Just as every patient is different, every tattoo that undergoes laser tattoo removal is unique.
Expert laser practitioners want to be able to remove any tattoo, regardless of the colors of ink in the design – to do so, you’ll need multiple laser wavelengths to get the job done.
Different laser wavelengths are needed to remove different colors of tattoo ink.
It is all based on the concept of light absorption – some tattoo pigments absorb some wavelengths of light better than others. To provide effective tattoo removal treatments, you’ll want to make sure that the laser wavelengths you use are well-absorbed by the tattoo inks you’re treating.
Our Goal = Absorption
Tattoo removal works by breaking up tattoo ink particles trapped in the skin. To achieve this, the laser is pulsed over the tattoo, directing light energy toward the ink. The energy is absorbed by the tattoo ink particles, which instantly shatter into tiny fragments.
If the ink doesn’t absorb the laser light, the ink doesn’t shatter… and the tattoo won’t be removed.
Light energy can either be visible or invisible, depending on its wavelength. When light energy is visible (with a wavelength between 390 nm and 700 nm), we see it as colored light.
Different objects absorb and reflect different wavelengths of light differently – and tattoo inks act the same way. For example, a red tattoo will absorb all of the colors of visible light in exception to red. The tattoo appears red to our eye because it reflects the color red and nothing else.
Therefore, if your goal is to shatter the ink in a red tattoo, you would not want to treat it with red light, since it would reflect all of the light and not absorb the energy.
Popular Wavelengths for Laser Tattoo Removal
The most widely used wavelengths for removing tattoos include 1064 nm, 532 nm, 694 nm, and 755 nm. Each of these wavelengths is capable of treating a specific set of tattoo ink colors:
Of these wavelengths, the most versatile and common are those produced by an Nd:YAG laser – 1064 nm and 532 nm.
Some laser companies offer laser machines that combine multiple laser wavelengths as a 2-in-1 or 3-in-1 system, like the Astanza Duality and Trinity. These systems are typically the systems of choice for serious practices as they allow for treatment versatility and greater efficacy.
Nd:YAG Lasers | 1064 nm, 532 nm
Both 1064 nm and 532 nm wavelengths can be generated by an Nd:YAG laser.
The 1064 nm wavelength is ideal for removing black or dark tattoos, as this wavelength of light energy very well absorbed by black ink. Since the most common ink color used by tattoo artists is black, the 1064 nm wavelength is the most commonly used laser wavelength for tattoo removal.
The 532 nm wavelength the most effective wavelength for red ink and other warm-toned colors, including violet, orange, yellow, and brown.
The Nd:YAG wavelengths of 1064 nm and 532 nm give the ability to treat a wide range of ink colors. In general, Nd:YAG lasers can treat 90 – 95% of tattoos, since red and black are the most popular tattoo ink colors. Both Nd:YAG wavelengths are safe on all skin types and allow for the most efficacious tattoo laser removal procedures available.
Ruby Lasers | 694 nm
The ruby laser wavelength of 694 nm is perfect for removing blue and green inks as well as their shades of teal, turquoise, lime green that would be difficult to remove with an Nd:YAG laser alone.
In addition to treating these rarer tattoo colors, the 694 wavelength is also exceptional at removing resistant black inks.
Industry leaders tout laser systems that combine Nd:YAG laser technology with ruby laser technology for their versatility and ability to treat virtually all ink colors.
Alexandrite Lasers | 755 nm
Similar to the 694 nm wavelength from a ruby laser, the alexandrite laser’s 755 nm wavelength is also a fine supplemental wavelength for treating green, blue, and black inks.
Just like a ruby laser, an alexandrite laser is an exceptional wavelength to add-on to an Nd:YAG system, but alone does not allow for enough versatility to be the sole laser for a tattoo removal practice. Furthermore, buyer’s should know that since the 755 nm wavelength is a red beam, it cannot treat red inks with any efficacy.
A Cautionary Note
There are some other wavelengths are used for tattoo removal – namely 585 nm and 650 nm. While these wavelengths also would be potentially good choices for removing blue and green inks, they cannot be produced with the same power as the other wavelengths mentioned in this article.
These wavelengths are created through the use of dye impregnated handpiece filters, which cause the energy levels to pale in comparison to those produced directly by a laser. Having a 585 nm or 650 nm dye handpiece on your laser will fool you into thinking that you have a useful tool to remove a tattoo. You’ll hurt your reputation with patients if you tell them you can treat a tattoo that you really can’t, so be careful before you pass on the hype.
Choosing the Right Wavelengths for Your Practice
Wavelength is one of the most important factors to consider when buying a laser machine. The capabilities of each wavelength are different, and it’s important to have the tools to treat your patients’ tattoos.
For practices looking to treat the full range of tattoo colors, it’s important to have three full-powered wavelengths – 1064 nm for black inks, 532 nm for red and warm-toned inks, and either 694 nm or 755 nm for blue and green inks.
Laser Treatments Are For More Than Just Laser Tattoo Removal
Recently, Self Magazine published a wonderful article about dermatologists’ use of lasers for all sorts of cosmetic procedures. The article focuses on how various types of lasers (and which ones) are used to treat common issues that dermatologists see in their practices. Issues for which dermatologists often recommend laser procedures include brown spots and discoloration, redness, wrinkles, acne scarring, stretch marks and of course, removing tattoos.
Kally Papantoniou, M.D., a dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC, is quoted as saying, “Nothing really takes the place of what lasers can do for the skin. For somebody who is younger, you can get away with just using a good skin-care regimen—sunscreen, maybe getting a chemical peel here and there.” She goes on to further say, “But you reach a point where you wish you could get back that perk that you used to have.” That, she says, is where lasers come in. And they can do a world of difference. But you need to know what you’re getting into if you want to get the most out of it. The article then begins to discuss the various lasers that are used for different treatments. Overall, the article is comprehensive and provides a helpful overview of the possibilities with laser skin care.
Laser Treatment Training and Credentials
One focus of the article to which we wanted to bring attention is the training and the credentials of people performing laser procedures. The vast majority of states allow people who aren’t in the medical profession to perform laser procedures, but it’s important to fully understand your state’s laws. The most common regulation is that an off-site physician must serve as “medical director” to delegate tasks to and supervise a laser technician.
But, as the article points out, make sure you go to a legitimate provider and know who is performing the treatment. The importance of this step is one of reasons why we started the New Look Laser College, to train and certify those who will be performing laser tattoo removal procedures. New Look Laser College is the world’s first laser training program dedicated to tattoo removal. Training is offered at select locations worldwide, both in the United States (where the course was founded) and internationally.
Upon completion of training, each New Look Laser College training client will receive three certifications acknowledging their newfound background in laser training and gain authorization to perform laser tattoo removal and other cosmetic laser procedures with Q-switched lasers.
Looking for a certification or asking what type of training the person performing your treatment has obtained is a smart move. If you are considering getting into the business of laser tattoo removal, it’s also a good idea to be certified and know how to properly use a laser before treating any patients.