Tattoo removal review: Picosure

Alberto Herrera
The first of my two Picosure treatments

My tattoo is now five years old

There are a few reasons I want to remove my tattoo, but mostly it's practical: the size and position of it on my back make it visible through my business shirts. Not ideal. I first tried removing it in 2013 with three sessions of Q-Switched laser and again in 2014 with Picosure.

What to expect from Q-Switched laser tattoo removal

After an initial consultation with very professional and experienced staff at a local clinic, I was given a forecast of at least 8-10 sessions. They prepared my back by shaving the tattoo area, and applying (expensive) numbing creme to counter any pain caused by the laser.

The laser
Q-Switched lasers use PhotoAcoustic energy to emit light in very short pulses; this light penetrates the skin and targets tattoo ink. The treatment can be slow or fast, depending on your tolerance of discomfort. Because of its precision, there is a very low risk of scarring to skin.

The cost
For the size of my tattoo (roughly 20cm x 20cm) I was quoted $350 a session.

Time of session
Each session was approximately 20 minutes long.

The pain factor
Even with the numbing creme, I'd rate the pain factor 8/10: it was like the flicking of a thousand hot rubber bands on my back over over and again. I pride myself on a fairly high pain threshold so I was quite shocked at the level of discomfort.

When the procedure was finished, the practitioner applied a soothing ointment and covered the tattoo in bandages. The bandages are used to protect the skin in the hours and days following treatment, to prevent it from chafing against clothes.

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Driving home after each treatment, I had no chance of sitting back into my seat: the sensation of my skin felt like sunburn and a lot of heat was coming out of it. There was no bleeding nor blistering but I experienced slight bruising and two to three days of discomfort. The skin was red, but painless for a few days following this.

Did it work?
There was no noticeable difference after the first session but, two months later, after the second treatment, I could see there was a slight fading of the tattoo. But in the months following my third treatment, the difference was negligible.

What to expect from Picosure tattoo removal

I was skeptical to say the least when I first tried Picosure as it promised big things - fewer treatments, faster recovery times - quickly. After a thorough and detailed consultation with nurse Sarah Chatburn, from Newcastle Tattoo Removal, she forecast between 2 and 3 sessions and prepared the tattoo by cooling the skin with cold air for 5 minutes; she did not shave the area.

The laser
The world’s first picosecond aesthetic laser removes ink colours by delivering ultra-short picosecond pulses of energy into the skin, without scarring surrounding tissue. These pulses shatter the ink into tiny, dust-like particles which are easily eliminated by the body. It's effectively on previously treated tattoos too.

The cost
$1000 a session for my 20cm x 20 cm tattoo.

The time
The speed of treatment is determined by the pain tolerance of the patient. I opted to get the pain over quickly and it took between 5-10 minutes for each session. As with the Q-Switched laser, the faster the treatment the more painful, so your practitioner can go slowly to make you feel more comfortable.

Number of sessions

Pain factor
This was the big one for me: I had no numbing creme, and at its worst, I'd rate the pain factor as 5/10. This time, it was the flicking of only a hundred rubber bands. And they weren't searing hot. I could tell immediately the difference in pain and combined with the speed of the treatment overall, I experienced even less discomfort than I thought I would. I only needed to manage pain for a few minutes. If you can tolerate it, you can cover a big surface area in a few minutes so that you're in and out before your lunch hour is over.

After the first treatment, I was in only mild discomfort, and I had no bandages. I had no bleeding, very little redness but it did bruise, and I had a few very small blisters (similar to those from severe sunburn) for some days following. I was in discomfort for only a day. There was a noticeable difference a week after the first session, but Sarah advised me that it would take five weeks for the real differences to appear. She was right - over the following four weeks the tattoo continued to fade.

After feedback from my first procedure, Sarah suggested I ice the tattoo for an hour or two after the second treatment, so I drove home sitting against an ice pack. This did the trick: again, no bleeding, a little bruising and no blisters. I had no pain the following day, and was able to work out at the gym with no problem. Ice significantly helped the process.

It's been nearly 6 weeks since my second treatment and the tattoo is largely faded. In six months time, it will be clearer again, and will continue to fade over time.

Key advantages
First, it's significantly less painful during and after treatment and secondly, it shortens the number of sessions you need. Sarah advised me that I could need one more treatment on a certain area of the tattoo, and the rest will fade over time. In the long term, it could work out the same price or cheaper than Q-Switched as you have fewer sessions.

Before and after: April 2014 (L) and July 2014 (R)


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