What to look out for when you buy a laser for tattoo removal

In this article we will look at a couple of the most important points to pay attention to when buying a laser for tattoo removal. There are three main areas you have to be certain about before buying a machine.

Pulse length.

Lasers suitable for tattoo removal are machines that have extremely short pulses. The pulse length on these machines are measured in nanoseconds or picoseconds. To put this in perspective, you need 1 000 000 000 nanoseconds to make 1 second. You also need 1 000 picoseconds to make 1 nanosecond; or 1 000 000 000 000 picoseconds to make 1 second.

Tattoo removal lasers are very aggressively marketed by Chinese manufacturers as picosecond lasers. But are they really picosecond lasers? Keep in mind that you need 1000 picoseconds to make 1 nanosecond. Thus, if you see that a machine is marketed as a pico-laser with a pulse length of 1000 ps or 2000 ps (it goes in steps of 1000), it is actually not a pico-laser. It is a good old Q-switch capable of 1 or 2 nanoseconds.
If the machine has a pulse length between 1 ps and 999 ps, it is a true pico-laser.

This brings us to the question; which of the two, pico or nano, is the better option?
There is actually no better default machine, it really depends on your requirements. That said, you will be best served with a combination of pico and nano pulse lengths.

Nanosecond lasers break the ink molecule up into larger pieces than picosecond lasers.

During the treatment course you need to break-up the ink molecule. It is easier to break one large molecule into smaller, but still relative large pieces as an in-between step before you start with the micro work.

You can compare it with a sculptor who takes a large stone to start with, and then first remove big pieces with a heavy-duty chisel. After he has removed most of the access he will switch over to a smaller finer chisel to start the sculpting.

Wavelength

The wavelength(s) of the machine determines which colours of ink you can remove. The principle is quite simple. Just as with sight, light falls on a leaf and the green part of the light is reflected, leaving us to see the leaf as green.

If you have green ink, the spectrum of green range between 500 nm and 565 nm. Thus, if you irradiate it with 532 nm the light will not be absorbed, but will be reflected and you will have no results. You have to use a wavelength “far” away from the green range to get results; something like 1064 nm.

You have to decide between a single or multi-wavelength machine. And if you decide on a multi-wavelength machine you have to decide between a multi-cavity laser or a multi-handpiece laser.

If your clients mostly present you with a black or dark blue tattoo it may be best to invest in a machine that can only do this one colour, and do it very well. You will then buy a single cavity single handpiece machine.

Should you wish to remove a range of colours, you will either need multiple single-wavelength machines, or a multi-wavelength machine.

Looking at multi-wavelength machines you will find that you have two distinct classes of lasers. Some lasers have multiple cavities (light generation capability) and can switch between cavities as is needed. These machines are usually very expensive.

Other machines have wavelength converting handpieces. The prices of these machines are much better digestible. The catch here is that you lose a lot of energy during the conversion.

It can be to such extreme that you have 800 mJ on handpiece one, and on handpiece two that converts to another wavelength you only have 400 mJ. This can get even worse; with handpiece three you may only end-up with 200 mJ.
In some cases it may be to such an extreme that multiple handpieces only enhance the manufacture’s marketing and not your results. This is a pitfall many people step into.

Energy

Once you know which wavelength(s) you want on a machine; and which pulse lengths. It is time to look at energy output. The output energy in tattoo removal lasers are usually given in Joules, or millijoules (J or mJ) and not in Joules per area (J/cm2).

You will find that the very expensive machines will be around or above 2 J. Where entry-level equipment gives something like 600 mJ.
A 600 mJ machine can cost anything from USD 2500, whereas a 2 J machine will be over USD 80000.
The output energy of a machine is the most important factor that will determine a machine’s usable. Usable: being able to remove a tattoo.

With tattoo removal you need a machine that can give sufficient energy. Tattoo removal clients do not come to you to lighten their tattoos. They either want it totally removed without scarring or removed to such an extent that another tattoo can be placed over it without a visible ghost tattoo.

If you want to run a professional laser tattoo removal clinic that provides value to your clients, we can only recommend that you stay away from entry-level tattoo removal lasers. You will not be able to fulfil your promises to your clients and only end-up with a bad reputation.

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