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Clin Dermatol. 2006 Jan-Feb;24(1):43-55.

Laser treatment of tattoos.

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Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


Tattooing has been around since the early beginnings of modern civilization. Modern tattoo artists use a myriad of colors to produce striking designs, resulting in permanent works of body art; however, we humans have been changing our minds since the beginning of time. Our fickle nature results in the desire to change what has been placed as a permanent reminder of a friend, spouse, or work of art. Removing tattoos began with abrasive and destructive measures to destroy the tattoo, and unfortunately, the skin it was contained in. The discovery of selective photothermolysis, the ability to selectively remove target structures without disrupting the surrounding skin, made it at least possible to remove tattoos without destroying the surrounding skin leaving a scar. Theory predicted that pulse durations in the nanosecond domain would be optimal for tattoo removal, and the Q-switched neodymium:yttrium-aluminum-garnet, alexandrite, and ruby lasers fulfilled this need. Too often, older lasers or intense pulsed light sources are used to treat tattoos, often with significant scarring. Since the advent of the Q-switched lasers more than a decade ago, improvement in tattoo-removal lasers has been incremental. Developments leading to new tattoo inks, feedback systems to detect the absorbance characteristics of tattoo inks, dermal clearing agents, and perhaps even shorter pulse-duration lasers should result in improved results for the future.

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