Overview of the Nd:YAG laser

The Nd:YAG laser, short for neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet laser, is an essential aesthetic tool for numerous skin conditions. The specialized laser reaches deeper layers of skin, emitting a wavelength of 1064nm. That means it’s ideal for tackling pigmented skin concerns such as skin lesions, unwanted tattoos, and, in some patients, even laser hair removal. Nd:YAG lasers are also effective in skin tightening and overall rejuvenation. And because the Nd:YAG is nonablative, treatments do not impact the epidermis. Whether they need a YAG treatment to target melanin or tattoo ink, patients appreciate that the procedures are non-invasive and require minimal downtime, if at all.

How does an Nd:YAG laser work?

As mentioned above, Nd:YAG lasers use a neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet crystal to generate its laser. The neodymium ions are a catalyst for laser activity in the crystal. This allows the laser to reach deeper into the skin compared to other devices.  Q-switched Nd:YAG devices like MediYag use two wavelengths: One for darker pigment or deeper penetration, and the other for lighter pigment or superficial skin concerns. That’s why practitioners laud Q-switched devices for their versatility: They can ensure effective pigment treatment for a diverse range of patients. The particles in question are easily targeted and naturally eliminated via the body’s lymph system.
Animated illustration of an Nd:Yag laser device removing pigment or ink from skin.

The benefits of Nd:YAG devices for laser tattoo removal

Q-switched ND:YAG devices vs other lasers

When considering laser technology for tattoo removal, there are several promising modalities and mechanisms on the market. You’ll find varying permutations of their features and capabilities, such as:
  • Picosecond lasers
  • Q-switched neodynium: YAG lasers
  • Q-switched alexandrite lasers
  • Q-switched ruby lasers
  • And, for certain limited indications, CO2 laser devices
Regardless of laser type, all devices represent the impressive evolution in aesthetic technology, and they are largely effective at removing pigment from skin tissue. Many practitioners today say they prefer combining therapies for tattoo removal based on the patient’s unique needs after consultation: Using one device to remove certain colors or particularly challenging pigments, and then therapeutically complementing the process with another modality to achieve optimal results. However, when we explore the safety, efficiency, and speed of these assorted devices, we can see why Nd:YAG lasers still stand above the rest. 

Safety: Reliable ink removal, minimal risk

The use of Q-switched lasers for tattoo removal is time-tested. Its first use dates all the way back to the 1960s, and by the ‘90s researchers had cultivated the technology enough to obtain broader attention. During those many decades, the technology was refined to reduce the risk of pain, side effects, and complications. Hypopigmentation, hyperpigmentation, reactions, scarring, blistering and burns are potential complications associated with laser tattoo removal. But trained practitioners using high-quality aesthetic devices can minimize the possibility of any issue. And with the technology’s long-standing pedigree, practitioners and patients can feel confident that they’re taking the right approach to tattoo removal. 

How YAG laser devices reduce pain

Laser tattoo removal is often cited as one of the more painful aesthetic procedures. But Nd:YAG laser devices have evolved to ensure the experience is as painless as possible. Specific pulse duration settings allow just the right intensity necessary, minimizing discomfort. While some patients report a rubber-band-snapping sensation, most individuals easily tolerate the procedure, particularly with an accompanying numbing gel. 

Speed: Fast tattoo removal with an advantage

Clients want a speedy solution to remove their unwanted tattoos, and technology has evolved to deliver on that demand. The devices listed above are all designed to perform quickly and keep session times to a minimum – many appointments can be completed in mere minutes. But laser treatment duration is only part of the equation, since tattoo removal requires multiple sessions for optimal clearance. That leads into the next benefit of Q-switched Nd:YAG lasers for tattoo removal. 

Efficiency: A laser that handles any ink color

Nd:YAG laser technology is designed to target chromophores and facilitate optimal light absorption. This minimizes the number of treatments needed, saving time and potential discomfort. While picosecond technology means the lasers pulse at a faster rate than Q-switched nanosecond lasers, they may not boast the same efficiency. Some picosecond devices are constrained by a smaller spot size, which could mean an added laser pass and prolonged treatment plan. Additionally, many picosecond laser devices do not boast the same pulse energy or wavelength production as nanosecond devices. Some are adapted with filters to offset that disadvantage, but power is lost in the process. As a result, these devices are less effective at targeting certain ink colors than the standard nanosecond technology. An Nd:YAG laser can target any ink color, and is particularly stellar when used to remove darker inks. Since the majority of tattoos use black ink, the Nd:YAG is typically the most efficient choice.

Price: Earning ROI on tattoo removal equipment

It is worth remembering picosecond laser devices often have a higher price tag than nanosecond lasers. As with all laser equipment, practitioners who are thinking about adding tattoo removal services should start their research with their budget in mind. Additionally, consider the capabilities of the device: Can you use it to perform other services, such as wrinkle reduction, acne treatments, or possibly laser hair removal? Factor all possible treatment options into the decision making process, bearing in mind the general needs of the clientele. Practitioners should also consider manufacturer details, such as service costs and duration of warranty.

Is an Nd:YAG laser device the gold standard for tattoo removal?

A balance of intensity and ease. The leading choice for tattoo removal, hyperpigmentation, and skin rejuvenation.The Nd:YAG laser is a powerful tool for aesthetic practitioners, but when it comes to tattoo removal, no device shines brighter. It efficiently erases ink of any color without damaging any surrounding skin tissue. There’s no downtime, minimal discomfort, and a low risk of complications associated with this laser treatment. They are powerful on their own or when used with another modality for maximum ink clearance. According to some studies, nearly one in four Americans has a tattoo that they regret, and that they are planning to do something about it. With the right technology, practitioners can help individuals erase their unwanted ink and start over with a clean slate. That’s why a YAG laser is essential for any aesthetic provider.