The process of removing a tattoo takes time. It needs repeated treatments, spaced out at 8 week intervals to allow the body’s lymphatic system to expel the ink particles. Therefore one of the most common questions people ask us is how many laser tattoo removal sessions are needed for full removal?
This is a difficult question to answer accurately. Everyone’s skin, immune system and tattoo is different, and therefore all we can do is give an estimation based on a number of factors.
The average number of treatments to fully remove a tattoo is between 6 and 12. Sometimes it could be more; sometimes it could be fewer. The fact is no tattoo removal clinic can give a more exact figure, no matter how expert they claim to be.
In 2009 the Kirby-Desai Scale was developed by two dermatologists specialising in tattoo removal to try to provide a more ‘scientific’ estimation of the number of Q-switched laser sessions required for removal. The Kirby-Desai Scale assigns numerical scores to various parameters; the total scores then give a rough number of treatments required.
Having said that, here are the biggest factors that influence how many sessions might be required to remove your tattoo.
The lighter your skin tone the more efficient the laser treatment and the fewer sessions you will need. That’s because it’s easier for the laser to penetrate through to the dermis for paler skin types and there is less risk of changes in skin colour post-treatment. Darker skin types contain more melanin (the skin’s natural pigment) and this can react to the laser energy in the same way that the tattoo ink does. This can cause issues like hypopigmentation (temporary lightening of the skin). Therefore extra care has to be taken with those people with darker skin. Laser tattoo removal treatment will still work for dark skin, but lower power settings and longer waits between sessions may mean that total removal may need more sessions. For further information about Fitzpatrick skin types and laser tattoo removal please see our other blog post here.
Location on the body
During laser treatment the laser energy is absorbed by the tattoo pigment which is then shattered into much smaller pieces. Your lymphatic system then expels the ink particles over the course of several weeks. The lymphatic system is part of the vascular (circulatory) system. The vascular and lymphatic supply is much more extensive in the head, neck and torso, and therefore tattoos on these areas of your body will be removed more efficiently than those on the extremities of your body where the lymphatic system is less well supplied, for example hands and feet.
Some tattoo colours are easier to remove than others. Tattoo pigments are made up of different compounds; unfortunately it is almost impossible to determine with any accuracy what your tattooist used. Ease of removal of a particular pigment is determined by how well its constituent colours absorb the laser energy and the size of the pigment granules. The easiest colour to remove is black, followed by red, dark orange and dark blue. Lighter shades such as light blue, yellow and green may require more treatments. At Fade to Blank we use the Quanta Q-Plus C, which is the only laser on the market with three true wavelengths (1064nm, 694nm and 532nm). It’s therefore the only Q-switched laser that will successfully remove multi-coloured tattoos.
Amount of ink
The amount of ink in your tattoo is another factor that will determine the number of treatments that will be required. Amateur tattoos contain less ink and are usually places less deeply in the skin than professional tattoos. Therefore amateur tattoos require fewer treatments. Similarly, simple designs with one colour will need fewer treatments than multi-coloured, complex designs.
Closely related to the amount of ink is layering. For example, tattoo cover ups are made up of more than one layer of ink to hide a design underneath, often with darker shades. Naturally tattoos with multiple ink layers are going to require more laser treatments.
Scarring / tissue change
Some people are prone to changes in skin texture such as scarring after they get a tattoo. This is more common in Fitzpatrick types V and VI (darker skin). This occurs when an increased production of collagen during the post-tattoo healing process leads to permanent scarring. The excess cells in the scar tissue means that the immune system cells find it more difficult to penetrate the area of the tattoo ink. Consequently tattoo removal will take longer for these kind of skin conditions.
Finally, one very important aspect in how well your body will react to laser treatment is whether you are a smoker or not. Oddly, there is no reference to this in the Kirby-Desai Scale. As described earlier, the key to laser tattoo removal working efficiently is a healthy and strong immune system to flush out the fragmented ink particles dislodged by the laser. In smokers, the immune system is under much more strain, and therefore the process of removing the particles is hindered considerably. There is masses of information out there about how smoking inhibits the body’s vascular system – you don’t need us to give you another reason to give it up!
In summary, the number of sessions you will need for full tattoo removal is difficult to predict with any accuracy. However, there are some factors can give you a general guide.
Get in touch with us today
If you have pale skin, a simple, black only tattoo on your head, neck or upper body and you are a non-smoker, you will require fewer sessions. If you are a dark-skinned smoker, with a densely-inked, multi-coloured tattoo on your hands or feet you will need more sessions.
For a free, no-obligation consultation about your tattoo’s removal please get in touch with us at Fade to Blank today. We look forward to hearing from you!