Tattoo No More? Get The Scoop On Laser Tattoo Removal

While about 24 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 50 have tattoos, at least 17 percent have regretted the decision and contemplated getting rid of their ink. The most recommended way to remove old tattoos is tattoo laser removal. 

The Process

The lasers break down the ink so that it can be absorbed and pass out of your system. A different wavelength of laser is needed to remove each different color. Even a small tattoo using just black ink can take at least five treatments, and some tattoos can take more than 20 sessions. These treatments need to be spaced weeks or months apart for the best results, with most practitioners scheduling them between six and eight weeks apart.

Types of Laser Tattoo Removal

There are two main recommended types of lasers used for removing tattoos. These are the Q-switched laser, or QSL, and the picosecond laser. The picosecond laser is newer and may potentially be able to remove some tattoos faster and with fewer treatments than with QSL, but the QSL laser is still a better option for people with certain types of tattoos.

Factors Affecting Success

Not all tattoos are easily removable. Only about 47 percent of people are successful in removing their tattoos with 10 or fewer treatments, and even after 15 treatments, about 25 percent of people will still have visible remnants of their old tattoos. A number of factors play a role in how difficult it is to remove a tattoo. Smaller tattoos are easier to remove than larger tattoos, black tattoos are easier to remove than colored tattoos, amateur tattoos are easier to remove than professional tattoos, and tattoos located where there's more blood flow, such as those on the chest or back, are easier to remove than those placed on the hands, feet, or lower legs.

Tattoos can't usually be removed for at least six months and the older the tattoo is, the easier it usually is to remove, as the older ink is easier to break down. Using the right laser will also play a role. For example, the picosecond laser is best for removing green and blue colors, while the QSL laser is better for removing red. Those with lighter skin and darker tattoos tend to have better results than those with darker skin, and smokers have much less success with tattoo removal than nonsmokers.

Potential Side Effects

Don't think that the procedure will be easy or pain-free. If you get your tattoo laser removal from a doctor, you'll probably get a lidocaine shot to help limit the pain, however. Other potential side effects include bleeding, swelling, and blisters in the area that was treated. These effects typically resolve themselves in about one week. In some cases, the tattoo won't be totally removed or the skin may darken or change in texture due to the treatment.