Are you starting to regret that tattoo you got on your 18th birthday? Don’t worry – it’s a common experience for people to get tattoos that they end up regretting later on in life. In years past, people had to live with that regret by staring at the tattoo they hated every day or by getting another one to cover it up. However, those days are in the past. If you currently have a tattoo that you no longer want, there is a solution: laser tattoo removal.
If you’re not sure how the concept of laser tattoo removal works but are curious to learn more, read on to find out all you need to know about this method of putting your bad decisions in the past (well, ones related to your tattoo, at least).
What makes a tattoo permanent?
Before we get into the science of removing unwanted tattoos, let’s take a moment to start with why tattoos are permanent in the first place. When you get a tattoo, the needle goes into your skin, depositing tattoo ink specifically into your demis, the inner layer of skin. The reason the needles go this deep into your skin is to ensure that they make it past the layers of skin that naturally regenerate regularly. Otherwise, the tattoo wouldn’t be permanent and instead would disappear quickly.
When you think about it, putting the ink into your skin triggers your body to get rid of it because it is a foreign object. Thus, your body’s white blood cells work to absorb and get all of the ink out of your body. This takes time, however. So, as your tattoo ages, you will see some of the detail fade in the tattoo. This is the white blood cells doing their work on the small ink particles. But the reality is that most ink particles are too big for the white blood cells to complete their work of ridding the ink entirely. Thus, the skin cells instead heal around the ink particles, and the ink stays where it is.
How does the laser removal process work?
Lasers have changed the game of tattoos for many. No longer are you stuck with the tattoo you don’t want anymore; you can opt to use modern technology to remove the larger ink particles from your dermis via laser treatment.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Q-switched lasers are the most common types used for the removal of tattoos. These lasers “release energy in a single, powerful pulse” and are the top choice to use on darker skin because they lower the chances of permanently changing the skin’s pigment.
Essentially, the ink particle can be broken up by delivering a burst of heat, but that burst of heat needs to be quick enough that half of the particle stays cool. This combo of the hot/cold breaks the ink particles down into smaller pieces. Then, once those smaller particles are made, the white blood cells can continue doing their job of absorbing them and getting rid of them.
What does a laser tattoo removal appointment look like?
For the best possible results, you should get an initial consultation to determine which tattoo removal methods will give you the best results. You can also get an idea of the number of treatment sessions required, what side effects to prepare for, and if there will be a risk of scarring once the healing process has been completed. Of course, larger tattoos may require additional treatments or an extended laser tattoo removal process. Still, there are a number of factors to consider when you try to find the most effective removal method.
Laser tattoo removal begins by injecting the area with a local anesthetic. Then, the laser applies heat to the tattoo, thus breaking down the large ink particles.
You may need different lasers at different wavelengths to break down the particles of multicolored tattoos.
Following the removal process, chances are good you will see the area swell up and potentially even blister and bleed.
Is one laser removal session enough?
Laser tattoo removal is something that typically requires multiple sessions. In fact, it can be a commitment of several months for patients. During that time, you will likely need between 5 and 10 treatments to completely remove the tattoo, and you must space the treatments apart for at least six weeks to allow your body to do its work without pushing it too hard. The body can only get rid of so much ink in a period of time, and you also need the time between sessions to allow for proper healing.
In essence, each tattoo removal treatment goes deeper and deeper into the layers of ink until all of them have been broken down and absorbed by your body. The number of treatments will depend on the size of the tattoo, the tattoo pigment, and the laser technology used.
Is laser tattoo removal painful?
We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but yes, the removal process for tattoos is quite painful. Many people say it is significantly more painful than the process of getting the tattoo in the first place. That is largely because the heat that lasers deliver to the ink particles needs to be thousands of degrees to break them down. And the energy from this pulse of light can be quite painful. Comparable to getting a new tattoo, the amount of pain will also depend on the location of the tattoo, the type of ink used, and the laser tattoo removal procedure utilized.
You may be surprised to find out that black is the easiest color to remove. That is because black ink absorbs all laser wavelengths. Colors such as green and red only absorb certain laser lights, which means they require more work.
Some doctors suggest that you use a non-aspirin pain reliever such as Tylenol before heading into your session to aid with the pain. Otherwise, the pain should be temporary and ease with time.
Though laser tattoo removal is far from a fun process, it is a relief to know that if you have a tattoo that no longer brings you the joy it once did, you aren’t stuck with it forever – it is possible to get rid of it and enjoy your skin again.