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Tattoo Removal: What to Expect

About 36% of U.S. adults have at least one tattoo. It's not uncommon for people to regret getting a tattoo, or they dislike the result and want to get rid of it. In fact, as of 2016/17, about 11% of Americans with tattoos have either had one removed or are planning to do so. Tattoo removal is a common practice, and if you're considering it, this post will explain everything you need to know.

Tattoo removal overview

Tattoo removal is the process whose main objective is to remove an unwanted tattoo. Although the practice of tattooing dates back to ancient times, it was until the 20th century that someone invented the effective removal strategy. That someone is Dr. Leon Goldman, who used a 694 Ruby laser and ND: YAG laser to remove a tattoo for the first time. The first tattoo removal procedure was performed back in 1967. At first, tattoo removal has limited success. Over the years, the process evolved significantly, and it became easily accessible to everyone.

Several tattoo removal procedures may help a person get rid of unwanted ink. These include:

  • Laser tattoo removal – the most popular technique today. Essentially the laser slowly breaks apart the tattoo ink particles until it’s small enough and is removed by your immune system.

  • Surgical tattoo removal – removal of tattoo by cutting the skin away, then the edges of the skin are stitched back together. While effective, this strategy leaves a noticeable scar and may be more suitable for smaller tattoos.

  • Dermabrasion – a process where tattoo skin is chilled until numb. Then, the tattooed skin is sanded down to deeper levels with a high-speed rotary device featuring an abrasive wheel or brush. Tattoo ink leaches out of the skin. This is an uncommon technique for tattoo removal due to unpredictable results.

Benefits of laser tattoo removal

Laser tattoo removal is the most popular tattoo removal technique. Benefits of this approach include:

  • Low risk of scarring

  • High success rate and patient satisfaction

  • Minimal recovery

  • Safer than other laser tattoo removal methods

  • Works for tattoos of any size

  • Short treatments

Before tattoo removal

Your journey toward successful tattoo removal starts by contacting or visiting in person a reputable and experienced practitioner. If you have questions about the process or maybe some concerns, the laser practitioner kindly explains everything you need to know. They will describe the procedure and hand out certain instructions for you to follow.

For example, for your laser tattoo removal appointment, you will need to be freshly showered or bathed, i.e., your skin should be completely clean. That being said, you shouldn't use lotions, shower creams, and fragrances. Showering or bathing with "plain" water is enough. Prior to the appointment, you may need to shave the area where the tattoo is placed (if there’s excess hair on it).

For four weeks before the appointment, you will need to avoid excessive sun exposure and tanning beds. If you use self-tanning products, you will need to stop using them about two weeks before laser tattoo removal. Additionally, you should stop using all products that may make your skin sensitive to the sun.

A laser technician may ask you health-related questions to ensure the treatment has no contraindications. Make sure to answer the questions honestly so your laser removal treatment can go smoothly.

Laser tattoo removal process

The process starts when the laser technician numbs the tattooed skin with a local anesthetic. You will need to wear protective eyewear during the treatment. Then, they will apply a laser to the skin to heat and shatter the tattoo ink.

The tattoo is not removed in a single session, in most cases. A person usually needs multiple sessions to remove the tattoo, and it's perfectly normal in this case. A single session lasts about 10 minutes.

Keep in mind some tattoos are easier to remove than others. For example, older and amateur tattoos are easier to “shatter” compared to new ones.

After tattoo removal

After the session, you may notice a little bit of swelling or even blistering (or bleeding) on the treated area. Applying the antibacterial ointment may promote the healing process. The laser technician will give you detailed instructions to follow to support recovery. For instance, each time you apply the ointment, you will need to change the wound dressing. Also, you will need to avoid physical activity for 24 hours.

Over the course of at least, next two weeks, you will need to adhere to these tattoo removal tips:

  • Keep the treated area clean and dry.

  • Avoid picking at scabs or blisters.

  • Avoid direct sun exposure.

  • Wear looser, rather than tighter, clothing

  • Avoid hot water, sauna, hot tub, and high-pressure showers.

  • Try not to shave the treated area.

  • Massage the treated area

  • Drink plenty of water

Recovery timeline

Although the exact recovery timeline varies from one person to another, it generally looks like this:

  • Right after the treatment – treated skin develops a frosty white color due to the release of carbon dioxide as the laser penetrates deep into the skin. No reason to panic; this is normal!

  • 8-72 hours after the treatment – blisters develop, the treated area may peel. Scabs and crust may also develop along the skin

  • 1-2 weeks after the treatment – blisters and other adverse reactions tend to subside by this time

  • 4-6 weeks after the treatment – treated skin is fully healed at this point, and you're ready for an additional session


Does the treatment work the same for all tattoo ink colors?

Some colors are easier to remove than others. These include black, green, brown, and dark blue.

Who is an ideal candidate for laser tattoo removal?

The most suitable candidate is a person with lighter skin because the treatment may lighten the darker skin. Also, older tattoos are easier to remove than newer ink.

So, persons with darker skin can’t have their tattoos removed?

They can. A technician may use a special type of laser (Q-switched ND: YAG) on darker skin because it is the least likely to change the color of darker skin.

Will I have a scar?

The risk of scarring is minimal. Some people may develop scars, though. To reduce the risk of scarring, you should avoid scratching and picking at the area as it heals.

Does it hurt?

Laser tattoo removal includes a certain degree of discomfort, but the intensity may vary from one person to another. Many say it hurts less than expected, and the results are worth it.

Laser tattoo removal is safe, effective, and works on almost everyone. If you need your tattoo removed, feel free to contact us to learn more.

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