Laser Tattoo Removal: How does It Work on the Skin?

Laser treatment has become a safe and effective option for tattoo removal. However, it's best to know what it consists of and the precautions you should take before undergoing the procedure.
Laser Tattoo Removal: How does It Work on the Skin?

Last update: 22 June, 2021

Nowadays, laser tattoo removal is nothing new. Tattoos can be removed through the use of pulsed light from a laser called Q-switched, which is applied to the ink particles for as little as a nanosecond, without burning the skin.

If you’re considering tattoo removal, keep reading. In this article, we’ll discuss all the basics you need to know to make your decision.

Neodymium yag laser (Nd yag)

This system is based on the use of a beam of light strong enough to carry out the complete removal of tattoos. It emits very short, hot, and fast bursts to cause heating and separation of the ink particles, according to a publication by S.Karger in 2017.

The wavelength that this device possesses is adjustable, allowing the specialist to opt for the placement of the pigment to be treated. Therefore, for the laser to disintegrate the ink, the correct wavelength must be programmed. Each color absorbs a different wavelength of light.

Removing tattoos from skin
Laser tattoo removal is quite effective. However, people need several sessions.

What are the results?

This procedure is effective and people can usually finish the treatment with complete removal of the tattoo or 90% of the tattoo. The rest simply isn’t noticeable to the naked eye.

From the first session the changes are noticeable, but the final result, for obvious reasons, isn’t immediate. It isn’t achieved in just one session, but between 6 and 12, depending on factors such as the following:

  • Size of the tattoo
  • Skin pigmentation
  • Tattoo coloration: darker pigments need fewer sessions to disintegrate than lighter pigments. Black ink absorbs more light. On the other hand, lighter colors are more reflective, bounce the light and the laser is less effective. For example, yellow, pink, and violet colors are the most difficult to remove. Only white and flesh color should not be treated, as they darken even more, permanently.
  • Depth of the tattoo
  • Age of the tattoo: if the tattoo is quite old, the coloring has already faded a little and, therefore, you’ll need fewer sessions.
  • Location on the body: tattoos located in areas of the body where there is more blood circulation will fade faster. Likewise, tattoos that are located farther away from the heart, such as on the hands or ankles, will remain brightly colored for longer.

Is it painful to use a laser to remove tattoos?

We know that pain is subjective, so it will depend on the individual’s tolerance. But realistically, if the individual has tolerated getting a tattoo, they can tolerate having it removed.

If required, an anesthetic cream can be applied to the area a few minutes before starting. In addition, it’s important to apply cold to the area during the removal.

The interval between sessions is at least 6 weeks, the time in which the particles disintegrated by the laser are recognized and trapped by cells for subsequent elimination along with toxins from the body through the lymphatic system.

The procedure is quite safe, as long as it’s performed by a competent and trained specialist, using the indicated equipment.

A woman removing a tattoo
Whether the laser tattoo removal procedure is painful or not depends on the individual.

What precautions should I take after each session?

  • Use an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory cream for at least one week, due to the possible formation of scabs or blisters.
  • Avoid scratching these lesions and let them fall off naturally.
  • Avoid exposure to sweat for 2 weeks, and also to any heat source (including the sun).
  • Don’t use swimming pools, saunas, or public showers for a reasonable period of time to avoid possible infections.
  • Avoid sun exposure to the treated area for at least 15 days after each session and use sunscreen.

Possible side effects of laser treatment

Changes in pigmentation

Generally, darker skin tones are observed. This is due to the body’s response, generating more (hyperpigmentation) or less melanin (hypopigmentation) in the treated area. These changes are temporary and usually resolve within 6 to 12 months after treatment.

Skin sensitivity

Discomfort such as redness, swelling, and tenderness are common after the session. Bruising and blistering may occur. During healing, the area is more likely to become infected. As the natural healing process occurs, these lesions will resolve.

Scarring

Occurs in very few cases. To avoid this type of permanent complication, you must take care of your skin after the laser procedure. If blisters and scabs form, they must be treated properly.

Laser tattoo removal treatment: A safe option

Thanks to laser technology, tattoo removal is now safe and effective. The results are quite interesting and there usually aren’t any scars on the skin after it.

The important thing is to have it done by trained professionals with the appropriate equipment.

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  • Bäumler W. Laser Treatment of Tattoos: Basic Principles. Curr Probl Dermatol. 2017;52:94‐104. doi:10.1159/000450809
  • Serup J, Bäumler W. Guide to Treatment of Tattoo Complications and Tattoo Removal. Curr Probl Dermatol. 2017;52:132‐138. doi:10.1159/000452966
  • Choudhary, S., Elsaie, M. L., Leiva, A., & Nouri, K. (2010). Lasers for tattoo removal: A review. Lasers in medical science, 25(5), 619-627. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10103-010-0800-2
  • Khunger N, Molpariya A, Khunger A. Complications of Tattoos and Tattoo Removal: Stop and Think Before you ink. J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2015;8(1):30‐36. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.155072