Research has shown that an average of one in seven American adults who have gotten a tattoo regret it. When the permanency of tattoos becomes problematic, many people seek out tattoo removal options. With the advent of new technologies that yield faster, better results, what was once an arduous process is now much more effective and efficient. Our experienced doctors at Finesse Cosmetic Laser & Lipo Center in Waltham, MA are proud to offer laser tattoo removal with comprehensive and compassionate care.
Laser Tattoo Removal: How Long Does It Take?
There are many variables involved in answering this question. Since the tattoo is broken into particles by the laser, it can take your body several weeks to flush them out. For this reason, it may take multiple sessions for the tattoo to be completely removed. In addition, the color and size of the tattoo, your age, and the resiliency of your skin can influence how long the process will take. However, take heart that after each session, your tattoo will be considerably lighter.
Age and Health
Skin resiliency depends on a number of factors, including ultraviolet radiation exposure, environmental damage, and of course, age. Younger skin is more resilient than mature skin, which is less supple and elastic. Mature skin doesn’t bounce back as quickly, especially if it is immunocompromised.
That being said, introducing a holistic approach to your skincare can include making choices that support your immunity. It is best to undergo tattoo removal when your immune system is at its strongest.
Remember your ninth-grade science class? Your teacher probably discussed how colors absorb different wavelengths of light, and how the color black actually absorbs all wavelengths of light. Believe it or not, this science is what’s behind tattoo removal.
Lasers work by calibration – they have to be set to specific wavelengths in order to recognize and break up those color particles. Since black absorbs all wavelengths, there are no specific laser requirements needed to break up black ink particles. On the other hand, different colors require lasers calibrated to different wavelengths. Therefore, brightly colored tattoos may take longer to remove than all-black tattoos.
Fair-skinned people have an easier time getting tattoos removed than darker-skinned people. The more contrast there is between skin color and tattoo color, the easier it is for the laser to pick up the ink’s pigment. Darker-skinned people may need to take a few extra precautions to avoid any skin discoloration, which may prolong the removal process.
As with most things, minimizing stress, eating healthy, and keeping your body hydrated increases your skin’s resilience and enhances your healing potential after tattoo removal. Habits such as smoking or using tanning beds can actually accelerate the aging process, making your skin less able to bounce back from treatment. As a consequence, unhealthy habits may mean longer healing time between sessions.
Pre-Existing Health Conditions
Having a pre-existing skin condition such as rosacea, eczema, or herpes may complicate your healing process, but it doesn’t exclude you from receiving tattoo removal. Our talented team can handle just about every unique situation and will offer you individualized advice for any concerns you may have.
However, there is one caveat: if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you may be asked to wait to begin your removal treatments. The skin undergoes many changes as hormones fluctuate and the unpredictable nature of these changes can increase the risk of side effects.
During the tattoo removal process, your body will need to heal in phases. Effective treatment relies on your body’s immune system to rid itself of the particles broken up by the laser. Since your immunity will be activated, the body will need time between sessions to heal.
That being said, over-treatment can occur if you try to schedule sessions too closely together, resulting in unnecessary side effects. Patience is the key to successful tattoo removal. It can be challenging to stick to a treatment plan, but it is important to follow after-care guidelines and give your body what it needs to heal.
The Science Behind Laser Tattoo Removal
In decades past, the only options for tattoo removal were carbon dioxide lasers or excision surgery, both of which were invasive and often left behind significant scarring. Today, new technologies such as removable tattoo inks and shorter pulse-duration lasers are on the horizon. Currently, however, laser tattoo removal is currently the least invasive option on the market.
The tattoo removal process begins when the laser breaks up the tattoo particles that are then eliminated by the body. The body allows the immune system to dispose of these particles while the body heals between sessions. This process is continued, alternating between laser treatment and healing breaks until the particles are no longer visible.
The Biochemistry of Tattoos
The nitty-gritty of anatomy and physiology is beyond the scope of this article, but it is helpful to know the basics of how tattoos adhere permanently to your skin and how the ink gets into your skin’s multiple layers.
Learning about tattoo inks and how they are made will help you understand how they are removed. In addition, understanding how your body’s immune system is involved in both the adherence and removal of tattoos will help you get the most from your sessions.
What’s in Tattoo Ink?
Tattoo ink basically consists of a colorant and a carrier solution typically made from alcohol, water, witch hazel, or glycerin which moves the colorant where it’s supposed to go. Colorants are either dyes or pigments. Pigments tend to be created from metals, and so they do not require a chemical reaction to remain permanent. Dyes, on the other hand, do rely on a chemical reaction with the skin to keep their color.
Understanding the Dermis and Epidermis
The first and outermost layer of skin is the epidermis. It protects the body from harsh environmental conditions, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and microorganisms. This layer tends to take the most damage over time as it is the most exposed.
The dermis is the second layer, and it is designed to act as the body’s shock absorber, cushioning it from stress. The oils produced by the sebaceous glands in this layer plump the skin and support its strength and suppleness. It also contains the receptors that are responsible for your senses of pressure, pain, and touch.
How Tattoos Adhere to Skin
Tattoo ink is delivered via needles that penetrate through the epidermis and deeper into the dermis. This creates a wound that eventually scabs over, trapping the ink underneath that second layer of skin. Recognizing the foreign material, white blood cells then gather around the wound, which ironically holds the ink in place and makes it permanent.
The Immune System’s Role
Interestingly, the reason your tattoos remain in place is the same reason tattoo removal works: your body’s immune response. It is the job of white blood cells to mount an attack on anything in the body they do not recognize. This attack is actually what gives tattoo ink its permanency.
When these macrophages attempt to “eat” the ink particles, the particles are too big for them to ingest. Not knowing what else to do, they relentlessly continue to attempt to consume the particles, creating a cycle of activity where the tattoo is placed. When these macrophages die off, others show up to continue the cycle – which is ironically what keeps the ink in place.
Tattoo Placement: Four Weeks Later
The white blood cells continue to take up particles and promote the healing process. As they concentrate around the wounded area where the dermis and the epidermis meet, the area begins to heal. Some ink particles remain trapped here while others are eliminated through the epidermis.
Tattoo Placement: Two to Three Months Later
At this point, the wound has completely healed and will no longer lose any ink through the skin. The macrophages and other cells called fibroblasts hold the ink in place as they remain near their new home at the tattoo location. The ink is now permanently trapped inside the membranes of the dermis.
What to Expect During Laser Tattoo Removal Sessions
Before Your Session
In the weeks leading up to your session, you’ll want to take special care of your skin. Limit any unnecessary irritants like waxing, tanning, or bleaching. For several days prior to your treatment, you’ll want to avoid taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, Advil, and Motrin. These are blood-thinners and can increase your risk of bleeding and bruising.
In addition, remember that smoking challenges your body’s ability to heal, so for the fastest results possible, try to limit your frequency before and after your sessions.
During Your Session
Our medical staff makes your comfort a top priority. You will be offered a topical anesthetic to minimize any discomfort, and our doctors will first test how your skin responds to the laser treatment. It may take some trial and error to ensure the correct pulsation is used.
Laser tattoo removal is considered an outpatient service and should only take a few minutes. Most people are able to return to their normal daily activities immediately after treatment. You may find that wearing loose-fitting clothing around the treatment area can reduce the possibility of irritation, and our doctors will advise you on the best aftercare plan to follow when you leave.
After Your Session
You will want to continue to avoid sun exposure and any activities that could irritate the skin. Try to keep the treated area clean and dry, and wear clothes that do not cling or suffocate the healing skin. Do your best not to pick or scratch at the treated area. You may also be advised to apply an antibiotic cream and keep the area covered with a bandage.
In addition, it is always a good idea to continue following the advice offered in the pre-treatment stage. Avoiding alcohol, over-the-counter blood-thinning medications, and intense heat or exercise will help your body heal between sessions.
Are You a Good Candidate for Laser Tattoo Removal?
As with most cosmetic treatments, there are factors that can make some people better candidates for tattoo removal than others. Things like skin color, general health, and age can play a part. However, our experienced team of dermatologists is expert at finding solutions for nearly anyone who desires this treatment.
Get Started Today
You don’t have to live with the embarrassment of an unwanted tattoo. Laser tattoo removal is safe and quick, with proven results. It is currently the best option for nearly anyone who desires to have a tattoo removed. Call our qualified team at Finesse Cosmetic Laser & Lipo Center in Waltham, MA to schedule your consultation today.