From the local news to late night talk shows, everyone is talking about tattoo removal. Twenty five percent of the US population aged 18-50 has a decorative tattoo, and if the trend continues, this number is predicted to reach 40% in the coming years. With numbers increasing like this, it’s no wonder we are talking more and more about tattoo removal. In fact, roughly 20% of tattoo owners are dissatisfied and have considered removal. People decide to remove tattoos for any number of reasons, like it no longer represents who they are, they are embarrassed by it, they are unable to hide it, or it doesn’t look as they had hoped. Regardless of the reason, it’s important to be informed before embarking on the task.
What is the Tattoo Removal Process Like?
A tattoo is a permanent marking on the skin that takes commitment to remove. Tattoos are removed by special lasers, called q-switched or picosecond lasers. These lasers deliver a huge amount of energy in a very short time. These energy bursts make the tattoo look white for about 20 minutes. As a result of the laser pulse, the ink is broken into smaller pieces that are not seen from the surface of the skin. Additionally, some ink travels slowly to the top of the skin and is lost through the surface. Lastly, some ink is scavenged by the body’s immune system and carried away from the area of the tattoo.
It is impossible to predict how many removal treatments your tattoo will need. On average, tattoo removal requires 10 treatments, but can exceed 20 or more in some cases. Treatments are spaced 4-6 weeks apart, so the treatment period can last more than a couple years. With each treatment, we anesthetize the skin with either topical numbing cream or injections around the tattoo. This makes tattoo removal very tolerable.
After the treatment, the tattoo must be carefully bandaged with Vaseline and a non-stick dressing for up to two weeks. The care given to the tattoo after the treatment is critical and can prevent certain side effects. After the treatment, blisters, scabbing and crusting are normal. As the tattoo fades, these outcomes lessen. Tattoo removal commonly creates a temporary lightening or darkening of the involved skin that lasts throughout the process, but returns to normal with time. Very rarely, tattoo removal can result in scarring and permanent lightening of the skin. Tattoo removal should not be attempted on tanned skin.
Which Tattoos can be Removed? Are Some Easier to Remove than Others?
Most tattoos can be removed with laser, but some tattoos respond better than others. Tattoos with less ink are generally easier to remove. This includes radiation marks. With the blessing of your oncologist or radiation oncologist, we can remove your radiation marks through New Beginnings: Radiation Mark Removal Program: http://www.aslms.org/newbeginnings/
Some colors, like black, red and green, are easier to remove with the current technology. Blue, orange and yellow are the most difficult to remove. White or beige ink can turn darker with the first treatment, but can usually be removed just like black ink with subsequent treatments.
Cosmetic tattoos, like permanent lip liner and eyebrows, can be unpredictable and more difficult to remove. Larger tattoos and tattoos on the legs and feet are also harder to remove. Surprisingly, it can be more difficult to remove tattoos in smokers. Tattoos that have caused an allergic reaction on the skin cannot be treated in the same manner as other tattoos, but can still be lightened.
Updates in Tattoo Removal
Some exciting advances in tattoo removal have been made in the last few years. New lasers, called picosecond lasers, are now emerging as the superior option. We are currently waiting for more advanced versions of these lasers to surface. Additionally, treating the tattoo multiple times on the same day may enhance results from the current tattoo removal lasers. Lastly, fractional resurfacing lasers can be combined with the traditional tattoo lasers, which can make the recovery more comfortable and may have benefit in treatment resistant tattoos.
- Tattoo removal can be a long process and is usually unpredictable
- Tattoo removal does NOT have to be painful
- Taking good care of your tattoo after removal can avoid possible permanent side effects like scarring
- Some tattoos respond better than others:
- Tattoos with less ink (faded tattoos, amateur tattoos, radiation marks, traumatic tattoos)
- Black, green or red ink
- Some tattoos may be more difficult to treat:
- Blue, orange or yellow ink
- Larger tattoos
- Tattoos on the legs and feet
- Tattoos in smokers
- Some tattoos need special considerations before being treated:
- White or beige ink
- Lip liner and eyebrow tattoos
- Tattoos that caused an allergic reaction on the skin
- New advances in tattoo removal are on the horizon