Laser Tattoo Removal Procedure: Understanding Your Treatment Options

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Getting a tattoo used to mean a commitment to the ink for the rest of your life. There is still some truth to that as removing tattoos can be costly and time consuming, but newer technology allows the option of removing unwanted, regrettable tattoo ink. Perhaps the tattoo no longer resonates or maybe your skin has aged, making the tattoo change appearance. For those seeking to erase faded or regrettable tattoos, this article gives you the information you need to know about laser tattoo removal.

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The Skinny

Overview: Tattoo Removal Treatments

For a permanent tattoo removal procedure, laser treatment is the best option. Laser tattoo removal is not a quick process, usually requiring 2-10 treatment sessions to begin seeing a true improvement in the lessening of the tattoo pigments. This is partly because tattooed skin contains many pigments that are solid particles in need of fragmentation. This laser assisted fragmentation is done via laser technology that utilizes different heat frequencies and pulse types to create a breakdown, and eventual removal, of the colors that make the tattoo.

There are several treatments available using different lasers, however, they all share the same goal of breaking down larger pigment particles which the body then eliminates naturally by way of the lymphatic system. The laser frequency required for the pigment to respond to the laser energy will vary according to the tattoo’s colors. The most popular laser technology available for tattoo removal is the Q-switch laser technology. Highly effective methods include the Picosure and Enlighten tattoo removal lasers, however, different lasers are utilized based on individual needs. Black tattoos, red ink tattoos, tattoos comprised of different colors, the size of the tattoo, the type of ink and the skin tone make a difference in the laser method selected for tattoo removal.

The PicoSure laser system was “the first aesthetic picosecond laser available” and has retained its value despite the development of more recent systems, as the picosecond domain releases “optimal pulse durations” to remove pigment, including black, red, and yellow ink. The Enlighten laser system is another industry-leading method of tattoo removal offering a groundbreaking technology that blends both the nanosecond and picosecond laser wavelengths to reach both larger and smaller pigment particles. Your provider will determine your pulse frequency and different wavelength needs after an initial consultation and skin assessment.

The method of pain maintenance also varies from person-to-person depending on the patient’s level of pain tolerance. Options include no anesthesia, an oral sedative, a topical anesthetic such as a numbing cream, or simply ice packs used to numb the treatment area. Once the method of pain control is chosen and applied, the laser will be held up next to the skin where it will deliver laser energy into the skin via short pulses. This treatment causes the skin to look “frosted”, a side effect of the laser treatment that will only last temporarily. It is not uncommon to experience bleeding as well, especially if you have a sensitive skin type. You should also be aware that some degree of hair removal will need to occur in the treated area to more fully access the surface area of skin to be treated.

After complete removal of the tattoo, your doctor might choose to apply a soothing ointment, and will then bandage the treatment area. Because removing all color, including the more difficult black and red ink, is the ultimate goal of tattoo removal, you will need to go through this process several times to achieve full results. Successive treatments, however, are not begun until the tattoo is healed. Recovery only takes about a week, but you will likely need to wait several weeks between sessions. This is something you will discuss in more detail with your healthcare professional, provider, or tattoo removal specialist, depending on the removal guidelines in your state. You may also want to consider other state laws regarding tattoo removal as well. The more informed you are going into treatment, the smoother your overall process will be.


Before & After Images by Provider

Laser Tattoo Removal Before, Female 42 - 2423Laser Tattoo Removal After, Female 42 - 2423
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The Specifics

Would I be Considered an Ideal Candidate for Laser Tattoo Removal?

Most unwanted tattoos can be removed through laser tattoo removal, but those who have fairer skin and/or an old tattoo already having experienced some degree of fading make ideal candidates for tattoo laser removal. It is also helpful to have a good immune system as the tattoo removal process is lengthy and commonly requires multiple sessions before full removal is complete. Also, the pigment is flushed out through your lymphatic system, meaning that being in good health is highly important to your candidacy.

Unfortunately, laser tattoo removal is more difficult to complete on darker skin tones. Darker skin tones run a greater risk of developing hyperpigmentation than those with lighter skin tones. It is also not a recommended procedure for those with a history of skin hypersensitivity, scarring (especially keloids), or skin infections. If you do not believe that you would be an ideal candidate for laser tattoo removal, speak with your provider about other options. They may be able to suggest creams, lotions or heavy-duty makeup to at least minimize the appearance of your unwanted tattoo temporarily.

What are the Pros and Cons of Laser Tattoo Removal?

Laser tattoo removal is a highly effective way of non-surgically removing your unwanted tattoo. It also carries minimal side effects making it an ideal way to address your tattoo regret.

Unfortunately, laser tattoo removal is not a quick process. It requires multiple treatments to see results and you risk developing discoloration, hyperpigmentation, and possible scarring as a result of the procedure.

Side Effects

While the side effects of laser tattoo removal are often very minimal, you may incur one of the following negative results: blisters, scabbing, scarring, swelling, discomfort, itching, skin discoloration, infection, and muscle soreness. Dark skin, especially, is prone to discoloration issues as the laser technology targets the darker pigment such as found in tattoos.

What Do I Need to Know About Before & Aftercare?

There are no special instructions to follow before your laser tattoo removal procedure, however, as with all procedures, you will want to stop smoking 4 weeks before and after your treatment. It is also important that you avoid sun exposure for 4 weeks before and 4 weeks after your laser treatment as well because the laser technology will heighten your skin’s sensitivity causing it to be hypersusceptible to sun damage.

You will experience a small amount of discomfort, redness, and swelling after treatment, and may also notice that your skin will start to peel or scab as you heal. Keep the area clean and dry during the healing process, and apply a thin coat of antibiotic ointment at least 3 times per day to minimize the peeling and scabbing effects. Be careful not to pick at peeling, scabbing skin. Doing so could potentially lead to scarring. Use cold compresses to alleviate swelling, bruising, and discomfort during this time.

The Takeaway


More and more people are leaning towards the option of removing tattoos via laser technology. If you are one of those individuals that regret their tattoo ink and would like to erase its presence, considering laser tattoo removal treatments might be a viable option. It is a lengthy, pricey process, but if it boosts your self-esteem or removes something you no longer wish to have on your skin, it might be worth it. Determine your reasons for wanting it removed and then speak with your provider about how to best proceed. Your skin tone, the size of the tattoo, and the amount and pigment of ink all factor into your removal process. As with anything, there are several factors to consider in tattoo removal. However, it is also valuable to consider your list of influencing factors and your overall well-being in having your tattoo removed for aesthetic, emotional or other very personal reasons.

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