Laser Tattoo Removal
Tattoos have been used around the world for centuries. In the past couple of decades, this practice has exploded as a part of American mainstream culture. The reasons for getting a tattoo varies between individuals, from expressing the eternity of a loved one’s name on the skin, to expressing oneself through a symbol of something meaningful. Whatever the reason may be for each individual, tattoos have made their mark on our culture as well. It is estimated that over 20 million Americans have at least one tattoo, and more specifically, 36% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 30. However, tattoos are often not allowed in the workplace or the armed forces. It is also estimated that 40-50% of individuals with tattoos regret their decision, and would remove them if they could. If you are one of these individuals, you should know that A. you’re not alone! and B. you’ve come to the right place.
What is a tattoo?
Understanding a tattoo is the first step in understanding how to get rid of it. A tattoo is a deposit of pigment, or color, most commonly India Ink (sometimes mixed with other elements such as iron). It is inserted into the skin at a depth of 1-2 mm using a tattoo gun, which has an electric needle that punctures the skin and deposits the pigment. The tattoo can be placed anywhere on the body, and common sites include the lower back, upper arm, ankle, and chest. Permanent makeup is also a form of tattooing, with the colors coming from various additives to the ink.
Why do people get tattoo removal?
Patients request tattoo removal for a variety of reasons. Sometimes tattoos that were drawn in jail, the armed forces, or other places with homemade ink fade and don’t look good anymore. Often someone comes in with the name of a person with whom they are no longer with. Very commonly, patients report that they have entered a different phase of their life, have a new job or a spouse and having a tattoo just doesn’t suit them any longer. Sometimes the patient actually DOES want a tattoo, but unfortunately got it done from someone with poor quality and has no choice but to remove it and start over. Many patients are required to remove tattoos due to requirements of the armed forces.
What are ways of removing a tattoo?
- Dermabrasion: the skin is “sanded” to remove the surface and middle layers through abrasive friction.
- Chemical Peels: various types of acids are rubbed into the skin and the tattoo is removed over a period of time. Many creams and balms are available on the internet, which generally fall into this category.
- Excision: the plastic surgeon removes the tattooed skin with a scalpel and closes the wound with stitches. In some cases involving large tattoos, a skin graft from another part of the body may be necessary to stitch up the wound.
The above listed procedures often cause significant scarring, are painful, and/or simply don’t work.
Lasers have become the standard treatment for tattoo removal because they offer a minimally invasive, low risk, effective alternative with minimal side effects. The type of laser used to remove a tattoo is called a Q-switched laser.
Does it hurt?
Individuals vary greatly in their pain tolerance, and patients tend to find tattoo removal to be anywhere from slightly uncomfortable to downright painful. People describe the treatment as being hot and like a “rubber band snap”. This discomfort lessens with each treatment. Anesthesia can include topical numbing cream, injections of numbing medicine, ice packs, or an air chiller. Since the procedure is very quick, we find that ice packs are the best way to decrease the pain without other side effects.
Dr. Prasad or one of her very experienced nurses will sit down with you in a one-on-one consultation before the treatment. When you are ready to get the treatment done, we will have you ice the area of the tattoo to minimize pain and subsequent complications. The laser treatment is extremely quick and will only take a few minutes, depending on the size of the tattoo.
Following the treatment, your skin will be mildly red and can possibly result in pin point bleeding or blistering. You may also notice temporary whitening of the tattoo and swelling of the skin. Recovery from these symptoms may take up to a few days, but is usually noticed within a few hours.
Over the next few weeks, your body’s scavenger cells remove the pigment residues. You should begin to notice lightening of the tattoo about two weeks after the treatment. Depending on the tattoo, however, it may take a few sessions before the fading becomes apparent.
How many treatments does it take?
The good news about laser tattoo removal is that it is the most effective yet least painful technology around to remove tattoos. The not so good news is that because of its safe nature, the results are seen gradually and only take full effect after a few sessions. The exact number of treatments it will take depends on several factors. An inexperienced tattoo artist may be heavy handed with his tattoo gun and place the ink deeper than it needs to be, which will make the tattoo harder to remove. There are also several new kinds of ink on the market now which are meant to be bright, and have chemicals or metals that make them very stable and therefore hard to break down. Two tattoos that have the same color on the outside may be made with different inks and will behave differently during the removal sessions. Mixtures of colors can sometimes be hard to remove, as well as cover-ups, which have twice the amount of ink. India ink is the easiest ink to remove. Other factors that affect how many treatments you will need to have are the age of the tattoo and the size.
Dr. Prasad has had patients whose tattoos have been fully removed after 2 treatments, and others that have required more than fifteen. Patients usually average about 6-8 treatments, but may need more or less due to all of the factors described above. During your consultation, one of our practitioners can give you a better estimate after looking at the tattoo, though the exact number of sessions needed per individual will become apparent only after treatments commence.
Treatments are spaced about 4-6 weeks apart. This is required to allow the pigment residue to be absorbed by the body.
Are there any side effects?
Side effects of laser procedures are generally few, especially when compared to other tattoo removal options. They include hyperpigmentation, or excess color in the skin at the treatment site, and hypopigmentation, which is lightening of the skin in the treated area. Other possible side effects textural changes in the skin. The biggest risk in laser tattoo removal is incomplete removal of all pigment in the tattoo.
What is some advice for someone who wants a tattoo?
Over the years, patients have come to Laser Esthetica with all types of reasons for wanting their tattoo removed. If they could go back and do it again, there are things they would have done differently. Though no one expects to regret a tattoo, there are precautions you can take so that if you ever end up in a situation where you are considering tattoo removal, the process will be much easier. We have compiled a list of advice we have heard from patients over the years, hopefully some of which will prevent you from ever needing tattoo removal in the first place.
Go to a reputable practitioner who is using advanced and sterile instruments, and choose a facility that is clean and up to date. Make sure that you are totally aware of the design that the artist will use, and do not leave it up to their interpretation or imagination. Be sure it is a design that you love and can live with the rest of your life. Try to choose as few colors as possible and gravitate towards green, blue, and black. If you can, try showing your love for someone in a way other than tattooing their name on your body. Patients sometimes want a parent’s or child’s name removed for reasons other than not loving them anymore. Have the tattoo placed in an area that is easily coverable in case you regret the decision later. Lastly, refrain from getting a tattoo while you’re not sober- it is easy to get talked into a design that you will later regret.
Why do people choose Laser Esthetica for tattoo removal?
Laser tattoo removal is a medical procedure, so you should choose the practitioner who does it with as much care and compassion as you would expect from your other doctors. Laser Esthetica provides a safe environment for you to go through the tattoo removal process, and patients who explored different options chose to come to here for several reasons. First, the facility is under the care of a licensed physician. Second, Dr. Prasad doesn’t rent her lasers, she owns them. A physician who rents or uses a hospital based system normally doesn’t perform enough treatments to warrant purchasing the lasers. Rental lasers may also be improperly calibrated and result in bad outcomes. Sometimes, the term “laser” is used loosely, and patients have gotten into situations where the technology being used is old, and something they didn’t expect. In addition, the laser that Dr. Prasad uses is considered the Cadillac of tattoo removal lasers. It is the Quanta Laser which has three different lasers to allow treatment of various colored tattoos such as black, red and green.
Lastly, Dr. Prasad focuses her time in laser and aesthetic medicine. Some doctors have a different area of interest and use lasers part time. The lasers used at Laser Esthetica are up-to-date and well maintained.