Laser Tattoo Removal: Heated Pigment and the Creation of Hazardous Compounds

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Millions of people in the United States have at least one tattoo. Permanent make up tattoos have also become quite popular.

Tattoo pigments are not officially controlled to the same degree cosmetic ingredients are and therefore the chemical composition of these coloring agents are not widely known. For that reason neither the tattoo artist or the customer has any information about the substances injected into the skin. Analysis of large numbers of tattoo compounds has revealed that many tattoo pigments are organic compounds as determined by their chemical makeup.

Most tattoo pigments are well tolerated by the skin, but adverse reactions have been seen in many tattoo recipients. Also, several malignant lesions have occurred in tattoos over the years, but are rare.

When, after several years of living with the tattoo a person begins to suffer from tattoo regret they many times undergo tattoo removal through the use of a Q-switch laser. When tattoo pigment is implanted in the skin it finds its way to and becomes part of the cells of the dermis and is not a free floating mass or body of ink.

Many tattoo pigment particles measure only a few microns in size while others are much larger. When a laser is applied to the pigment cell the destruction of that pigment cell through intense heat leads to a rapid expansion of the surrounding water, inducing negative pressure and a shock wave near the surface of the pigment. These shock waves, combined with the heat of the laser itself, may help destroy the tattooed compounds.

The pigment particles pulverize and form a solution of pigment molecules that result in pigment decomposition products and a molecular change in the compound used to make the pigment. Because of this fragmentation many of the tattoo particles are released through the surface of the skin and unknown by products of the newly generated chemical compounds are absorbed through the lymphatic system. This produces a noticeable decrease in color intensity of the tattoo. Depending on the pigment color it can take up to 8 to 12 treatments for 90% to 100% clearance.

Since the tattoo color is often made of an unknown pigment composition a quantitative analysis test was run on tattoo pigments after laser treatment using high pressure liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. The test was performed using shades of red azo dye pigment. It is known that red tattoo pigments cause the most frequent allergic reactions. It is also known that azo dyes, which are used because of the vibrancy of color they produce, become carcinogenic when heated above 280 degrees Celsius .Temperatures reached when laser is used to remove tattoo pigments are in the 900 Celsius temperature range, well above the temperature needed to turn the pigment into a carcinogenic compound.

The FDA does not closely monitor the manufacture of tattoo pigments and there have been few, if any, studies into compounds formed when tattoo pigments are decomposed by the heat of laser removal. Because laser tattoo removal is the most popular method of tattoo removal more information is needed about the effects of decomposed compounds disposed of through the lymph system.

…So…use Nuviderm and don’t worry about creating dangerous compounds.

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