How Does Laser Tattoo Removal Work? 7 Facts You Need to Know
Got some ink in your twenties that isn’t looking so hot anymore? Got an ex’s name you don’t want to see on your body every day? Made a quick decision you’re regretting now?
The majority of middle-aged Americans with tattoos are deciding to blast away old ink. There are a lot of factors which can make you regret a tattoo, from employment options to a breakup to a badly done tattoo.
If you’re not loving your ink anymore, laser tattoo removal could help you get your skin cleaned up. If you’re wondering, “how does laser tattoo removal work?” and you’re not sure where to start, this article is for you. Here are seven things you need to know about the process.
1. How Does Laser Tattoo Removal Work?
Laser tattoo removal is the most common form of tattoo removal.
It looks simple, but it’s actually a rather complex chemical process – at least as complex as the process of getting a tattoo in the first place.
The laser is used to break up pigment particles under your skin. Then, your lymphatic system latches onto the pigment particles and carries them away to get excreted.
You’re using the body’s natural mechanisms to break up your tattoo. Pretty cool, right?
2. How Lasers Break Up Ink
Before we go any further, though, we should clear up some of the mechanics.
We said the laser breaks up pigment so your lymphatic system will carry them away. This is because your lymphatic system recognizes these particles as foreign.
But, the lymphatic system recognizes tattoo ink as foreign from the moment the tattoo gun starts working on your skin. Tattoo ink is made from a combination of compounds which can vary from one shop to the next – some artists mix their own ink and would be able to tell you what’s in it, but many don’t.
That said, most common tattoo inks include compounds made from heavy metals like copper, lead, and manganese.
Unsurprisingly, your body doesn’t like having heavy metals hanging out in your skin and it dispatches white blood cells to engulf them and get rid of the compounds. It’s partially successful, which is why all tattoos fade over time.
However, most ink particles are too large for white blood cells to fully engulf, which is why tattoos won’t completely fade on their own. That’s why tattoos are permanent.
Laser tattoo removal uses a combination of heat and speed to force the particles to rip apart, leaving them in smaller pieces your lymphatic system can handle.
3. One Treatment Won’t Do the Trick
Laser tattoo removal presses the fast-forward button on your tattoo’s aging process. If it seems like it’s a breeze, don’t get too excited quite yet.
It would be a simple process…if all tattoo parlors used the exact same combinations of compounds to create their inks. Many shops buy from manufacturers who have been in business for many years, but some mix their own ink, either for artistic reasons or lack of state regulation.
You’re safest getting a tattoo from a shop that buys from a well-established ink manufacturer. But if you got that tattoo twenty years ago, there’s a chance the shop may not be in business anymore.
Why does all this matter?
It matters because the ink itself will affect the efficacy of your treatment and how many treatments you’ll need to see results. Unfortunately, this isn’t something a technician can figure out during your consultation.
Some tattoos fade quickly. Others need several treatments and may only partially fade. Still, others leave a ghost image and raised scarring.
It depends a lot on the tattoo in question. Either way, you should assume you’re going to need multiple treatments.
4. Location Matters
Another factor which affects how well your tattoo fades is where the tattoo is located on your body. Tattoo artists (the good ones, anyway) will tell you different areas of the body are better for tattoos than others.
This is due to a variety of factors, such as the quality of the skin (how well it holds ink), how much the tattoo will fade in a given area (areas more often exposed to the sun, like forearms and wrists, always fade faster), and how painful it will be to get your tattoo in a certain area (hint: ribs and feet hurt).
Ironically, the areas where tattoos fade the least (the torso and back, closest to the heart) are also the areas which are most successful when it comes to tattoo removal.
That’s because areas closest to the heart have better circulation, which means it’s easier for your lymphatic system to carry ink to your liver and it’s easier to heal following a treatment.
Ankles are one of the most painful areas to get a tattoo (very little padding on the bone) and they’re also one of the least successful areas for tattoo removal.
5. Amateur vs. Professional Tattoos
In addition, the quality of the tattoo will also affect how easy (or hard) it is to get the tattoo removed.
Tattoos done by established professionals usually penetrate the skin more deeply and uniformly, which can make them easier to treat. But, professional tattoos are usually more saturated with ink, which leaves a lot more ink for the laser to break up.
Amateur tattoos, as a rule, are easier to remove, since they’re applied unevenly and with less ink. Fortunately (or unfortunately), amateur tattoos (particularly sloppy ones) are the kind of tattoo people regret the most.
6. How Much Does It Hurt?
You’ve probably had a pressing question on your mind for a while now: is this going to hurt, and if so, how badly?
Well, picture how much it hurt to get your tattoo in the first place. An ink gun with tiny needles stitching ink into your skin. Then add in the sensation of ink particles burning at thousands of degrees.
It doesn’t burn your skin because the heat is so rapid and so specifically directed toward the ink particles that it instead creates a shockwave. This causes the upper layer of skin to “frost”, i.e. to lift up and appear white briefly.
Yes, it’s going to hurt. Quite a lot, in fact. Possibly more than getting the tattoo in the first place.
7. Be Aware of Side Effects and Darkening
Finally, you should be aware of the potential side effects of laser tattoo removal.
Laser technicians and tattoo artists both know they’re not working with a static canvas – they’re working with live tissue. Everyone’s skin is different, and everyone’s skin will react differently to laser removal.
The most common side effect is lightening or darkening of the skin. This is normal – the laser attacks some pigmentation in your skin as well as the tattoo. This usually corrects itself after 6-12 months.
There’s also the chance the ink itself will darken after a treatment, depending on what compounds are in the tattoo. This can be resolved after multiple treatments, but you will have to deal with it in the interim.
Since you’re essentially creating a micro-burn in an area where foreign particles and white blood cells are already fighting it out in your skin, there’s also the chance for infection, burns, scars, and textural changes of the skin.
This is why caring for the affected area between treatments is vital – it will help the area heal properly and minimize scarring.
Regretting Your Tattoo?
If you’re regretting your tattoo and wondering, “how does laser tattoo removal work?” you’ve come to the right place.
We offer non-invasive tattoo removal and skin restoration services, helping you see faster results so you can go back to your life with a clean slate.
Got questions? Want to schedule an appointment? Don’t wait. Get in touch with us today.