[7 min read] Laser for hair and tattoo removal

In contemporary aesthetic medicine, laser treatments are a popular method for permanent hair and tattoo removal. Various types of lasers are in use for this purpose. They incorporate different technologies and characteristics with varying wavelengths and energy penetration potentials. However, all hair and tattoo removal laser devices reach deep into the skin to damage hair follicles and break down the tattoo ink.

Multiple sessions are usually necessary to achieve visible and satisfying results. The number of treatments differs from patient to patient. It depends on many factors, including skin tone, hair colour, tattoo depth, and ink colour, etc. Side effects are possible. However, severe complications are rare.

Overview

Laser treatments are the most effective technique for permanent hair and tattoo removal. The length of each session depends on the size of the skin area you aim to cover, in agreement with the patient. The procedure is generally safe and practicable in a primary care setting.

However, laser hair or tattoo removal is not entirely painless. Some discomfort may be present even with topical anaesthetics. The use of local anesthetic injections or general sedation is inadvisable.

It is essential to manage patients’ expectations in the best way as there are no visible differences after the first treatment. Swelling, redness, and bruising are likely to occur in the treated area. These may last for several days, and the recovery between sessions can take up to six weeks. A hospital stay is not necessary.

The procedure

Permanent laser hair and tattoo removal may not seem like the same technique. But, these often use the same laser devices and work similarly. Therefore, a trained primary care provider can offer and perform both procedures at the same establishment.

How do permanent laser hair and tattoo removal work?

Laser hair removal targets the pigment in the hair to deliver heat and damage the hair follicles. That can either slow down or stop future hair growth. Most lasers tend to perform better on lighter skin and darker hair. Although, with modern technology, this is beginning to change.

Laser tattoo removal also targets the pigment (tattoo ink) in the dermis to facilitate its breakdown and absorption. The time between two laser tattoo removal sessions is longer than with laser hair removal. That’s because the skin needs more time to heal and absorb pigment residue.

Pre-treatment preparation

Working with lasers on the skin carries a certain amount of risk, mostly from burns and scarring. Therefore, it requires appropriate training to ensure proper application, low risk of complications, and quality outcomes.

The operator must accurately determine factors, such as treatment duration and laser light intensity, considering the patient’s skin tone, hair colour, and sensitivity of the treated area.

These are the basic guidelines to secure patient safety and optimal treatment results:

  • Insist on a signed consent from the patient.
  • Provide the patient with all the pre-treatment and post-treatment instructions, verbal and written.
  • Use digital photography to document pre-treatment and post-treatment conditions of the targeted area.
  • Do not provide treatment if there is an ongoing rash, inflammation, or infection nearby.
  • Apply antiseptic and topical anaesthetic before the procedure.
  • Use only laser devices with all necessary medical licenses.

Potential side effects

  • Common side effects of laser hair and tattoo removal are usually mild. These include:
  • Redness
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Blistering
  • Scabs’ formation
  • Discolouration (the treated area may become lighter or darker than the surrounding skin)

Rare complications include scarring, burns, and infections. These are usually a consequence of improper laser device use or underlying health conditions.

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References

  • Vaidya T, Hohman MH, Kumar D D. Laser Hair Removal. 2021 Aug 1. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan–. PMID: 29939638.
  • Henley JK, Zurfley F, Ramsey ML. Laser Tattoo Removal. 2021 Jul 23. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan–. PMID: 28723036.
  • Eklund Y, Rubin AT. Laser tattoo removal, precautions, and unwanted effects. Curr Probl Dermatol. 2015;48:88-96. doi: 10.1159/000369191. Epub 2015 Mar 26. PMID: 25833629.

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