What is Laser tattoo removal?
During a tattoo removal procedure, laser light is applied to the tattooed area of the skin. The light is selectively absorbed by the tattoo ink particles, leaving the surrounding skin tissue and chromophores unharmed.
The tattoo ink particles absorb the laser energy, heat up, and shatter into smaller ink particles.
In the days and weeks following a laser treatment, the body’s immune system flushes away the shattered ink particles, causing the tattoo to fade. Over a series of treatments, more and more of the ink shatters, leaving the skin free of ink.
Tattoo removal lasers produce specific wavelengths of light that have been proven to be absorbed by certain colors of tattoo ink while avoiding damage to surrounding skin tissue and chromophores (such as melanin and hemoglobin). When the laser energy is applied for the right length of time, at the right level of energy, and in the proper wavelength, the tattoo ink is selectively targeted.
Each wavelength effects how tattoo removal works and corresponds to a certain range of tattoo ink colors, which why different types of tattoo removal lasers are available. The most popular wavelengths used for tattoo removal are 1064nm and 532nm, which can both be achieved with a Q-switched Nd:YAG laser.
What tattoos will it treat?
Q-Switched laser works best on blue, black, red, green, and yellow inks. While tattoo removal is often very successful at significantly reducing the appearance of tattoos, it may not be able to completely eliminate the full impression of the tattoo and multiple treatments may be necessary to reduce the appearance to an acceptable level.
What to expect during the treatment?
Topical anesthetic creams are usually applied approximately an hour before the treatment. Some patients prefer to have a local anesthetic injected into the tattoo prior to laser therapy. Pinpoint bleeding, crusting, redness, and blistering are commonly associated with the procedure. Pulses of laser energy are directed onto the tattoo, breaking up the pigment. Over the next few weeks, the body's scavenger cells remove pigment residues.
Patients must not be tan during their treatment sessions. Following treatment, wound care and sun protection of the treated area are necessary. A change in the color of the treated area is likely, and may be permanent. As with any laser procedure, there is a risk of a scar, and this risk will be increased if the area gets infected. However, scarring in the area has often already occurred as a result of the process used to create the tattoo, and may only become visible once the tattoo fades.
How many treatments will I need?
More than one treatment (each treatment actually only takes minutes) is usually needed to remove an entire tattoo. The number of sessions depends upon the laser and the settings used, the amount and type of ink used and how deeply it was injected, and the effectiveness of the patient’s white blood cells. Because white blood cells that remove the ink, results can vary not only by the tattoo or the laser, but also from person to person based upon how well their own immune system works to clear the damaged pigment. Smoking will negatively affect this process. Six to eight week intervals between sessions are required to allow pigment residue to be absorbed by the body. Anywhere from six to more than 10 treatments may be necessary to achieve maximum lightening, and full resolution of the tattoo may never be achieved for some individuals.
Some colors of tattoos are more difficult to remove than others. Because black pigment absorbs all laser wavelengths, it's the easiest to remove. Other colors, such as green, selectively absorb laser light and can only be treated by selected lasers based on the pigment color. White tattoos are the most difficult to treat with laser, as some of them could even turn black with treatment. The Picosecond laser tattoo removal offers an innovative treatment for these colors.
Professional tattoos are usually harder to remove than amateur tattoos, as they are often placed deeper and use a greater density of ink.
It is much easier to have a small tattoo removed than a large one
The risk of scarring is always present, and as discussed may already be present but hidden by the ink.
Both getting a tattoo and having it removed can be uncomfortable. The impact of the energy from the laser's powerful pulse of light has been described as similar to getting hot specks of bacon grease on your skin or being snapped by a thin rubber band.
Success rates/potential complications
How much does it cost?
Pricing varies depending upon the area treated. It starts at $250.