Volatile Pigments and the PicoSure Tattoo Removal Process

I’ve been asked several times if removing a tattoo with the PicoSure laser can release any dangerous chemicals into the body.  While many tattoo inks vary widely in their chemical makeup, the vast majority are inert and usually harmless.  Generally speaking, if a patient was going to have a reaction to a particular ink, or one of its ingredients, it would most likely happen immediately following the tattooing process.  Allergic reactions can include redness, raised areas, rash and even scarring.  However, once a tattoo heals the ink is bound in the dermis, by cells called fibroblasts, where it remains until shattered by the PicoSure laser.  Some ink particles are immediately vaporized, while others are carried away by phagocytes.

Interestingly, I have had several patients state that they can “taste” the ink in their mouth during the procedure.  This is most likely caused by harmless microscopic gas bubbles entering the circulatory system and imparting the “taste” through some unknown mechanism.  Again, this phenomenon is harmless.  At this point, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of laser tattoo removal treatments have been performed successfully and the FDA continues to approve new and more powerful lasers for this purpose.

When performed correctly, the risks associated with PicoSure laser tattoo removal are generally minimal and the results can be quite amazing.  However, we must also recognize that all medical procedures have the potential for harm and ultimately the decision to remove a tattoo rests with a patient and their physician.  For example, in the surgery center where I operate the PicoSure, our Medical Director does not allow tattoo removal treatment on women who are pregnant.  If one of my patients becomes pregnant we postpone further treatment until after delivery.


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