Q Switch Laser

What Is a Q-Switched Laser?

Quality-switched or Q-switched laser is a high intensity laser used to effectively remove tattoos, especially those that are highly pigmented or colored. There are several different Q-switched laser strengths, each of which has a specific application. Some are used to remove a specific tattoo ink color, while others are used on specific skin colors (such as fair skin, olive and Fitzpatrick type, and dark skin tones).

Who Performs Q-Switched Laser Treatments?

It is important to be treated by a board certified dermatologist who has had special training in the use of Q-switched laser equipment and associated protocol. This licensed physician will accurately and safely monitor your skin's reaction to the laser treatment and any potential complications or concerns throughout the healing process.

How Does the Q-Switched Laser Work?

This type of laser emits short, intense pulses of light that effectively fragment the various colors or hues of tattoo ink. The ink is dispersed into the surrounding skin, where it is absorbed and eliminated by the body's natural immune system. The laser treated tattoo fades, like a sunburn, over the course of the subsequent sessions. A sizeable tattoo requires an average of eight treatments, but the number varies from three to 10 sessions depending on the intensity of the tattoo.

What Is the Q-Switched Laser Used for?

While broadly used for tattoo removal, Q-switched laser is effective at removing many different hyperpigmentations and discolorations of the skin. Spider veins, hemangiomas, age spots, cafe-au-lait spots (pale birthmarks), unwanted hair and more are other dermatologic concerns that are effectively treated by this laser treatment.

What Areas of the Body Does the Q-Switched Laser Treat?

Virtually any area of the body can be treated with this intense laser; the face, chest, back, legs, hands and arms are the most common areas, as they are popular tattoo sites.
The areas that are treated by laser should not be tanned. Patients are cautioned to avoid sun exposure for a period of time prior to beginning the treatment sessions for tattoo removal.

What Are the Advantages of the Q-Switched Laser Over Other Lasers?

The Q-switched laser is delivered as a high intensity, pulsed light beam. According to researchers, pulsed light beams a very intense power and, therefore, is more effective than the traditional, continuous laser wave.

Compared to other laser techniques, Q-switched laser works effectively by using a lower number of pulse repetitions, higher pulse energy and longer pulse durations. This technique combination has proven to be highly successful in removing complex tattoos.

Who Is a Candidate for Q-Switched Laser Treatments?

This type of laser works on all skin colors and is a safe and appropriate treatment for all ages. The Q-switch is available in several wavelengths to accommodate skin color differences. The Q-switched ruby laser is the best choice for tattoo removal from light skin. The Q-switched Nd:YAG treats dark skinned patients with a longer wavelength. Tan, olive and brown skin is treated with the Q-switched Nd:YAG and Q-switched alexandrite lasers.

Anyone with an active cold sore or using Accutane should not have Q-switched laser treatments. Patients who have had a previous history of cold sores can have a recurrence after a laser treatment. (Ask your dermatologist to pre-treat you with an anti-viral medication prior to the laser session.) Accutane users should stop the anti-acne medication for at least six months before having laser treatments.

How is the Q-Switched Laser Treatment Performed?

Importantly, protective glasses are worn for the entire treatment session. Because this type of laser treatment can cause discomfort, applying an anesthetic or numbing cream to the area is recommended before each session. The Q-switched laser is delivered directly to the tattoo or other hyperpigmented area with a hand held device so patients can sit or recline, depending on where the site is located. Repeated, short, intense lasers of light are directed at the area.

Depending on the color and depth of the tattoo, each session lasts 30 minutes to one hour. Small age spots take only a few minutes and only one session to remove. Yellow, green and fluorescent inks are more difficult to remove than blue and black inks. A series of laser treatments will be scheduled; an average of eight sessions are often needed at least one month apart. Some dermatologists cover the treated area with a bandage.

What Is the Recovery Like?

The treated area will immediately become reddened after the session. Blisters will form, and the area will then become crusty and dry as the blisters begin to dry over the next two weeks. Dermatologists recommend keeping the area moisturized to decrease scarring. The patient is instructed to apply topical antibiotic cream and moisturizers for one to two weeks after each Q-switched laser treatment. Although the treated area will be sore, there is no loss of time from work associated with this treatment.

What Will the Results Be Like?

The results of Q-switched laser treatments are permanent. When the laser fragments the ink, it disperses into the area being treated. The body's natural immune system works to absorb the fragmented ink so the area will slowly fade in color, much like a sunburn fades.

What Are the Risks?

As with any treatment in which the integrity of the skin is broken, removing a tattoo with the Q-switched laser puts the patient at risk to develop an infection. Scarring at the site is a common side effect of this laser treatment and varies with each case. Q-switched lasers can change skin pigmentation causing hypopigmentation or white spots at the treated area; this is especially true in dark skinned patients.

What Does It Cost?

Q-switched laser treatments are most often considered to be a cosmetic procedure, so they are not covered by health insurance, especially for tattoo removal. A single spider vein or a small area of age spots being removed can cost $500 to $1000 for the single session. Tattoo removal is based on the time needed to treat the area or size of the tattoo--often figured on a cost per square inch of color to be lasered.

By Dermanetwork.org Staff
Updated: April 18, 2013

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