How Does Laser Tattoo Removal Work?

by Phillippa Marshall

Tattoos are intended to be a lasting reminder of something personally significant, and at some stage in their lives, approximately 25 percent of all people who have a tattoo opt to have the meaningful something or other permanently tattooed somewhere on their bodies.  However, half of people with tattoos would finally have a change of heart and make the decision to have the ink removed using laser tattoo removal and to be tattoo free.

Tattoo removal includes the lightening and complete removal of tattoo ink with precise lasers.  Depending on the colour and density of the ink, the type of laser and number of treatments needed varies.  Tattoos with a lot of thick ink, bright colours, or scarring from cover-ups face some challenge and can’t always be removed completely.  However, the vast majority of tattoos can be faded greatly, and many tattoos can be erased completely.  Contrary to popular opinion, black ink, the most common pigment used in tattoos, is also the easiest pigment to remove, making laser tattoo removal an excellent option for most tattoos.

How Does Laser Tattoo Removal Work?

Laser light reaches the skin and removes ink by splitting large ink particles into smaller and smaller parts for each laser session.  Over time, the immune system automatically pushes those broken particles away.  Laser tattoo removal uses targeted photothermolysis to target the ink in a single area without damaging any adjacent skin tissue.  Older tattoos are usually easier to removal with laser as they have faded over time.  Tattoos which are located in the upper body area that receive more blood circulation and tattoos with black ink are also the easiest to remove.  Tattoos that are harder to remove are those found on lower body sections, new tattoos, cover-up tattoos with multiple ink layers, and tattoos with neon coloured inks.  Pigments like vivid greens and bright blues are usually classified as difficult to remove.  Immediately after the laser is applied, the region of laser treatment temporarily forms a white frosty layer on the surface of the tattoo, which is the outcome of quick, heat-formed steam or gas being expelled from the skin.


How many sessions are needed to remove a tattoo?

You may be wondering how effective laser tattoo removal is?  The amount of treatment sessions required for laser tattoo removal is specific to each patient.  However, one thing is certain; multiple treatments are needed.  Many laser practices use the Kirby-Desai Scale, which uses different criteria, including patient skin type, where on the body the tattoo is positioned, the amount of ink that has been used, and more to better approximate the number of treatments tattoo removal will require.   Amateur tattoos require fewer sessions to remove than professionally applied ones.  This is because they are typically smaller, less filled with ink, and are sometimes applied superficially, using handheld needles or homemade machine.  Both of which render these forms of tattoos easier to erase.  Professionally administered tattoos on the other hand are usually applied by a professional tattoo machine using high quality pigments, deeper into the layers of the dermis, which appear to last longer and hold up well over time.  Unfortunately, these beautifully and professionally done tattoos need extra procedures to remove.


Is Tattoo Removal Painful?

Discomfort from the laser is one of the main patient complaints about laser therapy.  While the laser can feel painful, treatments are usually very tolerable.  Many laser tattoo removal businesses provide a form of numbing to make treatments all the more relaxed.  A laser technician may apply numbing cream 30 minutes before operation, eliminating at least 50 percent of pain.  Some laser clinics use ice packs, lidocaine injections, or noninvasive skin numbing technology like a cryo cooling system to alleviate pain and heat from the skin.  Furthermore, tattoo removal procedures are very quick and take anywhere from a few seconds to 15 minutes, depending on the tattoo’s size.


Tattoo Removal Pain Relief

It would be fair and honest to say that laser tattoo removal can, and most likely will, be painful, particularly on more sensitive areas on your body.  There are are few things that may aid to help you cope with any pain related to the removal process. Whether your pain threshold is low or high, your Tattoo Removal clinic will be able to provide a healthy and comfortable experience!


Ice: We’ve all used an ice pack for pain relief at some stage in our lives, so why not for laser tattoo removal?  Ice packs can be used to numb the skin both before and after a laser session for fast and easy relief.  You may add your own ice pack either at home or when driving to your appointment.  You can even arrive early for your appointment to relax with an ice pack while you wait!  Some may provide an ice machine like the ones you may have had used on you during laser hair removal.


Cold-air machines: If you’ve had a laser hair removal, you might be familiar with our cold air system.  The zimmer blasts ice cold air onto the skin during your laser treatment.  This blast of cold air helps to provide some pain relief, as well as keep the skin cool during recovery to reduce swelling and redness after treatment.  It can be used in conjunction with some other forms of pain relief.

Numbing cream: Perhaps the most effective method of pain relief is a prescription strength numbing cream.  The cream is a combination of benzocaine, lidocaine, and tetracaine.  These 3 strong numbing agents block the pain receptors during a laser treatment.  It is available by prescription only, so you’ll want to ask your technician or regular family doctor before in advance if you hope to use numbing cream for your next treatment!  Over the counter numbing cream do not provide the same effect.

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