IPL Tattoo Removal

there is a tattoo on my arm of my ex...need to laser it off. Is IPL laser the best technique to get rid of the colored ink (lots of it)

Doctor Answers 7

IPL for Tattoo Removal?

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IPL should never been used for tattoo removal. Using this modality can lead to scarring, ink retention and dyspigmentation. The gold standard and widely recognized means by which to remove a tattoo is via Q-switched laser technology. An attempt to remove a tattoo with an IPL device is the sign of an uneducated health care provider and is a major source of liability.

Manhattan Beach Dermatologic Surgeon

IPL a tattoo No No

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IPL would not be a great treatment for your tattoo. You need to seek the care of an expert who has a Q-Switched laser. There are many different types. We typically use multiple laser wavelengths of light to treat different colored tattoos.

Different types of laser

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Different types of lasers will be useful depending on the color of your tattoo. You will require a Q-switched ruby or YAG laser for black and blue tattoos, a Q-switched KTP laser for red tattoos and/or a Q-switched Alexandrite laser for purple and orange colors. In general the darker the tattoos the easier to get rid of it as the pigment absorbs the laser energy better. Best of luck!

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IPL is not the best for tattoo removal

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Ultrashort pulse duration (the fraction of a second that each laser energy pulse is fired on the tattoo ink) needed is needed to shatter the pigment of a tattoo which then allows the body to "carry" it away via the immune and lymphatic systems.

Q-switched and now Pico second pulse duration lasers are used such as PicoSure, PicoWay, Enlighten. IPL is a light source of multiple wavelengths and does not have an ultrashort pulse duration. 

Ronald Shelton, MD
Manhattan Dermatologic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 38 reviews

PicoSure: An Excellent Choice to Treat Tattoos

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Lasers have been the standard treatment of tattoo removal for several decades. Just released to the world market in 2013, the PicoSure is the best laser technology for removing tattoos!  An IPL produces a broad-spectrum of light that is filtered. This technology is excellent to treat diffuse discoloration of sun-damaged skin.  An IPL is not a laser and as such, it is not  designed to remove tattoo pigment.

Edward Rohaly, MD
Newport Beach Dermatologist

IPL is NOT a laser. IPL stands for "Intense Pulsed Light."

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Lasers used for tattoo removal are single-wavelength, very high energy, very short pulse duration machines that deliver enough energy to cause the tattoo ink granules in the skin to vaporize, causing a bit of epidermal damage in the process. That is why there is healing involved after treatment, and why multiple treatments are needed. The minimal damage to skin allows maximum ink removal with minimal skin damage and scar risk.

IPL machines are essentially full-spectrum, moderate high energy flashlamps (some with filters that block a portion of the light spectrum for somewhat more selective treatment) that are used to treat fine skin vessels, mild skin discolorations (like sunspots), or rosacea. IPL will not remove tattoos. If an IPL machine is used at very high energies, it could induce a burn, but will have little to no effect on tattoos except to cause a blister and a waste of money!

Infrared coagulators (IRC) are used by some doctors for tattoo removal, but this is more likely to leave a scar or pigmentation changes, but may require fewer treatment sessions (if you are willing to accept scarring or skin color changes).

Infrared Coagulator Works For All Tattoo Colors

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Lasers and other light therapy devices, such as the Infrared Coagulater (IRC), are the treatments of choice today. Lasers work by emitting short, intense pulses of light that pass through the skin and target the ink. The energy from the laser light fragments the large particles of tattoo pigment enabling the body’s natural immune system to more easily scavenge the pigment and carry it away. This process usually takes several weeks, and multiple treatment sessions are often necessary to achieve maximal clearing.

Since black pigment absorbs all wavelengths of light, it is ironically the easiest pigment to remove. Colors, such as green, do not absorb as well, and sometimes a variety of lasers, with varying wavelengths, are needed to effectively treat a multicolored tattoo. Usually multiple lasers are needed to handle multicolored tattoos.

Potential complications include permanent scarring, temporary or permanent loss of pigment or excessive pigmentation. Fees for laser treatments may range from $1000-$3000 or more, depending upon the number of treatment sessions required, and the size, shape, colors, and location of the particular tattoo.

IRC uses non-laser infrared light to heat the area containing the pigment. It is quick and easy to perform, and generally requires fewer treatments than lasers. Most small tattoos can be treated successfully in one to three sessions. Very importantly, IRC’s efficacy also does NOT depend upon the particular color of the pigments involved. For these reasons, it is my favorite method for dealing with small tattoos.

The procedure is quick and simple. The area is first numbed with local anesthesia. Next, very short pulses of infrared light are directed at the tattoo in a gridlike fashion, leaving tiny spaces between each treated site. Since each burst of energy is just a fraction of second, an entire treatment session requires only a few minutes to complete. It is within the course of the next few weeks, as he wound heals, that the pigment is extruded.

To complete the removal, the intervening spaces are generally treated between two to four weeks later. Fees for a series of three sessions generally run about $1500. As with laser treatments, potential complications include scarring and temporary or permanent pigmentary changes. Most people, however, are quite gratified and relieved to be free finally of their tattoos. 

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.