Laser tattoo removal
Today, laser tattoo removal is the safest, most effective, and most widely used tattoo removal method. Although the majority of laser tattoo removal cases are success stories, unfortunately, there’s also some horror stories. It’s absolutely crucial to be properly informed about laser tattoo removal, BEFORE actually starting treatments. Not being properly informed, or not going to see the right type of professional to do the treatments can result in scarring, infection, physical pain, and thousands of dollars of unnecessary costs.
In the sections below, you’ll find an overview of laser tattoo removal. The information below is intended to neither discourage nor encourage you to get laser tattoo removal…it’s simply the result of detailed research that anyone considering laser tattoo removal should be aware of.
How lasers interact with the skin
Laser tattoo removal basically consists of having an intense beam of pulsating light targeting specific colored pigments deep in your skin. Skin is the largest organ of the body, and it has different layers. The laser works by bypassing the epidermis and targeting the pigments in the dermis with pulses of high-intensity laser energy. The pigment is then broken down in small particles, which are naturally excreted by the body.
The feeling of the laser energy on your skin is similar to the pinching, burning feel of an elastic snapping against your skin, or the feel of a continuous splattering of hot grease on your skin. Even though this may not sound so sexy to you at the moment, laser tattoo removal has nevertheless shown many great results.
Finding the right tattoo removal professional
Getting your laser tattoo removal done by the right professional is absolutely crucial. Many people make the mistake of going to esthetician and beautician “spas” where the employees offer anything under the sun, from laser hair removal to cellulite treatments, etc. Not only should you look for an establishment that specializes in laser tattoo removal, but more specifically for a doctor (e.g., board-certified dermatologist) who specializes in laser tattoo removal. Aside from having the proper certifications and credentials, and needing to follow specific safety and sterility protocols, doctors understand the anatomy and physiology of the skin, and how lasers will affect the skin. Doctors also review your medical history to avoid any adverse reactions, they’re qualified to give you a local anesthetic to help numb the pain, and they’re able to prescribe something for pain management or any type of complication. Once you’ve carefully found your laser tattoo removal doctor, make sure to book an in-person consultation with them (these are usually free of charge), ask to see their before and after images, and discuss risks, options and costs with them.
What to expect the day of your laser session
When you get to the clinic, there are a few steps that will be taken before your laser professional starts to zap you. While you’re sitting in the waiting room, the receptionist will probably give you a consent form to fill out. If you’re concerned about any of the information being asked on there, now is the time to address it. Your doctor might suggest taking a picture of your tattoo, to be able to visually monitor your progress throughout your sessions. If you don’t feel comfortable with them taking your picture, by all means, tell them so!
A local anesthetic injection or topical anesthetic may be used to help numb the area. Anesthetic injections usually reduce the pain by about 75%–100%, whereas topical anesthetics (such as UberNumb or Emla) usually reduce the pain by about 50%. So it’s important to be realistic about your expectations concerning pain control…very few people will have a completely pain-free procedure. You can also take an acetaminophen pain reliever beforehand, such as Tylenol, to reduce discomfort. Aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are not recommended, because they can increase the amount of bruising during the procedure.
You’ll then be asked to remove any jewelry close to the tattoo area that may disperse the light of the laser. After being asked to lie down on the treatment table, your skin will be cleansed with an alcohol swab or a sterile wipe. Your laser professional will give you protective eyewear and make sure it’s sitting properly over your eyes. You should also have your eyes closed as an extra precaution throughout the whole procedure. Better safe than sorry. There are risks of eye damage if not all proper precautions are taken to protect your peepers during laser treatment.
Once the laser starts pinching your skin, take in deep breaths. Relaxation and proper breathing will help reduce the stress of this situation for you. Your laser professional will probably start with a small patch and ask you how your pain tolerance is. From there, they could choose to adjust the intensity a bit, depending on your pain threshold. The laser hitting the skin will sound like a series of small pops or taps. In terms of how long the laser will be snapping against your skin, estimate about 7–10 minutes for a tattoo that’s 3 x 3 inches.
After the lasering is over, your laser professional will take your goggles off. You’ll see that your tattoo has a “frosted” white look to it. There’s usually very little bleeding that takes place. You’ll feel, at that moment and for the next few hours, like you have a bad sunburn in the treated area. The discomfort will obviously suck, but tell yourself you did it, champion! Keep in mind that there could be some swelling and blistering over the next few days. This is actually pretty normal, considering the intense heat and trauma that your skin just went through. Blistering is actually a helpful process, because it means the fluid inside the blister will take the pigment of the ink with it. Before letting you go home, your laser professional will apply ointment (such as Polysporin Ointment) and a bandage to the treated area. They should also give you aftercare instructions so that you can avoid infection and heal properly in the following days and weeks.
What to expect as you’re healing
After the laser session, if there’s a lot of redness or swelling, feel free to apply an ice pack to the treated area. Keep your initial bandage for 4–5 hours, then remove the bandage, gently clean the skin with lukewarm water and mild soap, and lightly pat dry with a clean paper towel. Your freshly-lasered skin will probably be oozing plasma at this point, so you’ll need to keep it covered, to keep the bacteria off of your healing skin, and to keep your plasma off of everything around you. TatuYou makes a great product called Tatu-Derm, which is a medical-grade sterile film that you can trim to fit the size of your tattoo area. This clear barrier film is breathable, latex-free, it moves with your body, and it’s waterproof. This beats most traditional bandages because you don’t need to use any irritating tape to hold Tatu-Derm in place. It’s designed to stick to dry skin only, meaning that it won’t stick to your freshly-lasered oozing skin. It’s up to you if you want to apply an ointment under it, such as Polysporin Ointment, but apply only a thin layer to maintain the film’s breathability. Whatever you choose to apply, make sure it’s not a solvent (such as glycerin, which is found in many lotions and ointments), otherwise it will interfere with the adhesive in the film and prevent the film from sticking to your skin. Keep the tattoo area shielded with Tatu-Derm for at least a couple of days after your laser treatment, especially if you’re getting quite a bit of leakage. Once the lasered area has stopped leaking, feel free to go bandage-free, apply a bit of Polysporin Ointment or Aquaphor to it, and let it air out, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your daily activities, and that you stay out of the sun.
After 3 or 4 days, the insane itch begins! As much as this is a good sign because it means that the treated area is healing, it can also be absolutely tormenting. Don’t scratch the area (as tempting as it will be), because this could damage the tender skin and cause scarring. The itch will probably last about a week or so. If you feel like you’re going to go out of your mind, consider gently rubbing pure vitamin E oil on the skin. The important thing is to always keep the scab hydrated. Don’t pierce any blisters or pick at any scabs, because this could result in scarring.
Unless your lasered skin is covered with Tatu-Derm, make sure you don’t soak in water during the scabbing phase. Avoid baths, hot tubs, swimming, or even high-pressure water from the shower head hitting against your fragile skin. If you absolutely must be submerged in water for longer than a few minutes, make sure your tattoo is protected with the Tatu-Derm waterproof film.
Disclosure: Tania Barbe has purchased the Tatu-Derm product herself, and although she does make a small referral commission from sales of their product, she only recommends products she loves and has used herself.
Finally, keep yourself out of the sun while your skin is healing. Once the skin is healed, apply a sunblock with a high SPF when you go outside. If you want a sunblock that’s waterproof, sweatproof, and non-comedogenic, Neutrogena makes a great SPF70.