Tattoos are popular in the United States, with 40% of the American population aged 18 to 60 having at least one tattoo and a further 19% considering getting one. With these statistics in mind, it’s worth reviewing the technologies that can and can’t be used over tattoos so that you are well-equipped to answer any inquiries from prospective patients. With preparation, you may be better able to convert calls into consultations, where you can better evaluate a patient’s skin type, health history, and aesthetic goals to suggest the best aesthetic treatment plan for tattooed skin.
While features and efficacy may vary, radio frequency (RF) devices for body contouring, skin tightening, and wrinkle reduction treatments all work on the same principle: using an applicator featuring one or more electrodes, RF energy is delivered deep below the skin’s surface where it converts to thermal energy to safely heat targeted cells, inducing lipolysis in the targeted fat cells and prompting improved collagen and elastin production. Being electrical-based treatments, pigment or melanin remains unaffected—this is why many people assume that RF treatments are a safe option for tattooed skin. Although RF’s disassociation with melanin makes it a safer option for darker skin tones, some tattoo ink may contain trace amounts of metal and because there’s no way to know for sure if or how much metal may be in the ink, you may still want to proceed with caution when treating over tattooed skin.
Treatments utilizing Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) work by targeting pigment, or more specifically melanin. For example, IPL photorejuvenation treatments deliver IPL energy to targeted areas with higher concentrations of melanin, such as brown spots, to disperse and dissolve melanin. Similarly, IPL hair removal treatments target pigment to destroy the hair follicle. Because IPL treatments target pigment, tattooed skin is a major contraindication for these treatments. If IPL skin or hair removal treatments were performed over a tattoo, IPL energy would be converted into thermal energy once it came into contact with the pigment present in tattoo ink, dissolving the ink and causing severe burns to the skin that may also increase the patient’s risk of permanent scarring. Whenever possible, tattoos near IPL treatment areas should be covered for improved safety. As always, prompt prospective patients to schedule a consultation to better evaluate and discuss treatment options specific to their skin’s needs.
The ink of tattoos is placed in the dermis (the middle layer of the skin), which is about a millimeter below the skin’s surface. The reason for this is to prevent bleeding of the tattoo ink as skin heals and to prevent rapid and severe fading. Tattoo ink naturally fades with time, but will last for decades and decades if properly completed. While not all microneedling skin resurfacing treatments puncture the skin at the same depth, those treatments that do create microdermal wounds at a one-millimeter depth affect the dermis, potentially causing premature fading of tattoo ink and alterations in ink color. For this reason, it would be best to err on the side of caution when delivering microneedling treatments and avoid areas where a tattoo is present.
Alternatively, a microneedling treatment that doesn’t puncture as deeply may be a better option, albeit efficacy may be altered or more treatment sessions may be required to achieve optimal results and tattoo fading may still be a risk.
As with IPL and microneedling, it’s best to avoid laser hair removal and laser-based skin treatments over tattoos. Although they target pigment, these laser devices tend to deliver energy much deeper below the skin’s surface than laser tattoo removal devices, meaning an increased risk of oxidation of tattoo ink, deep skin burns, and permanent scarring. Simply put, the risk of severe skin damage and patient discomfort is too high and with alternative treatment protocols available that can deliver similar results more safely for tattooed skin, it’s not worth the risk.
With more than half the American population either having or considering a tattoo, a proactive and strong business move would be to expand your aesthetic clinic’s offerings to better serve this potential patient base with complementary treatments. Consider a versatile multi-treatment device, like Venus Versa™, that enables you to best serve all of your prospective patients through the use of different applicators that provide RF-based treatments alongside popular IPL options.
You can also keep your equipment costs in check while you focus on business growth through Venus Concept’s industry-unique subscription-based business model. To learn more, contact a Venus Concept representative today.