The use of lasers to remove tattoos have become the standard treatment because they offer low risk, increased safety, an effective alternative with minimal side effects and increased selectivity. The required number of treatments depends on the size, location, depth, type of pigment (yellow and green are the hardest colors to remove; blue and black are the easiest), and number of colors. The length of time a tattoo has been in place is another factor considered for new tattoos may be more difficult to remove than old ones. Also, on average amateur tattoos require 3 to 5 treatments, while professional tattoos may require 6 to 10 treatments. Lasers remove tattoos by using a high intensity light beam which is absorbed by the pigment particles. When the ink particles absorb the selective wavelength, they are fragmented into tiny molecules. These fragments are then dispersed and absorbed by the body. It usually takes 4 to 8 weeks for the body to absorb the ink particles.
Treatment sessions occur 4 to 8 weeks apart and usually take 15 to 30 minutes in duration. In most cases, a local anesthetic is used at the treatment site eliminating any discomfort. During the treatment patients may experience a stinging sensation and after treatment the skin will have a white discoloration, crusting, and may bleed slightly. The surrounding area may appear red with some swelling. Gradual fading and lightening of the tattoo will occur after each session.
- Avoidance of direct sun exposure is highly recommended for a month after the procedure. A sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater should be used several weeks before and after the procedure to avoid risk of pigmentary alterations.
- Keep the area dry and covered for 24 hours after treatment.
- Apply ice for swelling.
- Apply firm pressure continually for 10 minutes if bleeding occurs and if bleeding does not cease call the office or go to the nearest emergency room.
- If a crust or scab develops, allow it to fall off on its own. Keep the site moist with ointment until the curst falls off.
- Normal drainage will be clear, light pink or slightly yellow. Signs of an infection include foul odor, severe pain, dark yellow or green discharge, red streaks, or fever.
Immediate side effects tend to be minimal, but often include swelling and red discoloration for a few weeks. Temporary skin discoloration may occur however normal skin coloration often returns within 6 to 12 months. Permanent scarring is an uncommon side effect occurring in less than 5% of cases.