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Is Laser Tattoo Removal Safe?

To quickly answer your question. Yes. It’s safe but you’re not silly for asking the question. For a long time the idea of lasers existed in our imaginations as this futuristic technology of unlimited energy. Over the years as lasers became a part of different technologies ranging from cutting sheet metal to classroom pointers, it’s not hard to imagine how the mystery and uncertainty related to skin-use would only intensify.

As a highly trained laser skin treatment specialist I thought I would take some time to sit at my desk this morning over coffee and have a little chat with you about the valid safety concerns you have when it comes to lasers.

I’m Rita Hoxha, and this is my article about Laser use on your largest organ: the skin.

What is a laser anyways?

What is a Tattoo Removal Laser?

There was a time when this would be a question for NASA, but don’t worry I got you. See, the word Laser is actually an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emissions of Radiation. Now, I’d be lying if I said I debated telling you this or not because of the work Radiation. It’s a word we associate with cancer, and I’ll talk more about that a little later. 

Light is a fascinating element of our reality. We live in an age where we are just beginning to discover and utilize the beneficial properties of light. How different spectrums of light with different wavelengths are able to transpose different benefits to human health. 

Many of us learned in school that each color of light has a unique wavelength, that is, the space between the wave peaks is different. Blue light has a shorter wavelength than red light. Sunlight, is made up of light with many different wavelengths and when our optical nerves interpret all of the different wavelengths simultaneously we see it as white light like daylight. 

A laser is something that does not occur in nature. We found a technological way to isolate the different wavelengths and line up their peaks so they can fit tightly together. We call this behaviour “In Phase”. Because all of the peaks are all lined up we are able to focus the light tightly together. 

The other interesting behaviour that is a byproduct of being In-Phase, is that the light can travel great distances. For example, the light coming from a flashlight spreads out because the source, like a filament or LED bulb has a surface area that varies so slightly, it amplifies away from the source, it spreads out. And because the flashlight has all the wavelengths behaving in different ways the intensity of the light as a whole behaves differently. 

Lasers are more common than you think. We find them in precision tools that can cut through diamonds or execute delicate surgeries. Lasers are used for recording and retrieving data, communications, carrying TV and internet signals, laser printers, barcode scanners, and DVD players. Surely the list goes on.

How Do Lasers Work On My Skin?

Remember when we were talking about wavelengths? Well we measure wavelengths in something called “nanometers” (nm) which, as you can imagine, is a very small unit of measurement. But at this microscopic level we can see some very fundamental characteristics of light. In fact it is the wavelength measurement in nanometers that makes us see light in different colours.   But there are some wavelengths we can’t see. And these are the wavelengths we call “Infrared”. These wavelengths are pretty big compared to the other wavelengths in the spectrum. 

The shortest wavelength of visible light is violet at 380nm and the longest wavelength of visible light is 700nm. But there is light we can’t see below 380nm that we call ultraviolet and light we can’t see above 700nm wavelengths we call infrared. The infrared spectrum goes all the way up to 1mm. 

PicoWay Wavelength Light Spectrum

Here’s where it gets fascinating. The wavelengths in the light spectrum between 700nm and 1mm there is an even narrower spectrum of wavelengths that have a physical effect on human tissue. We call this the “biological window” and that occurs between 600nm and 1000nm. 

Now that we understand all of this, to answer the question “how do lasers work on my skin?” we need to understand skin and other tissues. Basically, lasers cause very finite levels of heat or tissue damage that trigger a healing response in our tissue.  Either micro-wounds will be made on the surface of the skin, or the deeper layers of the skin will be gently heated. Both methods induce a healing response, called neocollagenesis, but in different ways. After treatment, your body immediately and naturally begins healing compromised tissues. Without a clear signal to the tissue that repair is needed, any damage that has resulted as a byproduct of age or even tattoos will fly under the radar and go unnoticed. By creating microwounds in the tissue we are essentially tricking the body to activate its repair responses and restore the tissue.

Can Lasers Cause Cancer?

Earlier when I was explaining exactly what a laser is, I described it as a kind of radiation. We associate radiation as something negative because of the context in which we most often hear of it. The context of photons that destroy tissue at the atomic level. But to understand radiation you need to understand the electromagnetic spectrum.

The diagram above illustrates the entire spectrum of electromagnetism. It’s all considered radiation. Radiation is only a description of behaviour. Radiation becomes dangerous to human tissue as we shorten the wavelengths of electromagnetism. It’s called ionizing radiation. The worst kind of ionizing radiation is Gamma Ray which has so much energy it can displace electrons from the atoms that make up the various molecules of your tissue.

Our lasers operate in a safe margin of the electromagnetic spectrum and while they do cause damage to tissue, they do not cause any subatomic damage to the components that make up your tissue.

Why Do Some Laser Treatments Hurt?

Some people compare the discomfort to a rubber band slapping on your skin. If you ask me I’d say that kinda hurts, but others describe it as an annoyance more than anything. As a laser wavelength enters your skin it interacts with the water molecules to cause heat. The affected area is highly focused and occurs very quickly. That’s why you hear the laser pulse. The flash of heat causes a bit of cellular damage that is required to trigger the healing response we talked about earlier in the article.

Are Some Lasers Better Than Others?

Laser treatments are divided into two categories. Ablative vs. Non-Ablative. The basic difference between ablative and non-ablative treatments is that ablative lasers remove the top layer of skin, while non-ablative lasers work by heating up the underlying skin tissue (without harming the surface) so that your body will produce new collagen.

The PicoWay laser is considered a non-ablative laser. PicoWay has the fastest operating laser in the world at 300ps on the 785nm. The speed of the laser is what generates the photoacoustic shockwave (mechanical energy) to shatter the ink pigment.

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