Are Pico Lasers the Only Way to Remove Tattoos?

August 3, 2023

The Lightsense tattoo removal laser.
The Lightsense tattoo removal laser.

As tattoo art has grown in popularity in recent years, so too have the number of laser tattoo removal options on offer. With more and more people seeking the freedom to reconsider their body art choices, new technologies are being developed to remove unwanted tattoos in as unintrusive a way as possible. 

But not all pico lasers are created equal for tattoo removal. 

The LightSense™ laser system was developed to make the process of laser tattoo removal as free from pain and skin safe as possible. We’ll take a look at the unique credentials of the laser in a bit. But first, pico lasers are not the only way to remove tattoos. Understanding what the other options are, as well as their limitations, can help to show why people choose pico lasers for tattoo removal. 

Pico lasers are not the only way to remove unwanted tattoos. These are the alternative methods for tattoo removal 

Dermabrasion and Salabrasion 

Dermabrasion involves wearing away the superficial layer of skin. It is an ineffective way to remove tattoo ink and can potentially lead to infection. Salabrasion wears the skin away using salt and water solution and is equally as dangerous. The Romans were using these methods long before the 1960s invention of the laser, and it’s best they are relegated to the past. 

Surgical excision

Using this method the tattoo is physically cut out of the skin and the wound is stitched shut. While this method offers immediate results, it is only suitable for small tattoos and may lead to scarring. It is of course a rather severe method of removing a tattoo. 

Quality-switched lasers

Unlike pico lasers (first approved in 2012 by the FDA), Quality-switched lasers (or Q-switched) have been around since the 90s and typically have pulse widths measured in nanoseconds, as opposed to picoseconds. 

They compare like this. A nanosecond is one thousand-millionth of a second. A picosecond is one trillionth of a second. 

The large disparity between pulse widths matters when it comes to skin-safety and the reduction of pain, as we will soon see.

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How to remove a tattoo step 2 NAAMA Studios
How to remove a tattoo step 2 NAAMA Studios

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Advantages of pico lasers for tattoo removal

Pico lasers are not the only way to remove a new tattoo, but here are their main advantages over other methods of tattoo removal. 

Using a pico laser is not an invasive surgical procedure

An obvious advantage over surgical excision is that using a pico laser for tattoo removal does not require a surgical procedure. Clients are able to experience treatments in a range of settings, from clinical to spa-like, without the need for invasive surgery.  

Pico lasers are exceptionally accurate

At 0.4mm the spot size of the LightSense™ laser system is smaller than the nib of a pen and more than capable of accurately and safely removing a tattoo. 

Pico lasers work on a range of Fitzpatrick skin types

The Fitzpatrick scale is used by NAAMA studios in London to make sure that treatments are skin-safe. 

“We determine your skin tone and create a bespoke treatment plan based on the scale,” says Leslie, who communicates with NAAMA’s clients.

“Currently, our experts can treat black ink on all skin tones. However we can only safely treat coloured inks on Fitzpatrick 1-3 skin types.”

To be clear, the risk is that if used with Fitzpatrick 4-6 skin types, the laser could potentially damage melanocytes, the skin cells that contain the pigment melanin, and cause scarring.

Safe and responsible use of the Fitzpatrick scale is therefore crucial to the process of laser tattoo removal.

Pico lasers have been shown to cause less pain

A 2021 article published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology compared nanosecond and picosecond lasers for tattoo removal (abbreviated to PSL and NSL in the following quotation). Wolfgang Bäumler et al. found that: 

“Subjects felt significantly less pain with PSL than with NSL [...] Transient adverse reactions were statistically less pronounced, lasting shorter for PSL as for NSL, especially blistering, pruritus, and burning sensation.”

This extract is quoted from, “The efficacy and the adverse reactions of laser-assisted tattoo removal – a prospective split study using nanosecond and picosecond lasers.”

Pico lasers offer measurable before and after results

Using a dermatoscope the expert consultants at NAAMA studios in London track the progress of laser tattoo removal treatments. The below image shows how a dense black ink tattoo cleared over a period of five months from April to August. Read more about that specific tattoo removal here.

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A pico laser before and after gallery 

NAAMA's consultants use a dermatoscope to get a close-up picture of the ink clearing, leaving behind healthy skin.

Alternatives to pico laser tattoo removal

While pico lasers have revolutionised the tattoo removal industry, they are not the only option for those seeking tattoo removal. Some alternatives to pico laser tattoo removal include:

Topical creams: Some over-the-counter topical creams claim to fade tattoos gradually. While they may work for very light tattoos or in conjunction with laser treatments, they are not a standalone solution for complete tattoo removal.

Chemical peels: These involve removing layers of skin to fade the tattoo gradually. However, they are less effective than laser methods and may lead to scarring.

There are a number of ways to remove tattoos but pico lasers offer distinct advantages. On a timeline plotting the history of laser tattoo removal, with dermabrasion at one end, pico lasers are at the forefront of contemporary laser tattoo removal.

For trends in breakthrough laser tattoo removal technology, here are NAAMA's top laser FAQs.

What is the best laser for tattoo removal?

What is the newest laser technology for tattoo removal?

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Talk to one of our experts to start your removal journey