When you want to get your tattoo removed, laser tattoo removal is the best way to do it, hands down. It is the safest method, has very few long-term side effects, and is the most effective at actually removing the tattoo. While there are many other techniques that claim to have the same efficacy, very few of those claims can be validated by scientific studies, and all of them have side effects that are far worse than carrying around an unwanted tattoo. While you can weigh the costs of alternative methods, it truly is worth it for your health and peace of mind to spend a little extra cash on laser tattoo removal.
I don’t blame anyone who is hesitant to get this medically unnecessary procedure done. It can be painful, it is expensive, it takes more than one session for the tattoo to be completely erased, and you’re required to meet a surgeon. All that, for a tattoo procedure! It’s widely known that laser tattoo removal can be improved upon, and there are many researchers that have been working on alternatives for years. Despite that, laser tattoo removal is still the best way to get rid of a nasty tattoo. Hopefully this article can help you settle any qualms about laser tattoo removal in the meantime, since there’s no guarantee that we’ll see any methodical improvement for the next few decades.
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How Does Laser Tattoo Removal Work?
In order to understand how laser tattoo removal works, we have to look at how tattoos are created in the first place. When the needle gets beneath the skin, it leaves ink on the lowest layer of your skin. Cells called macrophages flock to the area to destroy these so-called invaders. Macrophages are altered white blood cells that handle large, foreign molecules by engulfing them. When they see the ink molecules, they swallow them up and remain in the area.
The reason that macrophages remain in your body instead of being flushed out of your system is because they present whatever foreign object they consumed to cells around them. This allows your body to remember past infections and generate the appropriate antibodies. Macrophages can live for months at a time, and when they die, another macrophage consumes whatever ink that they contained. This makes the tattoo appear permanent and unchanging, even though the individual clots of ink are constantly changing hands.
Unfortunately for people who need their tattoo removed due to necessity or simply a new outlook on life, this means that it is nearly impossible to wear down the tattoos in a natural manner. It takes years before tattoos start to fade or blur, and wearing away at the upper skin layers won’t affect the lowest layer underneath, where the tattoo ink is contained. Researchers eventually figured out the single thing that contributed most to fading tattoos: sunlight. The single worst thing for a tattoo is time spent in sunlight. The more time you spend in the sun, the faster your ink will start to fade, which gave the researchers a clever idea. Using concentrated light, they could break down the ink faster than sunlight could and in a way that has very few side effects!
But how could light break down ink in the first place? It’s simpler than it seems. Every time we see something, we are seeing light reflected off of that object. Dark or black objects absorb more light, and every time they absorb light, there is a chance that the extra energy will break down part of the ink. By shooting a stream of concentrated light—better known as a laser—at the tattoo directly, the dark ink absorbs most of it and breaks down quickly. Because the skin is lighter and contains plenty of moisture, it takes less damage and allows most of the light to pass through.
This means that you can remove a lot of ink before you start to see the side effects! It also means that lighter inks and reflective inks will not absorb the lasers as well and take a few extra sessions to be removed. Along with color, the type of tattoo artist that did your tattoo will affect how many sessions you need. If you had a poor tattoo artist, then chances are that they skimped out on ink or improperly administered it. These shallow tattoos are perfect for removing with just a few sessions. Professional tattoos are meant to last, so they use more ink and in more concentrated amounts to ensure that their client will have a tattoo that lasts forever.
That still doesn’t explain why macrophages don’t just gobble up the ink again. As the light breaks down the ink, it chops the molecules into tiny pieces, which means that using macrophages to tackle them would be overkill. Regular white blood cells are able to consume the destroyed ink particles and carry them to the liver, where they will be processed and flushed out like any other pathogen.
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Laser Tattoo Removal Pain
Does laser tattoo removal hurt? The short answer is: yes, but not as much as you would think. Different people handle different types of pain better than others. The pain of laser tattoo removal is reminiscent of getting hot oil or grease on your skin. It can also be described as a hot rubberband being snapped on your skin. This is because the laser is literally zapping away at your skin, burning and breaking the ink into pieces. While skin does not absorb as much light as the ink does, it still absorbs enough to cause a burning sensation. Depending on what kind of tattoo you have, your surgeon may even opt to split your session into two or more procedures to give your skin some time to heal. If they didn’t, your skin would burn off, and then you’d have a nasty scar instead of a tattoo.
There are a few ways to diminish the pain. The first and easiest way is to use numbing cream before the procedure. It can halve your pain, making a painful procedure into one that gives you a little discomfort. If you are worried about the pain, you can ask your surgeon ahead of time to use the numbing cream. Some surgeons even go above and beyond and give you local injections to dull the pain.
That only addresses what you can do during the surgery. Taking care of your skin before and after the procedure is truly the best way to prevent the it from getting too painful! Make sure to take a multivitamin every day leading up to your laser tattoo removal. By eating foods high in vitamins D, C, E, and K, along with staying hydrated, your skin will be properly equipped to handle the damage that will be caused by the laser. It also allows the surgeon to have a longer session and break down some extra ink, which means you have to do less procedures in the long run to finally get rid of that tattoo! After the procedure, your skin will be able to bounce back and heal quickly. It will also be able to forge enough white blood cells to carry out the tiny ink molecules quickly and efficiently.
The pain of getting a tattoo and getting a tattoo removed is very comparable. Both procedures are outside the normal realm of pain tolerance.
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Laser Tattoo Removal Cost
The price of your laser tattoo removal will depend on how many sessions you need and your location. Getting a tattoo removal in New York City will be much more expensive than any other city, for example. The price of a session can range anywhere from $75 to $800, with the average session price hovering around $200 or $250. Even the best surgeon will not be able to tell you how many sessions you will need, but you can make a personal guess based on the following factors:
- Size – Larger tattoos will be more difficult to break down. Large tattoos not only have more ink, but they also have a higher probability of ink in concentrated areas. These concentrated areas have larger swaths of ink than normal areas of your skin, making it more difficult for the light to break it down into pieces that the body can absorb. On the other hand, small tattoos can be easily removed and rarely require more than three sessions.
- Quality – As with size, the quality of your tattoo and tattoo artist can affect how easy it is to get a tattoo removed. Professional tattoos are made to last, which means that even the wear of a laser won’t get the ink to budge. Professional tattoos will take many sessions to remove.
- Color – The type of ink used in your tattoo determines whether it can be broken down quickly. Dark pigments absorb more light, making them perfect for this tattoo removal technique. Lighter inks are more difficult, as they reflect more light. Reflective inks are the worst, as they are purposely made to minimize light absorption. The irony is that watercolor inks tend to fade away quickly compared to black ink, outside of laser tattoo removal.
- Skin Health – Healthy skin means fewer sessions! It also means less pain during and after the session, the ability to do longer sessions, and a fast recovery between sessions. Taking a multivitamin to get your daily dose of D, C, E, and K will give your skin lots of nutrients to work with. The extra vitamin C also boosts your immune system and encourages white cell growth. The more white cells you have, the faster they can carry the small bits of ink to other areas of the body.
As you can see, your surgeon won’t be able to determine or infer any of the above information, aside from size. They won’t know what kind of inks your artist used, nor how thorough the artist was with applying it. The amount of damage your skin can take will depend upon your health and the strength of your immune system, which is also something that can’t be seen until after the first session. If you’re lucky, your surgeon will be able to give you a rough estimate after your first visit, and then a more accurate one after your second. Otherwise, you’re out of luck.
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Laser Tattoo Removal FAQ
Here are some quick answers to common questions, if you are still looking for answers:
Q: Will my tattoo be completely gone after my first treatment?
A: No. You will see significant fading, but it is a small miracle if you manage to get it removed all in one go.
Q: Can I come back sooner than my surgeon says to speed up treatment?
A: No. You need to wait until your skin is completely healed. This takes six weeks for the average person, so some surgeons use a seven week wait period between sessions to keep it safe. Even if your skin appears healed, the layers may still not be replenished yet.
Q: Can I have only part of the tattoo removed?
A: That’s possible! You will just have to look around for doctors that are certain they can do that. Asking for just a name to be removed is especially common!
Q: Will I have a scar?
A: You will not get a scar from laser tattoo removal. However, if your original tattoo artist applied the ink too deep and went through your skin, the scar from that will be revealed.
Q: Can I only buy one session?
A: This depends on who you are getting your sessions done with. Surgeons who offer individual sessions will usually offer discounted bundles for multiple sessions. Single sessions simply don’t remove the whole tattoo, so they want to encourage continued treatment to ensure your own satisfaction. It saves everyone trouble if you are satisfied after the treatments!
Q: How can I prepare for the treatment?
A: Shave the area around the region. Don’t take pain killers, and ask your surgeon when to apply any topical anesthetics you might want to use.
Q: What should I do after my treatment?
A: Go ahead and use ice for any residual pain. Keep up with your vitamins to encourage recovery, and avoid physical activity or direct sunlight on the affected area of skin.
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That should be everything! Be sure to check out InkDoneRight for even more articles about tattoo culture. If you would like a monthly update on all things tattoo, go ahead and subscribe to our free mailing list. As always, thanks for reading!