Laser tattoo removal

What is laser tattoo removal?

Laser tattoo removal is a technique that allows permanent unwanted tattoos to be removed from the skin. Several laser therapy sessions are required to remove tattoos, depending on their size and the tattoo colours. Laser tattoo removal works by the laser breaking up the tattoo ink into small fragments, which get absorbed by the bloodstream and pass safely through the body. Tattoo removal time will vary depending on the colours used, the size of the tattoo and the area where it is located.

A woman with a tattoo on her upper body. Laser tattoo removal can remove unwanted tattoos.

Why have laser tattoo removal?

Permanent tattoos can become deformed with the ageing of the skin, losing their initial appearance or simply might become unwanted. Today, people with tattoos can either return to a tattoo artist who could change the tattoo, or they can visit a laser tattoo clinic or dermatologist for having permanent laser tattoo removal.

What does laser tattoo removal consist of?

Tattoo removal is done with a laser which breaks down the ink pigments on the skin into smaller fragments. Once broken down, the white blood cells can absorb them and transport them to the liver for excretion. Darker ink pigments are broken down more easily by a laser, whereas lighter, more reflective inks respond less well to lasers. Normally, tattoo removal takes about eight weeks, although this varies depending on the type of tattoo, its size, colours used and the area in which it is located.

Preparation for laser tattoo removal

Before considering laser tattoo removal, there are some factors to take into consideration. For example, it is necessary to evaluate the size of the tattoo, the depth of the pigment and its colours: blue and black are the easiest colours to remove, while white, green and yellow are almost impossible to remove.

The age of the tattoo is another influential factor: the older the tattoo, the easier it will be to remove it as it has already been partially attacked by white blood cells and faded slightly. Furthermore, there is a small risk of temporarily altering the natural pigmentation of the skin, and a small chance the scarring could develop.

On the day of a laser tattoo removal session, the area of skin will need to be shaved. During the session, you will be asked to wear special goggles to protect the eyes. In some cases, a local anaesthetic cream can be applied to the skin. Next, a handheld laser device is pressed on to the skin to trigger the laser. Whilst some will find this quite painful, many describe it like an elastic band being snapped against the skin. Each session may last up to 30 minutes and results will be noticeable after each session with the tattoo becoming lighter. Before leaving, the area is covered with a bandage or dressing.

Aftercare

The patient can return to normal activities after the session and should avoid sun exposure for one week after a session. The treated area should be covered. It is also advisable to treat the skin after each session: it will become red and the patient may feel itching or pain in the area. Applying ice to reduce discomfort and swelling in the area can help. You should also avoid rough sponges and towels during bathing, and wash the area with mild soap.

Alternatives to laser tattoo removal

Currently, laser technology is the most advanced treatment used for tattoo removal, due to its optimal results with minimal invasion, however, some people may choose to have surgical tattoo removal instead, particularly if laser removal is not successful.

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