Tattoo removal can be stressful as it sounds painful and conjures up images of scarred skin.
Tattoos are a way to express oneself. They express one’s thoughts, desires and personalities. But, the decision to get a tattoo is often made impulsively and it is becoming increasingly common for people to want to get rid of tattoos a few years after they get them done.
The good news is that tattoo removal does not have to be painful nor does it necessarily have to permanently destroy the texture of your skin, once complete. Enter laser tattoo removal.
How laser tattoo removal works
Lasers remove tattoos by breaking up the pigment colors with a high-intensity light beam. The colour that absorbs all the laser wavelengths is the black pigment, hence making black tattoos the easiest to remove.
For other colours, the laser waves vary and so do the results. In order to have the tattoos removed, one must first schedule a consultation with an expert. One may need more than just one treatment, depending upon the age, size and colour of the tattoo as well as the colour of the skin and how deep the pigment has penetrated.
Here is how a typical tattoo removal process might unfold:
- The expert is first required to test the reaction of the skin to the laser beam. The tattoo and the skin must be studied well and the treatment plan tailored accordingly.
- The patient is given a pair of eye shields to protect her eyes from the laser.
- Laser beams are directed only towards the specific area of the tattoo, taking appropriate precautions and proper care to avoid any injury to the skin; only the exact amount of laser energy needed will be used, i.e., not too little to have any impact but not too much to avoid irritating and damaging the skin.
- The area is dabbed from time to time while carrying out the treatment to provide relief.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” laser tattoo removal recipe
The laser treatment varies from one tattoo to another. The intensity and size of the tattoo have a major role to play in this case. For example, a larger tattoo will require much more laser energy in order to be treated as compared to a smaller tattoo.
Although the process of tattoo removal is uncomfortable, anesthesia use and dosage varies from case-to-case as larger and deeper tattoos might require more laser energy and, consequently, be more uncomfortable for the patient.
Number of sessions and total treatment duration
Laser tattoo removal takes time. It can vary from 6 to 12 sessions, although it could be more or even fewer than that depending on the skin tone since lighter skin reacts better to the treatment.
It will also depend on the location of the body. Areas where lymphatic supply is more extensive will react better such as neck, head and torso. The lymphatic system is essentially the second circulatory system in the body (after the blood circulation system) and is responsible for draining out toxins and rejected particles from the body and plays an integral role in immune system function.
Intensity and colour is another factor in determining the number of repeat sessions. Black and blue react best to the treatment, while brighter and neon colours would take time to be removed or, in some cases, not be removed completely at all.
The immune system has a role to play as well. The faster the immune system is able to flush out the fragmented particles after each round of treatment, the better.
The repeat treatment sessions need to be spaced out at 6-8 week intervals to allow the body’s lymphatic system to expel the ink particles once they are detached from the skin tissue after each successive treatment. Areas away from the heart will take longer to heal. Insufficient gaps between successive treatment sessions can cause scarring.
The average laser tattoo removal cost may range from $200 to $500 per treatment session. The price is dependent on several factors, including the type and extent of the tattoo, as well as the expertise of the surgeon performing it. Of course, prices also vary by city and country.
Side effects of laser tattoo removal
Laser treatment is a safe an effective way to get rid of tattoos. Since the laser only works on a selected portion of the body, side effects – if any – are localized to the part of the body that is treated.
Here are some important things to be mentally prepared for when you go in for a laser tattoo removal:
- The treated area might have wounds, initially.
- The treated area might develop a white layer, commonly referred to as frosting.
- Some people may develop blisters, crusts, scabs within 8 to 72 hours of the removal of tattoo and it may last for 1-2 weeks or more.
- The tattoo may not be completely removed. Certain colours respond better to the treatment than others. Black and blue respond well to laser treatment.
- One may end up with Hypopigmentation, a condition where the treated area becomes paler than the rest of the skin. In some cases, one may experience Hyperpigmentation, where the treated area becomes darker than the rest of the skin.
- There are chances that scabbing, blistering, light bleeding and itching may occur. Immediately after treatment, there may be erythema (redness) and edema (swelling) at the treatment site. It may last up to 2 hours or longer, post treatment. The erythema may last up to 10 days or more.
- The area is prone to infection after the treatment. Hence care must be taken to keep it clean. It is necessary to follow the aftercare regime prescribed by the experts to get the best results, not just to avoid infections but also for quick recovery.
- There are chances that the treatment will leave permanent scars on the tattoo area.
The time taken to recover from the first session may vary from 72 hours to 2 weeks. The time between successive sessions will typically fall as you do more sessions as lesser amount of ink will be left for removal after each session.
Laser tattoo removal aftercare
- A cold compress and elevation are recommended to help reduce discomfort and inflammation for the next 24 hours.
- Avoid hot showers, swimming pools or sauna.
- Wear loosely fitting clothes to minimize contact with the treated area since it may cause irritation.
- Apply Aquaphor, Neosporin, A&D ointment and bandage. Make sure to change the dressing daily.
- Keep away from direct exposure to sunlight.
- keep the treated area clean and might opt for an antibacterial soap. One must avoid high-pressure water hitting the treated area because the area is rendered sensitive after the treatment.
- Avoid popping the blisters and must continue to apply an ointment until the blisters have popped naturally.
- Do not pick at the scab or allow the skin to become scraped, as this may result in infection.
- Shaving must be avoided until the area is completely healed.
Consult a doctor before you consider laser tattoo removal
It is important to consult a doctor before undergoing any such treatment. One must be completely aware of the entire treatment, the side effects of the treatment and about how your skin is likely to react. It is necessary to get the treatment done under a reputable practitioner or an accredited clinic to ensure minimum discomfort during the treatment and minimal side-effects and complications, after. It is highly recommended that you get treatment only from specialized dermatologists or cosmetic surgeons since they will understand the unique properties of your skin and how it might react to laser treatment.
Because it is completely an elective treatment, most insurance companies won’t bear charges for anything that might have gone wrong as a result of the treatment unless it is absolutely necessary. You must have complete details about the costs of the treatment before undergoing it and make sure you have a detailed breakdown of costs in written form before starting with the treatment as disputes regarding number of repeat sessions can be common. You should always ask for the complete treatment package to achieve your objectives including number of sessions and total cost of all sessions.