PicoWay's tattoo removal system. Left: Before; Center: After four treatments; Right: After five treatments. PicoWay's tattoo removal system. Left: Before; Center: After four treatments; Right: After five treatments. PicoWay's tattoo removal system. Left: Before; Center: After four treatments; Right: After five treatments. (Photo: Syneron Candela)

Unwanted tattoos? Make them disappear, for real

New faster, more effective laser removal system just got FDA approval.

More people are getting tattoos than ever before, which means more people are removing them than ever before, too.

We all have our reasons. For some, it's correcting a haphazard teenage decision that left you with a lopsided butterfly etched into your lower back. For others, it's a way to "edit" history, to turn that "Mark" on your upper arm – because at one time, you really did think Mark was The One – into "Mom." Either way, tattoo removal is a viable option for people who just want that one rather unfortunate part of their past erased.

The reasoning behind wanting them gone may never change, but the technology is vastly improved.

A new method called PicoWay uses a laser created in Israel to pulse energy onto the skin and remove tattoo dye, and dermatologists are excited.

PicoWay, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October, uses picosecond (one-trillionth of a second) pulse duration to generate super-high peak power of laser energy on the skin. The pulse creates a strong photo-mechanical impact that optimizes fracturing of tattoo ink. In layman’s terms, your unwanted tattoos will be virtually zapped into oblivion.

Dr. Eric Bernstein, president of the Main Line Center for Laser Surgery in Ardmore, Pa., called PicoWay "an innovative and exciting breakthrough for tattoo removal."

"As a dual wavelength laser, it delivers extremely high peak-power picosecond pulses, enabling the treatment of all skin types," he said. "What this means is extremely impressive results, which translate into very happy patients."

Israel-based Syneron Medical Ltd., which developed the laser, said shipments to U.S. medical practices have jumped since the FDA approval was announced.

"Shipments have already commenced to customers in the U.S. and internationally," Dr. Jayant Bhawalkar, Syneron's vice president of research, told From The Grapevine. "In coming months, as more PicoWay systems are installed globally, patients who are frustrated with current options for tattoo removal will be able to find a physician locally who can offer them treatments with the new PicoWay."

PicoWay laser

For the past 20 years, the gold standard for tattoo removal was a q-switched laser, which generates laser light with high energy in a nanosecond duration pulse. While these lasers are effective, Bhawalkar said removal often takes a dozen painful treatments that can span years and still do not completely clear the tattoo. 

"It has been known for some time that shorter pulses, in the picosecond domain, would be much more effective on tattoos, by being able to interact with even smaller tattoo ink particles and shatter them efficiently," he said. "Picosecond lasers have not been available for this application until recently. Now PicoWay is the first dual-wavelength picosecond laser with the shortest pulse duration on the market."

In testing the device for FDA approval, company officials recruited doctors from around the world to investigate the results of the PicoWay laser on patients. What they found was that 86 percent of the subjects achieved 50 percent tattoo clearance after three treatments. Patients also reported low levels of discomfort throughout the procedures.

Bhawalkar said the PicoWay distinguishes itself from the conventional q-switched laser in one fundamental way – speed. The laser's ultra-short pulse duration "enables the device to produce almost 1 gigawatt of peak power, higher than that generated by any other product on the market for tattoos and pigmented lesions."

Syneron's clinical studies showed that tattoos treated with the PicoWay laser require about half the number of treatment sessions compared to conventional q-switched lasers. Bhawalkar warned, however, that every tattoo is unique, and the exact number of treatments required varies. 

"Some tattoos are removed completely in a single treatment, but most require three to seven treatments for complete removal," he said. "Many tattoos can be completely removed but some may be more resistant and may not completely fade. There is no treatment out there that can accomplish complete clearance on all tattoos, but the PicoWay is a big step in the right direction."

Before tattoo lasers, Syneron became known for its line of dental lasers that landed the company in ninth place on the 2011 Deloitte Technology Fast 50 competition in Israel. Syneron was among the top 10 fastest-growing technology companies in the country. 


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