How does laser tattoo removal actually work?
Let’s start with what happens to the body when you get a tattoo. When you get a tattoo, ink is inserted directly into the dermis - the second layer of the skin which sits around 0.1 mm below the surface (depending on the part of the body).
The immune system senses the ink is there because A) it’s very clever and B) ink is essentially a foreign body, within the body. Just like if you get a splinter or you fall and get gravel caught in your wounds. The body doesn’t discriminate - if it’s something foreign that isn’t meant to be there, your immune system will attempt to get rid of it.
The immune system tries to clear the ink pigment by sending white blood cells to where the tattoo is located. The attempts to process the ink are generally not fruitful - whilst the white blood cells can process smaller ink pigments, the larger ones don’t budge. Ink pigments can be up to 100x the size of white blood cells, so it’s like asking a mole to eat a grand piano (a tricky task for a few reasons).
This is essentially why tattoos are permanent. The larger pigments remain trapped in the dermis, which we can see through the epidermis (the top layer of the skin).
This is also why sometimes tattoos fade immediately after they’re created, and gradually fade over decades. Ink that’s regularly exposed to the sun or gets a lot of contact day-to-day begins to break down pigments more quickly, meaning the body can process the ink more easily. That’s why tattoos on areas like the face, hands and palms often don’t last as long.
Generally, of course, tattoos remain permanent. Over time, thick layers of scar tissue form around the remaining ink pigments, and this effectively binds them in place.To remove a tattoo, this process is simply accelerated (really accelerated).
To break apart the large ink pigments that make up the tattoo, we use lasers. To put it simply, a laser is a light beam, and a light beam carries energy. The ink pigments need to absorb this energy from the laser through photons (particles of light).
The amount of energy carried by a laser beam is determined by the wavelength of the laser light. The wavelength of a beam is the distance between two peaks in the wave (like wave crests in the sea), and is also what determines the colour of the light. A laser with a wavelength of 450 nanometers, for example, would be blue, whilst a laser with a wavelength of 700 nanometers would be red.
A molecule can only absorb photons that correspond to the energies of the chemical bonds that hold the ink molecule together. The easiest way to think about this is to imagine a set of monkey bars (I know, bear with me). To swing from one bar to the next, you have to use just the right amount of energy. If you don’t swing hard enough, you miss the bar. If you swing too hard, you miss the bar but might have enough energy to reach the bar after. In the same way, if a photon doesn’t have enough energy, it can’t be absorbed - (it misses the bar). If it has too much energy, it can’t be absorbed either. It needs exactly the right amount of energy to work. In lasers, we’re able to determine the amount of energy by the wavelength.
A little about current laser tattoo removal
Existing laser tattoo removal technology relies on high energy laser pulses, with each pulse lasting around a nanosecond (that’s one thousand-millionth of a second). When this laser light is absorbed by the ink, it heats up extremely rapidly (often up to several thousand degrees Celsius) and expands. These very hot, expanded ink molecules are now in contact with the skin. This is what causes severe burns and blisters (and sometimes even long term damage like scarring).
Once expanded, the ink breaks apart, releasing a large amount of energy into the surrounding skin very quickly. Bubbles of carbon dioxide are also released, floating to the surface of the skin and causing an effect known as frosting; an immediate whitening of the skin that occurs as soon as the laser impacts the skin (it almost looks like the skin is being crystalised). Frosting normally takes up to two hours to recede, and alongside the burns and blisters caused by the process, means that the tattoo can only be treated once per session.
Existing technology use large spot sizes, meaning the area of the skin the laser beam hits is a big area which is not very precise. This means the laser often falls on untattooed skin, causing additional and wholly unnecessary damage.
The combination of burns from the heated ink as well as laser overspill is the cause of the severe pain, long recovery windows and often irreversible damage to the skin.
So what does NAAMA do?
NAAMA takes a different approach to the traditional laser systems, using really low levels of energy, really fast. This allows lots of photons to be absorbed in a much shorter time, breaking ink apart quickly, before that energy can escape and damage the surrounding skin.
How does this impact me?
The result is that NAAMA causes little to no burning, frosting that heals in seconds not days, much lower pain levels, vastly reduced chances of long-term damage, and healing time reduced to a couple of weeks instead of a couple of months. NAAMA is quick, effective, and much, much kinder to your skin.
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