Light and electron microscopic analysis of tattoos treated by Q-switched ruby laser

Charles R. Taylor, R. Rox Anderson, R. William Gange, Norman A. Michaud, Thomas J. Flotte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Scopus citations


Short-pulse laser exposures can be used to alter pigmented structures in tissue by selective photothermolysis. Potential mechanisms of human tattoo pigment lightening with Q-switched ruby laser were explored by light and electron microsopy. Significant variation existed between and within tattoos. Electron microscopy of untreated tattoos revealed membrane-bound pigment granules, predominantly within fibroblasts and macrophages, and occasionally in mast cells. These granules contained pigment particles ranging from 2-in diameter. Immediately after exposure, dose-related injury was observed in cells containing pigment. Some pigment particles were smaller and lamellated. At fluences ->3 J/cm2, dermal vacuoles and homogenization of collagen bundles immediately adjacent to extracellular pigment were occasionally observed. A brisk neutrophilic infiltrate was apparent by 24 h. Eleven days later, the pigment was again intracellular. Half of the biopsies at 150 d revealed a mild persistent lymphocytic infiltrate. There was no fibrosis except for one case of clinical scarring. These findings confirm that short-pulse radiation can be used to selectively disrupt cells containing tattoo pigments. The physial alteration of pigment granules, redistribution, and elimination appear to account for clinical lightening of the tattoos.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-136
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Investigative Dermatology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Dermatology
  • Cell Biology


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