Before the development of laser tattoo removal methods, common techniques included dermabrasion, TCA (Trichloroacetic acid, an acid that removes the top layers of skin, reaching as deep as the layer in which the tattoo ink resides), salabrasion (scrubbing the skin with salt), cryosurgery and excision which is sometimes still used along with skin grafts for larger tattoos. Tattoo removal by laser was performed with continuous-wave lasers initially, and later with Q-switched lasers, which became commercially available in the early 1990s.
What Can I Expect During Laser Tattoo Removal?
Depending on the size and color of your tattoo, the number of treatments will vary. Your tattoo may be removed in two to four visits, though it may take as many as 10 more sessions. You should schedule a consultation, during which time a trained professional will evaluate your personal situation and advise you on the process.
Treatment with the laser varies from patient to patient depending on the age, size, and type of tattoo (amateur or professional). The color of the patient’s skin, as well as the depth to which the tattoo pigment extends, will also affect the removal technique.
In general, this is what will happen during an office visit for tattoo removal using the newer lasers:
- Protective eye shields are placed on the patient.
- The skin’s reaction to the laser is tested to determine the most effective energy for treatment.
- The treatment itself consists of placing a hand piece against the surface of the skin and activating the laser light. As many patients describe it, each pulse feels like a grease splatter or the snapping of a rubber band against the skin.
- Smaller tattoos require fewer pulses while larger ones require more. In either case, the tattoo requires several treatments and multiple visits. At each treatment, the tattoo should become progressively lighter.
- Immediately following treatment, an ice pack is applied to soothe the treated area. The patient will then be asked to apply a topical antibiotic cream or ointment. A bandage or patch will be used to protect the site and it should likewise be covered with a sun block when out in the sun.
Most patients do not require any anesthesia. However, depending on the location of the tattoo and the pain threshold for the patient, the physician may elect to use some form of anesthesia (topical anesthesia cream or painkiller injections at the site of the procedure).