The tattoo industry is booming. A 2015 study from The Harris Poll found that around 30 percent of adults in the U.S. have at least one tattoo, and that number is rising. But as tattoos have become more commonplace—they’re mainstream, really—so has tattoo removal. In fact, the tattoo removal industry has been experiencing major growth, too. According to the same Harris Poll study, about a quarter of people who get a tattoo later regret it. Those people fuel the tattoo removal market, which is projected to be worth a whopping $27.3 billion by 2023.
Despite its popularity, though, there are very few tattoo removal options. Laser removal treatments require multiple sessions spread out over a long period of time, plus they’re expensive. And in addition to being a big time and money commitment, most tattoo removal methods are also notoriously painful.
But it might not be that way for long. The tattoo removal industry is currently in the process of reinventing itself, with millions of dollars backing innovative research and studies that could transform the removal process from the point of view of physicians, dermatologists, and patients alike. Below are three of the most fascinating new technologies driving innovations in tattoo removal.
1. PiQo4 by Lumenis
Unveiled just last year, the PiQo4 laser by Lumenis has been piquing the interests of both dermatologists and patients for its ability to treat skin issues like hyperpigmentation, melasma, and sun damage. However, the laser also works wonders on tattoo ink.
The PiQo4 functions similarly to traditional laser treatments in that its laser breaks up tattoo pigment into smaller pieces that the body can then absorb and remove. But what’s unique about this technology is that it employs “short, high-powered pulses [that] reach deep into tissues to meticulously target dark skin pigment with no down time,” explains Nurse Jamie, a registered nurse and celebrity skin expert who recently used the PiQo4 on Modern Family’s Sarah Hyland to remove one of the actress’ unwanted tattoos. Those short pulses of laser energy are they key to its effectiveness, she says. They “give it the power needed to treat a wide variety of skin conditions, including tattoo removal.”
Another important differentiator between the PiQo4 and other removal devices is the size of its laser. Lumenis’ laser has the largest spot size on the market, ranging from 2mm to 15mm (which is the largest spot size available for tattoo removal). What exactly does that mean? “Studies have shown that treatment with a large spot size at low fluences significantly decreases the likelihood of blistering, discoloration, or scarring on the skin’s surface, since energy is being spread over a wider area,” says Nurse Jamie. Besides causing less trauma to the skin, a larger spot size also has a very exciting benefit: quicker removal.
Thanks to its increased spot size, “the PiQo4 can treat a larger-sized area per pulse than competitor lasers,” says Nurse Jamie. “It reaches even the deepest, most stubborn colors and clears pigment more efficiently than other devices.”
2. Soliton Rapid Acoustic Pulse Device
While it isn’t yet available for commercial use, Soliton’s Rapid Acoustic Pulse (RAP) Device is meant to speed up the traditionally lengthy tattoo removal process. Current tattoo removal practices typically require eight to 12 sessions with a dermatologist or physician over the course of one to two years. The RAP Device claims to be able to offer patients results in a fraction of that time. In its most recent clinical study, Soliton’s process resulted in 100 percent of participants seeing complete tattoo removal in just two or three office visits.
Most laser tattoo removal devices can only do one pass of the tattooed skin per session because, according to the Soliton website, the extreme heat of the laser creates a barrier under the skin that prevents “additional laser passes in the same treatment session [from having a] significant effect.” But the RAP Device uses acoustic shock waves to break down that barrier, allowing for multiple passes over a tattoo in a single session. This significantly speeds up the process. In fact, the FDA-approved technology suggests it has the potential to cut down all tattoo removal sessions by up to two-thirds.
If the quicker removal time wasn’t enough, another benefit of the RAP Device—which Soliton claims can also reduce cellulite and treat keloids—is that it employs very quick, high energy, divergent shockwaves. This means that it’s fast acting but doesn’t cause heat, pain, or skin damage.
3. Describe PFD Patch
The Describe PFD Patch is a silicon patch infused with perfluorodecalin, an ingredient commonly used in skincare products because of its ability to deliver oxygen to the skin, which enables wounds to heal faster and more effectively. Dr. Brian Biesman, M.D., a Nashville-based oculoplastic surgeon who helped to develop the PFD patch, uses it for every tattoo removal procedure performed in his clinic because “it protects the skin surface, so there’s less crusting and blistering and so forth. You also get deeper penetration of laser light into the skin.”
Perhaps the greatest benefit of using the PFD patch is that “it allows you to do multiple laser passes in a single session as opposed to doing just one, which is standard when doing laser hair or laser tattoo removal without the PFD patch,” according to the company’s website. By using the patch, your skin is stays safe from the extreme heat of the laser so, he says, on average, you can do three and a half to four passes over a tattoo during each session.
The Describe PFD Patch works on “every color and size of tattoo, and every skin color as well,” says Dr. Biesman. “It’s color-blind.” In a 2015 study of the patch—which Dr. Biesman conducted and supervised—it was found that “in a majority of subjects (11 of 17), tattoos treated through a transparent PFD‐infused patch showed more rapid tattoo clearance with higher patient and clinician satisfaction than conventional treatment. In no case did the control side fade faster than the PFD Patch side.”
If you liked our piece about the latest innovations in tattoo removal, be sure to check out our guide to Exactly How the Tattoo Removal Process Works.