Getting a tattoo done is an extremely exciting thing for a lot of people. However, getting the tattoo removed can be quite a difficult task. So what are the procedures that are meant for tattoo removal? What does tattoo removal involve? Is tattoo removal safe? Is it effective? Let’s find out.
Are All Tattoos Removable?
Most dermatological surgeons mention that a complete tattoo removal is not really possible. It is very difficult to remove tattoos as they are meant to be permanent. However, a few surgeons guarantee a complete tattoo removal. There are quite a few procedures for tattoo removal that have proven quite effective. The level of remaining color variations or blemishes depends on numerous factors, such as location of the tattoo, size, how the tattoo was applied, an individual’s ability to heal and how long the tattoo has been in place. For instance, a tattoo that has been applied by an experienced tattoo artist could be easier to remove, as the pigment must be evenly injected. A new tattoo might be more difficult to remove as compared to an old one.
Doctors mention that they cannot predict the precise degree of removal, as they usually don’t know which tattoo ink was used from the several tattoo inks available today. The FDA presently lists tattoo pigments as color additives that are intended for application only on the top layer of the skin.
What are the Methods Used for Tattoo Removal?
Prior to the lasers becoming popular for tattoo removal, the removal process involved the use of some of these painful, scar-inducing methods:
• Dermabrasion: The procedure in which the skin is sanded in order to remove the surface as well as middle layers.
• Cryosurgery: The procedure that involves freezing the area before tattoo removal.
• Excision: The procedure in which a dermatologic doctor removes the tattoo using a scalpel and then closes the wound with stitches. In certain cases of tattoo removal, skin grafting from another part of the body might be required.
Even though the procedures mentioned above continue to be used in some cases these days, lasers have turned out to be the standard treatment procedure for tattoo removal. This is so because laser treatments offer an effective, bloodless and low risk alternative, which offers minimum side effects. Every procedure is performed on an outpatient basis in a single visit or a series of visits. Individuals may or may not need topical or local anesthesia.
In the early 1960s, lasers were developed for industrial use. At the time when researchers developed lasers that emitted wavelengths of light in short flashes known as pulses, it became feasible for medical use. According to the American academy of Dermatology, laser technology can remove tattoos effectively with a low risk of scarring. The type of laser that is used for tattoo removal depends upon the tattoo’s pigment colors. Colors like green and yellow are the hardest colors to remove while black and blue are the easiest. The 3 lasers developed particularly for tattoo removal make use of a technique referred to as Q-switching, which refers to a laser’s short and high energy pulses.
The 3 lasers developed specifically for tattoo removal are the Q-switched Ruby, Q-switched Alexandrite and Q-switched Nd: YAG, which is the latest system in lasers and is particularly advanced for the removal of blue, red, and black inks.
How Does Laser Tattoo Removal Work?
Laser tattoo removal makes use of a special type of laser referred to as Q-switched laser, which in turn uses a process known as selective photothermolysis. Lasers function by way of generating short pulses of intense light that harmlessly pass through the upper layers of the skin in order to be absorbed by the tattoo pigment. The laser energy induces the tattoo pigment to break down into small particles, which can then be removed by the immune system of the body. Researchers have confirmed which wavelengths of light need to be used and also how the laser’s output must be delivered in order to remove tattoo ink. In case you are wondering whether the laser might remove normal skin pigment as well, don’t worry. The laser specifically targets only the tattoo pigment without causing any damage to the surrounding skin. Since only light enters the skin and since it is sterile, there is very little risk of infection.
Does Tattoo Removal Hurt?
The most unfortunate part of having a tattoo is that, getting them done as well as having them removed can be quite an uncomfortable procedure. The impact of energy that comes from the powerful pulse of the laser has been explained as being similar to getting snapped by a rubber band or getting hot spots of bacon grease on the skin. Due to the fact that black pigment soaks up all laser wavelengths, it is the easiest to remove. Colors like, green absorb only specific laser light and could only be treated with selected lasers depending on the color of pigment.
While preparing for a laser procedure for tattoo removal, doctors recommend that non-aspirin products, such as Tylenol, be used for treating minor aches and pains before the procedure. This is because aspirin and non-steroidal anti inflammatory agents like Ibuprofen are able to produce pronounced bruising following treatment.
Additional pre treatment steps may include applying a prescription anesthetic cream 2 hours prior to the laser session. The cream is wiped off just before the laser surgery commences. Some patients prefer to not use the anesthetic cream while others prefer local anesthetic to be injected into the tattoo before the laser therapy. Sometimes, pinpoint bleeding is associated with the procedure. After this, pulses of light from the laser are used on the tattoo, breaking up the pigment. The scavenger cells in the body get rid of pigment residues over the next few weeks.
Following the treatment, the physician will apply an antibacterial ointment and then dress the area, which must be kept clean along with continued application of the antibacterial ointment as directed by the doctor. Taking a shower a day after treatment is fine however the treatment area must not be scrubbed. The skin on the treated area may feel slightly sun burnt for a few days and might remain red for a couple of weeks. The treatment site may also form a scab that needs to be handled gently. When the skin has completely healed, the treatment site will gradually fade.
How Many Sessions does a Tattoo Removal Procedure take?
This actually depends upon a particular patient and the type of tattoo. Certain tattoos are more difficult to remove and need more sessions to remove them. Usually, tattoo removal takes around 2 – 15 fifteen sessions. An average sized tattoo that is about four square inches requires around 7 – 9 sessions to get maximum resolution. It takes more than one treatment that lasts only a few minutes to remove an entire tattoo. The number of treatment sessions depends upon the quantity and type of ink used as well as how deep it was injected. It requires 3-week intervals between treatment sessions to allow pigment residue to get absorbed by the body.
Will the Laser Treatment Remove my Tattoo Completely?
It’s quite a possibility that a tattoo will appear to have been completely removed, but usually a small amount of ink remains, even though it’s not visible. However, it’s important to remember that, maximum resolution does not mean total removal. There is no guarantee of a total tattoo removal. Your doctor is the best person to inform you when the tattoo has reached the maximum resolution. Some inks colors and skin types make a complete tattoo removal less likely. The location of a tattoo is also vital in determining how well the tattoo responds to the treatment.
How Long Do I Wait Between Each Laser Tattoo Removal Sessions?
While the treatment area in question might appear to have completely healed externally within 2 weeks, the process of internal healing is in fact much longer, at around 6 weeks. During this time, the lymphatic system does its job of eradicating the ink that has been fragmented by the laser.
The final result from every session would not be evident until around the sixth week. For that reason, 6 weeks is the recommended time between sessions.
Who Can Use Laser Tattoo Removal?
Individuals who have no health complications can opt for laser tattoo removal. People with all skin types can be safely treated with the laser treatment for tattoo removal. However, people with pale skin and darker tattoos generally enjoy the quickest and best results.
Who Should Not Use Laser Tattoo Removal?
Individuals with weak immune systems should not use laser treatment for tattoo removal. Patients suffering from diabetes, HIV or other immune system disorders must not use this treatment. People who tend to form hypertrophic scars or keloids should not use laser treatment for tattoo removal. Patients using certain medications like Accutane, or antibiotics and antidepressants must not opt for laser treatment for tattoo removal.
Treatment Recovery and Downtime:
After treatment, you can immediately return to work and resume most everyday activities. However, you must avoid strenuous activities for at least 24 hours. Treatment sessions must be spaced between 6 weeks. This is primarily because the laser does not actually remove the ink. It only breaks down the ink into small pieces that enable the body’s immune system to eradicate it from the body. This entire process takes some time. Therefore, the complete results from the previous treatment session will not be noticed until around the sixth week.
Possible Risks & Complications:
The possible risks and complications of laser treatment for tattoo removal include:
• Some pain experienced during the treatment session
• Some pigmentation and/or texture changes in the treated area
• Hypertrophic or keloid scars
• Blistering and Swelling
• Secondary infection
• A possibility of an allergic reaction to the topical anesthetic used
It is important to avoid picking or scratching the treated area, keep the treated area clean, and follow the post treatment instructions or else there is a possibility of infection and/or scarring.