Laser Tattoo Removal

“Regrets, I’ve had a few…”–so sings Frank Sinatra in My Way. Many of those people with tattoos surely know what he means.

Tattoo art has an ancient history, dating back to 12,000 BC. Yet until the 1990s, only a fraction of the American population got tattoos. Past generations could not have imagined today’s world in which so many people are heavily-inked. According to the latest Harris poll on the topic released in 2016, about three in ten people in the United States have at least one tattoo.  Almost half of all millennials have one. That’s 93 million people in total, and the number getting inked is on the rise. What’s more, they don’t stop at one: 69 percent have two or more tattoos.

But tattoo regrets are on the rise as well. About one-fourth of those with tattoos are sorry they got at least one of them. Over the age of 40, a solid 50 percent seek tattoo removal. The top-ranked reasons for those second thoughts in the Harris poll are as follows:

  • Too young when they got the tattoo
  • Personality changes/doesn’t fit present lifestyle
  • Got someone’s name that they’re no longer with
  • Poorly done/doesn’t look professional
  • Isn’t meaningful

Life changes, decisions change, but you don’t have to live with a tattoo you regret getting. Fortunately, you can now do something about it! But before you do, it helps to know what tattoo removal entails.

Tattoo Removal

The tough part about regrets is that tattoos are meant to be permanent. The marketplace abounds with all types of tattoo removal methods, but it’s best to steer clear of some of them.

Home tattoo removal methods are heavily advertised. These include a variety of creams, most composed of a chemical compound called TCA, which has hydroquinone or various acids as the primary active ingredient. These creams, which have a bleach-like quality, are advertised to fade tattoo ink. But do they work?

One popular brand of cream sold on Amazon.com has customer reviews indicating about a 90 percent claim that using the cream provided no meaningful results. In most cases, the cream caused detrimental outcomes, such as skin damage or scarring. Even if these creams speed up the fading process (some of which naturally occurs over time), they don’t remove a tattoo completely. They can’t because tattoo ink is applied deep into the dermal skin layer. A topical cream can’t possibly penetrate the five layers of skin above to reach the ink within that level.

Some of the other “old-school” tattoo removal methods seem downright barbaric. These include extreme measures such as dermabrasion, which involves scraping or sanding the skin. Salabrasion uses a salt solution and heat to do something similar. Cryotherapy, which freeze-burns the skin with liquid nitrogen, has also been used for tattoo removal. There is even the possibility of surgical removal of the deep dermal layer of a tattoo. Whether or not the tattoo is removed, these processes have a high likelihood of causing scarring. Obviously, none of these methods are recommended.

Does Laser Tattoo Removal Work?

Fortunately, now there is a better way to remove a tattoo. The advent of laser tattoo removal began in the 1980s, when pulsed-light lasers were approved to be used for various medical procedures. In the early 1990s, more targeted lasers were developed, especially useful for tattoo removal because the shorter pulses allowed greater ability to focus on selected tissue. Subsequent developments focused on the effectiveness of removing the more stubborn tattoo ink in the full spectrum of colors.

Today, lasers are the gold-standard technique and the most popular method of tattoo removal. Since the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery started tracking tattoo removal in 2011, 46,000 people per year have taken advantage of laser technology to remove tattoos.

Modern laser technology is designed to do everything the old-school methods cannot. Laser light easily passes through the top layer and deep into the skin, reaching and breaking up the trapped tattoo pigment. Targeting only the tattoo ink also means being able to leave the surrounding tissue unharmed. With the latest advancements in laser technology, proper professional application, and aftercare, countless studies confirm that there are virtually no permanent side effects with laser tattoo removal.

That being said, in order to understand the scope of the laser procedure, what results you can expect, and how many laser sessions will be required, a number of factors need to be considered. These include skin tone, tattoo type (colors, size, location on the body), and your general overall health. Experts are able to clarify this on a case-by-case basis.

What to Expect—The Procedure

Laser technology is remarkable in that it enables a noninvasive process that is simple, especially when compared with the old-school tattoo removal methods.

The laser process begins with numbing of the surface of the skin. Then, pulses of light are directed at the tattoo with customized laser equipment. The laser’s heat breaks down the underlying tattoo ink pigments. This process enables the body’s normal defense mechanisms to attack and remove the ink particles from the body.

With regard to tattoo color in this process, black tattoo ink is easiest to remove. Other tattoo colors require treatment by selected lasers based on the pigment color.

Depending on the size of the tattoo, the procedure can last from five to 20 minutes. Also, more extensive or multiple tattoos may require a number of sessions to treat, which are spaced between six to eight weeks, depending on what kind of laser is used, in order to allow the treated skin to heal.

Does It Hurt?

The amount of discomfort of laser tattoo removal depends on the extent of the tattoo as well as your expectations of pain and your pain threshold. You may perceive a burning or tingling sensation during the laser removal process. But while the laser wave penetrating the skin may cause discomfort, it is only lasts for a few seconds. The laser process also causes the top layer of skin to have a white or “frost” appearance, which will fade over a short period of time. In fact, many people find the overall level of laser discomfort to be less than what they expected. In addition, the anesthetic cream should help lessen any sense of discomfort.  In some cases, patients opt for a local anesthetic injection.

Side Effects

Side effects of laser tattoo removal are generally quite minor. However, if they do occur, side effects may include any of the following: 

  • Blistering/scabbing (green and blue pigment most likely to cause this)
  • Discoloration of skin
  • Incomplete pigment removal
  • Infection
  • Some scarring (although risk is minimal with newer lasers)

Cost

The cost for laser tattoo removal depends on the number of sessions needed to do the job and the size of the tattoo.  As a result, the price can vary. The overall total cost depends on the number of sessions required. The total is influenced by the factors mentioned previously (such as tattoo size and type) as well as the age of the tattoo.

The bottom line on cost, however, is how you feel about your tattoo(s). If you really want a tattoo removed, the benefit of removal makes cost worthwhile—since once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Aftercare

Following a laser tattoo removal session, ointment is applied to the affected area, a process that is continued with home treatment. A dressing might also be used. An ice pack will help alleviate any pain or swelling. A bandage or covering may be used for protection or healing, but an uncovered area requires sunscreen application when outdoors.

Showering or bathing is possible, but vigorous scrubbing or scratching the area should be avoided. Washing includes keeping the treated area clean. In addition to cleaning, the doctor will recommend an ointment for the treated area to promote healing and avoid the skin from drying out.

About The Plastic Surgery Center

The Plastic Surgery Center is distinguished by the outstanding training and backgrounds of its top plastic surgeons. Among them, the doctors have more than 50 years of combined experience performing facial, skin, and body cosmetic surgery. They offer leading-edge cosmetic and reconstructive procedures and have developed a number of innovative surgical techniques offered at few other facilities in the world. These award-winning physicians regularly share their expertise in medical journals as well as in national media outlets.

At The Plastic Surgery Center, the experts utilize the state-of-the-art PicoWay™ for laser tattoo removal. Schedule your complimentary cosmetic consultation with one of the surgeons today to see how laser tattoo removal can help you turn a current regret into a thing of the past! 

About PicoWay™

PicoWay™, utilized by The Plastic Surgery Center, is a top-of-the-line system for laser tattoo removal good for all tattoo types and colors. It treats a broader range of skin types and tattoo inks than other similar equipment, and with minimal downtime. It entails less discomfort, faster healing, and is safe and effective. It is also faster than the traditional Q-switched lasers.