SAN DIEGO – When picosecond lasers hit the market about 10 years ago, they became a game-changer for tattoo removal, boasting the delivery of energy that is about threefold faster than with nanosecond lasers.
However, picosecond lasers are far from perfect even in the hands of the most experienced clinicians, according to, medical director of the Connecticut Skin Institute, Stamford. “They have been very difficult to build from an engineering perspective,” he said at the annual Masters of Aesthetics Symposium. It took a long time for these lasers to come to the market, and they are still fairly expensive and require a lot of maintenance, he noted. In addition, “they are also not quite as ‘picosecond’ as they need to be. I think there is definitely room to improve, but this is the gold standard.”
Today,. Tattoo ink particles average about 0.1 mcm in size, and the thermal relaxation size works out to be less than 10 nanoseconds, with shorter pulses better at capturing the ink particles that are smaller than average.
Black is the most common tattoo color dermatologists treat. “For that, you can typically use a 1064, which has the highest absorption, but you can also use many of the other wavelengths,” he said. “Other colors are less common, followed by red, for which you would use a 532-nm wavelength.”
Dr. Ibrahimi underscored the importance of setting realistic expectations during consults with patients seeking options for tattoo removal. Even with picosecond laser technology, many treatments are typically required and “a good patient consultation is key to setting proper expectations,” he said. “If you promise someone results in 4 to 5 treatments like many of the device companies will say you can achieve, you’re going to have a large group of patients who are disappointed.”
The clinical endpoint to strive for during tattoo removal is whitening of the ink, which typically fades about 20 minutes after treatment. That whitening corresponds to cavitation, or the production of gas vacuoles in the cells that were holding the ink. This discovery led to a technique intended to enhance tattoo removal. In 2012, R. Rox Anderson, MD, director of the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleagues publishedthat compared a single Q-switched laser treatment pass with four treatment passes separated by 20 minutes. After treating 18 tattoos in 12 adults, they found that the technique, known as the “R20” method, was more effective than a single-pass treatment (P < .01).
“Subsequent to this, there has been conflicting data on whether this is truly effective or not,” said Dr. Ibrahimi, who is also on the board of directors for the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery. “Most of us agree that one additional pass would be helpful, but when you’re doing this in the private practice setting, it’s often challenging because patients aren’t necessarily willing to pay more for more than just one pass for their tattoo removal.”
Another recent advance is use of a topical square silicone patch infused with perfluorodecalin (PFD) for use during tattoo removal, which has been shown to reduce epidermal whitening. The patch contains a fluorocarbon “that is very good at dissolving gas, and it is already widely used in medicine,” he said. When applied, “it almost instantaneously takes the whitening away; you don’t have to wait the 20 minutes to do your second pass.”
A different technology designed to speed up tattoo removal is the Resonic Rapid Acoustic Pulse device (marketed as Resonic, from Allergan Aesthetics), which is cleared by the FDA for use as an accessory to the 1064 nm Q-switched laser for black tattoo removal in patients with skin types I-III. “This uses acoustic pulses of sound waves; they’re rapid and powerful,” Dr. Ibrahimi said. “They can clear those cavitation bubbles much like the PFD patches do. It’s also thought that they further disperse the tattoo ink particles by supplementing the laser energy as well. It is also purported to alter the body’s healing response, or immune response, which is important in tattoo clearing.”
Dr. Ibrahimi disclosed that he is a member of the Advisory Board for Accure Acne, AbbVie (which owns Allergan), Cutera, Lutronic, Blueberry Therapeutics, Cytrellis, and Quthero. He also holds stock in many device and pharmaceutical companies.