That’s a good question!
A picosecond laser costs around £100,000 in the UK, at the moment. A ‘standard’ Q-switched laser costs anywhere between £10,000 and £60,000.
QS lasers can output up to 2 Joules of energy in pulsewidths as short as 5 nanoseconds, while some commercially available pico lasers can output up to 1 Joule in 0.3 nanoseconds (or 300 picoseconds, as they like to say!)
So, what exactly are you paying for in a pico laser?
Well, some manufacturers claim that they are “better” are removing difficult colours, such as yellow, green and light blue. However, they use the same wavelengths as found in QS lasers – 1064, 755 and 532 nm. Given that the absorption efficiency of any coloured ink depends on the wavelength (NOT the pulsewidth) I can’t see why a laser with a shorter pulse but using the same wavelength would be any better at removing these colours! Unless you know better?
I’ve heard some nonsense about QS lasers generating photothermal reactions compared with photomechanical (or photoacoustic) reactions generated by pico lasers. This is complete rubbish!! Both types of laser will generate photoacoustic reactions on ink surfaces (I will explain this in much greater scientific detail soon).
Plus I’ve also heard some manufacturers claiming that pico lasers ‘pulverise’ ink particles into smaller fragments than QS lasers. This actually appears to be true, according to some histology results.
The upshot of this is that some tattoos will fade faster when treated with a pico laser compared with a QS laser. I have also seen claims that pico lasers can remove ‘stubborn’ tattoos which QS lasers have failed to completely remove. Personally, I don’t think that there have been enough comparative clinical trials to properly assess the advantages/disadvantages of picosecond lasers over QS lasers.
So, back to the original question – what are you paying for in a pico laser?
It appears that pico lasers will remove some tattoos faster and/or better than an equivalent QS laser. But the reality is that some tattoos just cannot be fully removed, regardless of which laser is applied. That’s because there are so many external factors involved in tattoo removal which are outside the control of the operator.
I suppose the real question is, is the extra cost worth it?
If you really want to pay an extra £40k – £50k for an unknown improvement in results then that’s up to you. A good quality QS laser will probably generate a similar level of final results, at a much lower cost, but over a longer period. But, from a business perspective, using a picosecond laser will mean that you will need to charge your patients more…
It’s up to you to decide!
Ciao for now,