Do you have a tattoo that’s just not you anymore? Maybe you got it done when you were much younger and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Now it’s looking a bit dated or you’ve grown out of it. Or perhaps it reminds you of a time you’d rather not remember. Whatever the reason for your tattoo regret let’s imagine you’re looking into getting it removed. You’ve learned that laser treatment is the safest and most effective method of tattoo removal and now you’re looking for a tattoo removal clinic.
As with other personal services, probably the best way to choose a laser clinic is by recommendation from somebody else that’s been treated there. They should be able to show you their tattoo, and how the removal has progressed. If they’ve been happy with the service, then that’s a good pointer. But what if you don’t know anyone else that’s had their tattoo removed? Or you do, but they live in a different place?
How Tattoo Removal works and the process
To remind you how laser tattoo removal works here’s a quick summary. Tattoo ink is deposited by needle into varying depths of your dermis in large ‘globules’. The body’s immune system initially tries to remove these ink particles but they are too large and therefore remain visible in the skin.
During treatment, the laser fires extremely short pulses of concentrated light energy at the tattoo through the skin. The tattoo ink absorbs this energy, and breaks into tiny fragments. These particles are now small enough to be engulfed and expelled by your body’s immune system. The tattoo starts to fade in the following weeks as the ink is expelled via the lymphatic system.
Because the ink is deposited in many layers in the dermis, several laser treatments are needed to break down the progressively deeper layers. It’s very rare for a tattoo to be removed after a single treatment.
Treatments are given every 8 weeks or so to give the immune system time to remove the ink particles. In fact, there is little point in having treatments any more frequently than say, 6 weeks. It’s just not going to help. In fact the longer you leave it between laser sessions, the better.
Remember that the laser just breaks down the tattoo pigment. It is the body’s immune system that does all the hard work and it needs time to do this. The passage of time is one of the most important factors in the success of tattoo removal. In fact, in the later treatments we will leave it 12 weeks or even more between sessions to give the body more time to absorb those last layers of ink.
Looking for a suitable tattoo removal clinic
So, you want your tattoo removed effectively, and of course, safely. How do you choose a suitable tattoo removal clinic?
Firstly, search Google for local tattoo removal clinics. Check out their websites and social media pages and get a feel for the type of places they are. Also, look at the number (and quality) of their reviews on various sites, and the before and after photos.
It’s always advisable to go to a laser clinic that specialises in tattoo removal, and nothing else. Avoid going to a beauty salon that offers tattoo removal as a side service.
What to look for when choosing a tattoo removal clinic
The two most important factors to look for when considering a tattoo removal clinic are the type of laser they are using and the experience of the person operating the laser.
Firstly let’s discuss the type of laser. The Q-switched laser has for years been the only effective type of laser to remove tattoo ink. The pulse of laser energy is so concentrated and so quick – a few nanoseconds (a nanosecond is a billionth of a second) – that it efficiently shatters the ink particles without generating any heat in the surrounding skin tissue. This is known as photoacoustic effect (also known as the photomechanical effect). This means that Q-switched lasers are highly effective in breaking down the ink without causing any side effects like scarring.
In recent years a new development has been made in tattoo removal laser technology. The so-called picosecond machines have a laser pulse length of hundreds of times quicker than a traditional nano-second, Q-switched laser. The manufacturers of these machines claim that this shorter pulse length shatters the ink particles more efficiently, and that fewer treatments are needed for full removal. They also say that the wait time between treatments can be reduced to 4 to 6 weeks. The jury’s still out on whether these machines really are better than the traditional Q-switched nanoscond lasers. There’s not much real-world evidence that they are significantly better. We go into this subject in more depth in this blog article. Clinics with picosecond machines charge a large premium for their treatments, so be aware of that.
In terms of lasers in general, you should ensure that your prospective clinic is using a medical grade Q-switched laser. How can you tell if it’s a medical grade laser? Ask them what type it is. It’s beyond the scope of this article to specify every type of laser on the market but the following is a list of reputable medical laser manufacturers worldwide:-
Syneron Medical Ltd
This is not a complete list. As you can imagine, manufacturing lasers involves precision engineering; the best manufacturers are either in the USA or Europe.
Chinese branded Q-switched lasers can be purchased on Ebay for a couple of thousand dollars. Of course you get what you pay for, and these are not going to be of a very high quality. At best they are not going to be effective because they can’t produce enough laser energy to get deep enough into the skin to reach the tattoo pigment. In the worst case they could leave you with a scar. These are mostly ‘tabletop’ devices and found in lower end beauty salons.
High quality Q-switched lasers are not small devices. They are usually the same kind of size and shape as an aircraft drinks trolley – with wheels to move them around – and have an articulated arm. This arm contains mirrors inside to bend the laser beam around corners before passing it through the handpiece.
Also avoid anywhere that uses IPL lasers which are only designed for hair removal. Their pulse length is too long to be used for tattoo removal. Again, these could cause burning or scarring.
Experience of the laser operator
In NSW, laser tattoo removal is an unregulated industry, meaning that anyone can open a laser clinic. There is no mandatory technical training or professional qualification. However, laser operators should have at the very least a certificate in laser safety. This shows they understand the risks associated with Q-switched lasers and the safety measures used to minimise those risks. They should also have medical malpractice insurance.
Learning to use a Q-switched laser to treat tattoos is not difficult. However, to do it well takes a lot of practice. Experienced laser operators know how different tattoos and skin types will respond to treatment, the appropriate laser settings to use in each case, and any likely side effects. They should be able to discuss any concerns you have about any aspect of the tattoo removal process.
Therefore always ask a tattoo removal clinic how long they’ve been in business, and specifically how long the laser operator has been treating tattoos. The more experience that the laser technician has had, the better service you’ll get.
One thing that NO laser clinic can do is to give you an ACCURATE prediction for the number of treatments needed for total removal. This depends on many things, such as skin type, age of tattoo, location on the body, density of ink and a myriad of other factors. Tattoo removal practitioners can only give averages, and advise on factors which increase or decrease these numbers.
Tattoo Removal Pricing
Most laser clinics charge for a single treatment by size of tattoo in square centimetres. Smaller tattoos are less expensive, and larger tattoos are more expensive. The price per cm2 decreases the larger the tattoo is. Some clinics offer a fixed price per treatment (for example $200).
The total cost of tattoo removal is determined by the cost per treatment multiplied by the number of sessions required for full removal.
Tattoo removal in Sydney is a difficult business to be in. Because it is a slow process clients often get disillusioned, drop out after only one or two treatments, and never finish the course. That’s why most clinics also offer a discount for paying upfront for several treatments. For example, pay for 5 sessions, and get the 6th free. At Fade to Blank we offer a fixed price for tattoo removal. For three sizes of tattoo – small, medium and large – we offer a fixed upfront price, and will keep treating it until it has been fully removed. See our pricing page for details.
Offering such deals and discounts is obviously good for laser clinics, because they get an upfront payment and a guarantee that the client will come back for every session. It’s also beneficial for the client because they get a discount and are motivated to keep coming back for the treatments they have paid for.
Also beware of ‘guaranteed results’. This is difficult to define. It’s impossible to guarantee full tattoo removal within a certain timeframe; the tattoo removal process is just not predictable enough to be able to promise that. Also, it’s not always possible to remove 100% of your tattoo. For example certain ink colours are notoriously difficult to fade with laser, eg yellow and white inks.
Tattoo removal is a long process that takes time and commitment. It can’t be rushed.
As with all personal services, getting a recommendation from a friend or relative is one of the best ways to choose a tattoo removal clinic.
If you’re choosing a tattoo removal clinic yourself, do your research. Find suitable laser clinics in your local area, look at the quality of the reviews, and their before and after photos. Most importantly make sure they are experienced and use a medical grade Q-switched laser.
Fill in the contact form on our website, and we’ll be in touch to arrange a consultation and patch test.