Expert Doctor

Laser Tattoo Removal

While getting a tattoo might seem like a good idea at one point in your life, there comes a time when many people decide to get their tattoo removed.  It might be because they’re getting older or they might be in a job that doesn’t allow tattoos.  Whatever the reason is, getting a tattoo removed has never been a precise procedure.  But now it’s easier than ever to get most, if not all of it removed, thanks to laser tattoo removal.



Laser tattoo removal starts with a consultation.  It’s then determined how large it is, what colors are in the tattoo and exactly how old is the tattoo.  Another factor to be considered is whether it’s a professional or a homemade tattoo.  These are all factors that affect the number of treatments it might take.  The bigger the tattoo, the more treatments it’s going to take. Darker colors work the best typically.  Homemade tattoos are a little easier to get rid of than professional tattoos.  Tattoos located on distal extremities, like the feet or ankles, might be resistant and require more treatments. 

There are different anesthesia options.  It usually hurts about the same as getting a tattoo.  If people are concerned about pain or discomfort, they can get a topical or injectable anesthetic. 



There are different wavelengths for different colors. The 1064 laser is sort of a work horse wavelength that works the best for any kind of dark color tattoo.  It heats up the tiny colored particles in the skin at various depths.  The heated particles absorb the laser light, causing it to heat up and rupture like a mini bomb in the skin. These particles are fractured into tiny microscopic particles. The body’s immune system triggers an immune response to go in and gobble up the tiny particles. There’s a particular cell pack called phagocytes, or macrophages, and they eat up the ink and remove it from the area. The standard tattoo ink particles are too big and the cells can’t gobble them up.  When ink particles are fractured into pieces that are much smaller, the cells can gobble them up. No one knows exactly where they go but they are taken care of by the immune system and removed from that area. Although sometimes the ink particles travel into the lymphatic system and move into the lymph nodes, they don’t seem to cause any anatomical problems.    



Microdermabrasion and chemical peels don’t go deep enough to get rid of tattoos. Strong peels go very deep to get rid of tattoos but they cause a lot of scarring.  The main advantage of laser tattoo removal is it gets rid of tattoos without any scar.



One big misconception is people think they can have it removed in one treatment or even two or three treatments.  It usually takes six to eight treatments with a month in between treatments.  The procedures needs to be spaced out to give the immune system time to get activated, go into the area, gobble up the ink and then remove it by leaving the area.           

Another misconception is that people think every tattoo can be removed perfectly.  Some tattoos just can’t be removed all the way. There are certain features that make it more difficult to get rid of the tattoo such as its size and the amount of color. The more colors there are then the more complicated it is to get rid of. 



It takes six to eight treatments and the cost for most tattoos is $200-$250 dollars per treatment, but cost varies and may be more depending upon tattoo size or number of tattoos treated.



The number one limitation is that a doctor might not be able to remove the entire tattoo.  The number two limitation is that sometimes there are scars hidden within the tattoo because the original tattoo process might have caused scarring. It’s masked and once the tattooing is lifted out, the scarring will show. The third risk is rare but there is the possibility of infection.  Another risk is when the ink is fractured sometimes people can be allergic to the little particles.  And lastly, there are certain dyes used in skin collored inks that can paradoxically turn dark when they are hit with the laser.  In particular, pink or white colored ink when hit with a laser can then turn black. It can still be removed but it takes longer.



There is nothing special to do to prepare for the operation other than cleanse the area.  Shower and bathe and avoid blood thinners before the procedure. 



The after care is simple. Putting antibiotic ointment on the treated area daily until it’s healed.  Healing usually lasts for a week.  Be sure and apply sun screen and protect the area from the sun.  Cover it for the first day and then after that there is no need to cover it.



The darker the skin, the harder it is to get rid of tattoos. This is due to the fact that skin pigment sits near the surface of the skin. The laser has to pass through that skin pigment to get to the ink particles.  Thus, the skin pigments are competing for the laser light with the ink particles.  A longer wavelength tends to bypass the pigment in the skin and be more preferentially absorbed by the ink particles.  There are tricks around it but the darker skin makes it more difficult.



Getting all of a tattoo permanently removed is easier than ever thanks to laser tattoo removal.  There are still instances where a tattoo can’t be completely removed due to the tattoo colors or the size of the tattoo. A consultation with an experienced doctor will give a patient a variety of options for tattoo removal.  Once the patient and the doctor agree on the expectations for the procedure, the process of removing the tattoo by laser removal can begin.


Written by Cosmetic Town Editorial Team- MA

Based on an exclusive interview by Dr. Robert Strimling in Las Vegas, NV