- Photo source National Geographic News
Lasers have become the standard treatment for tattoo removal because they offer a bloodless, low risk, effective alternative with minimal side effects. Each procedure is done on an outpatient basis in a single or series of visits.
The type of laser used to remove a tattoo depends on the tattoo's pigment colors. (Yellow and green are the hardest colors to remove; blue and black are the easiest.) Lasers developed specifically for use in tattoo removal use a technique known as Q-switching, which refers to the laser's short, high-energy pulses. The combination of wavelengths of the Q-switched Yag laser is effective in treating a full spectrum of colors and tattoo inks, though some of the newer synthetic tattoo dyes are increasingly difficult to remove.
Multiple sessions with a Q-switched laser are required to fade tattoos.
How Tattoo Lasers Work
Lasers work by producing short pulses of intense light that pass harmlessly through the top layers of the skin to be selectively absorbed by the tattoo pigment.
The laser uses a powerful light beam to damage the ink under the skin. There is no cutting of the skin.
The tattoo ink soaks up the beam’s energy and gets extremely hot for a fraction of a second.
This is enough to break up the ink causing it to fade slowly.
Over the next few weeks the body's lymphatic system can clear these small particles of ink.
When these fragmented pigment particles are out of the way the laser beam can penetrate to the next layer of ink. Allow at least a month between treatments.
More than one treatment, which typically only takes minutes, is usually needed to remove an entire tattoo -- the number of sessions depends on the amount and type of ink used and how deeply it was injected. Large, multicolored tattoos can require upwards to 20 sessions and it is impossible to determine the exact number of sessions required at the beginning.
Unless the tattoo is cut out, there frequently remains a faint residual image, even after many treatments.
- Source Palomar Medical
- Photo courtesy Bruce Saal, MD
- Results of multiple laser tattoo removal treatments
- Patient results may vary
Your Tattoo Removal Process
The laser fires in rapid bursts, these feel a bit like the spatter of hot fat from a frying pan. An anesthetic cream is applied to your skin before the treatment.