While there is no way to reduce this pain, I use ice, a cooler and local anaesthesia injections to minimise discomfort as much as possible.

There is a small risk of scarring

As much as possible, we try to reduce scarring due to damage from laser energy. There’s no point removing a tattoo and replacing it with a scar. However, there are certain factors that increase the risk of scarring. They include:

  • Darker skin 
  • Big tattoos 
  • Multi-coloured tattoos

Post-laser care is as important as the laser process itself

On average, tattoo removal comes with a downtime of 3-7 days. During this time, patients might experience some redness and scabbing. It’s important to avoid sun exposure at all costs to prevent complications like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. If you have to be under the sun, apply sunblock with at least SPF 30. 

Also ensure quality rest and a good diet, and consistently apply the medical-grade recovery creams your doctor provides. This will aid your recovery time immensely. Take note that removing your tattoos will take at least a few sessions — so the faster you recover from each session, the quicker you take to remove your tattoo.

To sum up

Above all, make sure you get a reliable and experienced doctor. Tattoo removal can be rather complicated, and it’s imperative that you have a doctor who understands the intricacies of this process. If you have darker skin, it’s all the more important to check if your doctor has treated patients with darker Asian skin. 

Good luck!

References

  1. Bäumler, W., , & Weiß, K. T., (2019). Laser assisted tattoo removal – state of the art and new developments. Photochemical & photobiological sciences : Official journal of the European Photochemistry Association and the European Society for Photobiology, 18(2), 349–358. https://doi.org/10.1039/c8pp00416a
  2. Ross, V., Naseef, G., Lin, G., Kelly, M., Michaud, N., Flotte, T. J., Raythen, J., & Anderson, R. R. (1998). Comparison of responses of tattoos to picosecond and nanosecond Q-switched neodymium: YAG lasers. Archives of dermatology, 134(2), 167–171. https://doi.org/10.1001/archderm.134.2.167