Decorative tattooing is quite common with estimates as high as 40% of the population – between ages 20 to 40 – having at least one. However, many who have been adorned with a tattoo, eventually, decide to have it removed. In the past few years, the request for tattoo removal has become quite common. Dr. Green has been consulted by those wishing to have their tattoo removed from days to decades after it has been applied. Fortunately, with the use of medical lasers, the removal of a tattoo can be safely accomplished, usually with minimal, if any, remaining ink or scarring. Dr. Green has treated tattoos with lasers for more than 20 years and has educated other physicians on laser removal of tattoos locally, nationally and internationally.
Why is laser light used?
Lasers are the most effective method to remove tattoos because they are able to, specifically, target different ink colors. That’s because laser light consists of only one wavelength, i.e., one color; each of which is specifically absorbed by only one ink color. By utilizing different laser wavelengths it is possible to specifically target each ink color that may be present in a tattoo.
How are lasers used to remove tattoos?
The beam of laser light is directed through the skin into the tattoo. The absorbed light disrupts the ink promoting its removal by the body. A different laser – each emitting a different wavelength of light – is used for each ink color present in the tattoo.
Which type of laser does Dr Green use?
Dr. Green uses several different Q-switched lasers in order to target the different ink colors that may be present within a tattoo. Q-switched lasers emit light in very short pulses durations (in nanoseconds, i.e., 10-9 seconds), which is required to target and remove ink in the skin. Lasers that we utilize include: Nd:YAG (1064nm) for black ink; KTP (532nm, frequency doubled Nd:YAG) for red, orange and purple inks; Alexandrite (755nm) and 650nm for green ink; as well as 585nm for sky blue inks. Because tattoos often consist of more than one ink color, during each treatment a different laser wavelength will be used to target each ink color present.
What will my skin look like after treatment?
Immediately after tattoo removal treatment the skin will be somewhat red and swollen, sometimes with pinpoint erosions, similar to its appearance at the time that the tattoo was placed. The skin heals in a few days to a few of weeks. Lightening of the tattoo is seen at that time and usually continues weeks, or longer, after a treatment.
How many treatments are required to remove a tattoo?
Usually at least a few treatments are required to lighten or eliminate a tattoo. However, the number may vary widely – some are gone after one or two treatments and some tattoos may require greater than 10 treatments. This depends upon a number of factors: the two most important factors determining the number of treatments required are the ink colors present and the complexion of the overlying skin. However, other factors include the: quantity of each ink; presence of any scarring (raised tattoos); age of the tattoo; location of the tattoo, among other factors.
Does the ink color affect the ease of tattoo removal?
Yes, the colors present within a tattoo determine the ease with which the tattoo is removed. Black ink is the easiest color to remove (being carbon-based) – requiring the fewest number of treatments. Most other colors contain salts of heavy metals and require more treatments than black ink. Green and blue inks require the most number of treatments.
Does skin color affect the ease of tattoo removal?
Yes, the skin complexion is one of the most important factors determining the ease of tattoo removal. Light complexions are the easiest for removal, i.e., require the fewest number of treatments. The darker the skin color, the more treatments that will be required. If the skin is too dark it may not be possible to remove the tattoo. In addition, dark skin is more likely associated with alteration in skin texture, i.e., scarring, or color after laser treatment, compared to light skin.
What is the interval between each treatment?
Treatments are usually scheduled at intervals of 4 weeks.
Are there any restrictions in activity after treatment?
All activities may be resumed immediately after treatment, including swimming, weight-lifting and aerobics. However, after treatment, specific skin care guidelines are recommended that promote healing.
Is treatment considered safe?
Yes, all of the lasers used by Dr. Green are FDA cleared, specifically, for tattoo removal. The light emitted from these lasers include both visible and infrared wavelengths – these wavelengths travel only a very short distance within the skin and unlike ionizing radiation, i.e., X-ray and ultraviolet light, they are not associated with skin cancer or any long-term harm to the skin.
What do I feel during treatment?
Usually, there is no pain associated with treatment because, prior to treatment, the skin is numbed with a local anesthetic. Otherwise, treatment is quite uncomfortable – almost always, without anesthetic it is much more uncomfortable having a tattoo removed than having it applied. If only a topical anesthetic cream is applied, treatment is still quite uncomfortable. After treatment there is usually minimal, if any, discomfort experienced.
Can a tattoo be completely removed?
Usually, all of the ink can be removed. Sometimes very faint pigmentation remains but it tends to fade spontaneously over time.