Laser Tattoo Removal – What to Expect

By | February 17, 2014

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Tattoos consist of large molecules of ink just underneath the surface of the skin. The molecules are usually too large for your immune system (specifically your white blood cells) to “eat up” so the ink stays in place. Laser tattoo removal involves quick pulses of light targeted at the ink that is to be removed (does not usually affect surrounding, un-inked skin). These bursts of light break the ink down into smaller pieces that your white blood cells are able to take in. With each treatment, more and more of the ink is broken down and then taken up by your immune system until the tattoo eventually disappears.

Just about anyone can get a tattoo removed. The degree of success varies on the tattoo, the individual’s immune system and skin color amongst other factors.

Black tattoos on fair skin seem to be the easiest to remove, while yellows and pinks can be more difficult to remove. A newer tattoo is also harder to remove than an older one.

Initial consultation
Once you find a qualified laser technician in your area, you need to make a consultation appointment. During this appointment the technician will examine your tattoo, make notes and possibly take pictures. They should be able to give you an estimate amount of time each treatment will take, how many sessions you will need, how far apart the sessions will be, and an approximate cost per session

This often depends on the clinic and their technology. The factors that affect the cost of each session the most are the size and color of the tattoo. The number of sessions needed depend on the tattoo and is difficult to estimate at the initial consultation, but six to eight sessions are usually needed.

Black vs. Color Tattoos
Black tattoos are said to be the easiest to remove. Only one laser is needed and it is very easily targeted by this laser. Color tattoos may require multiple lasers at different wavelengths to target each color. This may affect the cost of removal and time required per appointment.

What to expect:
Before Treament
If you have a low tolerance for pain the technician may suggest that you take an oral pain killer (Tylenol or Advil) about 30 minutes to an hour before your appointment. A topical numbing agent can also be applied an hour prior to the appointment, but a prescription from a doctor may be required.

During the treatment
The technician will put on a set of protective glasses and give you a pair to wear also. They will position you in a way that is easy for them, but also comfortable for you. Some technicians will place ice on the area to be treated for a few seconds both before and after each time they use the laser to help minimize swelling and pain. Often the technician will do a test area so you know what to expect. After the whole tattoo has been treated, they may run over the area again with the laser to try and pick up any missed spots.

During treatment your tattoo may turn white or a light brown. This quickly vanishes and your tattoo will take on a “fresh” appearance. The skin surrounding the tattoo may turn red.

After treatment
The technician may place a protective ointment and/or an antibiotic ointment and a bandage. You should be given take home instructions about aftercare to ensure the best results from your session. Technicians and clinics differ on what they consider sufficient aftercare, so refer to their suggestion.

What does treatment feel like?
What laser tattoo removal feels like differs from person to person. The most common descriptions are that it feels like a tiny rubber band snapping the skin over and over. Others describe it as small specks of hot oil being splattered over the tattoo. Either way, almost everyone agrees that it is painful, but the degree of pain is what differs. All in all, if you could sit through the tattoo, you can definitely sit through its removal. Removal is often much quicker (depending on the size, it can be less than 10 minutes) where the tattoo may have taken over an hour to apply.

What to expect hours and days after the treatment.
Immediately after, the tattoo may feel like a fresh burn. It may throb and feel hot. It may also look very red and very often the tattoo becomes raised and the surrounding skin swollen. This is all completely normal and will disappear within a day or two.

The next day you may have some scabbing, much like what you experienced after the tattoo was first applied. When your immune system starts to act on the healing of the area it may begin to itch (the itching can be mild to very intense). It is important to not scratch the itch for risk of removing the protective scab and causing a scar. Optimal healing is very important for achieving the best results from each session.

In approximately two weeks, some fading (either general, or in spots) may be seen. Rarely does much fading occur before this.

After 4 to 6 weeks, the area should be completely healed and another session may be necessary.

How many treatments should you expect?
The number of treatments depends on the quality/color/type of inks the artist used, the age of the tattoo, and the individual’s immune system. The technician may be able to give an estimate, but the exact number will not be known for sure until treatment is complete.

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