The Laser Tattoo Removal Process – Everything You Need to Know

04 Dec

If you’re reading this the chances are you’ve probably got a tattoo that you’re considering removing.  More than 1 in 4 (27%) of Australians who have a tattoo regret getting it  [source: McCrindle 2016] so there is evidently quite a demand for tattoo removal services.

The purpose of this page is to outline the facts about tattoo removal and hopefully give you enough information to make an informed choice as to whether to go ahead with laser treatment with us at Fade to Blank.

In the past many methods were used to try to remove tattoos, including surgical excision, use of acids or bleaching agents, or dermabrasion.  Some of these worked to a limited extent, but most of them left scarring or other disfigurements.  Nowadays the use of Q-switched lasers is the safest and most effective tattoo removal treatment available.  If carried out by a well-trained, experienced laser technician and with a medical-gradeQ-switched laser, there is virtually no chance of scarring.

The Tattoo Removal Process

When tattoo ink is first injected under the skin by a tattooist, the body’s immune response is triggered. The ink is treated as a foreign object and special white blood cells called microphages are dispatched to the site of the tattoo to engulf the ink drops with the aim of expelling them. The ink particles are too large to be removed, so they just stay in one place, which is why tattoos are generally permanent.

During laser treatment, extremely short but powerful pulses of laser energy are fired at the tattoo pigment. The laser energy breaks up the particles of pigment into much smaller fragments. These broken down ink particles can then be absorbed by the white blood cells and removed via the bloodstream and lymphatic system.

The laser energy targets only the tattoo pigment and leaves the surrounding skin unaffected.

Multiple sessions are normally required to completely remove a tattoo.  The total number of treatments needed for full ‘clearance’ of the ink is not always easy to predict. The speed of the tattoo removal process depends on many factors, such as the quantity and depth of the tattoo ink, the location on the body of the tattoo, and lifestyle.  You can read about such factors in more detail in this article.  Laser treatments are performed every 8 weeks; this is to give the immune system time to expel the fragmented ink particles.

The q-switched laser breaks down the tattoo pigment in the dermis into smaller fragments.

Tattoo Removal Laser Technologies

Different tattoo ink colours react only to certain wavelengths of light.  Therefore some Q-switched lasers can use more than one wavelength of laser for treating different tattoo ink colours.

Between 70 – 80% of tattoos are black, and this is the easiest colour to remove because it absorbs all wavelengths.  In fact, the most common laser wavelength used for treating black tattoos is 1064 nanometres (created through an Nd:YAG crystal).  Most laser machines will also contain a 532nm wavelength. This is used to treat red and orange inks.  Red is the second most common colour seen in tattoos.

The 532nm is a more aggressive wavelength than the 1064nm.  That’s because the 532nm wavelength is absorbed by the skin’s natural pigment, melanin and can sometimes be broken down like tattoo ink.  Therefore people with darker skin tones (containing more melanin) can be prone to hypopigmentation after tattoo removal treatment. That’s why the tattoo removal process can take longer for such people – because laser treatment has to be more cautious.

The laser we use at Fade to Blank is the Quanta Q-Plus C. Imported from Italy, it contains not only the Nd:YAG laser generating the two ‘standard’ wavelengths, but it also contains a ruby laser. This operates at 694nm and its purpose is to remove the light blue and green tattoo inks that few other laser clinics can even touch.

If you have a multi-coloured tattoo you want to remove, call us – we can help.

Reasons for tattoo removal

At Fade to Blank we don’t ask our clients why they want their tattoos removed.  It’s a personal choice for them, and we don’t need to know. However, in many cases they tell us anyway; with other tattoos it’s obvious.  There are several  reasons people want to get rid of their tattoos.  The first is that they got their tattoo some time ago and they have grown out of it, or they just don’t think it’s ‘them’ any more.  Secondly, they may have an ex lover’s name inked on them; that relationship is now over and of course they want it erased because it reminds them of that person.  Thirdly, some people need to get rid of their tattoos because it’s holding their career progression back in some way. The types of jobs that have a ‘no visible tattoo’ policy can be anything from armed forces or police, to customer-facing roles such as airline cabin crew.  You can read about this subject in more detail here.

Of course not everyone who seeks tattoo removal is looking for total removal.  Some clients want a cover up to be placed over the top of their old tattoo and need it to be faded.  The treatment process is the same; it just needs fewer treatments to fade the ink just enough for the new design to cover it up.  Our laser is so precise that we can remove or fade sections of tattoos, such as spelling mistakes or names.

How painful is laser tattoo removal?

Laser treatment can be uncomfortable, but the amount of pain felt varies considerably from person to person. But aside from the differences in pain tolerance, probably the main determinant of how much it hurts is the location of the tattoo on the body.  In general tattoos on the more fleshy parts of the body feel less pain during treatment than do those on bonier parts of the body or parts with thinner skin.  For example tattoos on the arms, legs, stomachs and shoulders won’t hurt as much as tattoos on the fingers, hands, feet, ankles and ribs. We have also noticed that treatment on tattoos on the back, in particular the lower back, can be quite painful for some.

To manage any discomfort, we use a cryogenic cooling machine in the clinic. This device blows freezing cold air (at -20C) onto the treatment area. We also have topical anaesthetic (numbing cream) available, but this does need to be applied at least an hour before. We are more than happy for clients to come in before their treatment and use it if they wish – free of charge. We also sell EMLA numbing cream.


Risks of laser tattoo removal

As we’ve already mentioned, Q-switched laser treatment is the safest and most effective means to remove tattoos. With a medical-grade laser and an experienced technician, there should be very little chance of side-effects or scarring.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid tattoo removal treatment.  While there’s nothing explicitly harmful about laser treatment for such cases, it’s best to be on the safe side and avoid it.

To assist in the aftercare of your tattoo removal treatment, we will advise you how to best look after your tattoo in the days and weeks after. We will provide written aftercare instructions.  We have also written a blog article on ways to optimise the tattoo removal process.

Get in touch with us at Fade to Blank. We’d love to hear from you!

We hope this article has been informative. If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch.  Either fill in the contact form on this website or call us.  If you would like a quotation for your tattoo removal treatment, then it’s best to send us a photo of your tattoo.

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