How Effective Is PicoSure Tattoo Removal? [Part 1]

CynoSure is a global leader in laser technologies that recently launched in Australia through Dr Pico (Darlinghurst, Sydney). It uses a picosecond aesthetic laser dubbed PicoSure to shatter ink into tiny particles without leaving scarring or burns. Last week, we accompanied a Lifehacker reader during her first PicoSure treatment. Check out the video to see the results unfold firsthand.

Like many young, carefree Aussies of the 1990s, Kelly decided to get inked on her 19th birthday. Unlike most Aussies, she plumped for a blurry blue dragon called Spyro. Needless to say, it was a rite of passage that she eventually came to regret. Below you'll find the full sorry saga of Spyro the sort-of dragon and its eventual slaying under Picosure's precise laser technology.

Crazed And Confused

"I was pretty excited to get a tattoo once I turned 18, and gave a lot of thought into what I wanted to have," Kelly explained to Lifehacker just before her treatment. "It seemed to me that a dragon was pretty much the epitome of cool tattoo-wise — no girly butterflies or dolphins here!

"So I spent a lot of time looking at dragon tattoo pics and visualising where I wanted it. After giving a lot of consideration to the shoulder blade area I decided that yes, the upper back was the perfect spot for my dragon. I thought that said dragon would look pretty sporting on a sword, and so the ‘dragon on a sword’ masterpiece was drawn, then inked onto my back in 1999 when I had just turned 19."

Kelly dubbed her permanent pal "Spyro" after the titular video game dragon on the PlayStation One. To most observers, the tattoo looked more like a worm than a wyvern, but this did not deter Kelly in the slightest (at least, not at first).

'Pssst — It's a dragon!'

"Spyro and I were pretty damn cool together; him poking out the top of my wife-beater at punk shows, ruining my formal look at cousins' weddings, getting me kicked out of hotel pools in Tokyo; you name it. But Spyro has not aged well. The tattoo was always quite light, and over the years time and sun exposure have taken their toll and blurring lines and fading have caused him to decline into a dragon-shaped blur.

"Plus the initial positioning of the tattoo was never quite right. Because the dragon is face-down on the sword, it’s pretty hard to people to work out what it even is; especially when the bottom is covered by clothing. I’m pretty sure most of my friends have no idea what it actually is and are just too polite to ask.

"I eventually talked to a few tattoo artists about possibly working around it, but none were interested due to its poor condition. They all advised me that removal was the way to go. Spyro and I have had a good run over the last 15 years, but it’s time to say goodbye!"

Picosure To The Rescue?

Until very recently, tattoo removal was a painful and time-consuming process that often produced mixed results — especially when green and blue inks were involved. CynoSure is looking to change all that with its arsenal of photomechanical lasers.

Unlike traditional laser treatments, Picosure uses patented "PressureWave" technology to deliver ultra-short pulses of energy into the patient's skin in trillionths of a second. It targets ink while avoiding unmarked tissue, resulting in less damage to the surrounding skin. Over a series of treatments, the ink is converted into dust-like particles that are small enough to be eliminated by the human body.

If CynoSure is to be believed, its lasers create clearer results in fewer treatments. It's not cheap though: pricing can reach up to $700 per session, with most tattoos requiring three to five separate sessions. Traditional tattoo removal is a lot more affordable on a per-session basis, but the total number of appointments is much higher — you can expect to endure up to 12 sessions for a single tattoo and the procedure is considered more painful.

When CynoSure offered a free PicoSure trial to a Lifehacker reader, Kelly leapt at the chance, despite some initial reservations:

"When I heard about the offer, I watched some YouTube videos of tattoo removal and some people were crying and screaming, which was a little freaky. I'm going to try my hardest to be a little more dignified!"

After a brief consultation process, Kelly found herself in the PicoSure chair. There was no turning back now — in a few minutes, Spyro would be toast. Check out the video to see how she fared:

As you can see from the above video, the Picosure laser really does seem to work. While filming, I was astounded by how quickly the inks transformed into puffy flesh; almost as if an eraser was being applied to a picture. The entire session took less then ten minutes, including the frequent ice pack breaks.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the tattoo after one treatment:

The tattoo is already pretty faded, particularly in the green areas. Patients are required to wait six weeks in-between sessions so we'll be catching up with Kelly during her last treatment. Keep your eyes peeled for the final result.

Early Verdict

If you have tattoo regrets of your own, you're doubtlessly wondering how painful the aftermath is. Here's what Kelly had to say two days after her first treatment:

"I was worried that it would start to ache, or burn, or that it would get hard to move my arms, but nothing changed, it feels the same now as it did when I walked out of there. I had no trouble driving, or sleeping with it. I’m moving a bit stiffly, but I think that's just paranoia.

"Thoughts so far: the procedure was faster than I thought it might be, and Dr Keith and the rest of the team were super reassuring. I drove home feeling like all would be okay. I’m feeling pretty confident the result will be good. If there is the possibility of it being gone completely, then it might be easier to shop for clothes to wear to work. We will have to wait and see though."

We'll be back with our final verdict in the months to come. For information on CynoSure's tattoo removal treatments, head to the PicoSure website.

Music: Peter W/Maniacs Of Noise

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Comments

    $15000 total? Wow! Those machines must cost a bucket load! But if they are indeed as painless as described and can remove the ink as well if not better than traditional methods, it may be worth it if the artist can't incorporate the design/cover it up. Look forward to the follow up article.

      Might also be useful for just minimising an existing tattoo if you wanted a cover up done. One or 2 sessions might be enough that any work done over the area wouldn't have to be really heavy to disguise it.

      Where did you get $15,000 from? $700 x 5 ≠ $15,000

        This was a miscommunication with the PR agency -- they told us via email that the treatment can cost $5000 per session when they actually meant $500. The article has since been updated.

      Hi Red, Tattoos smaller than Kelly's actually start lower at $400-450, but even for Kelly's larger tattoo 3-5 treatments would run her $2000-3500.
      @drpico

    Dr Pico is using a PicoSure machine? Oh the fun that could arise from that!

    Is there an update to the story? What did the final result look like? Does it completely go away or is there always a ghost image of the tattoo?

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