How Does Tattoo Removal Work?
Last Updated on May 7, 2021
written by tattoo artist Steven Martin
How Does Tattoo Removal Work?
Did you get yourself a crappy tattoo in college or a tattoo that you massively regret years after getting and looking to see what laser tattoo removal is all about?
We’ve all made mistakes in our lives; for some of us, it was getting a shitty tattoo on a drunk night out in college and waking up the next morning with a hangover and full of regret.
Lucky for you there are options to reverse the silly mistakes we made as a teenager!
Laser tattoo removal is the easiest, safest, and best way to remove unwanted pieces of ink and cover up those designs we feel insecure about.
If you have a rubbish tattoo in an obvious place, it’s horrible to cover through the summer months, not to mention the insecurity of wearing a bathing suit.
So how does the tattoo removal process work? Let’s break it down to see if it’s the right route for you.
How do lasers remove tattoos?
Lasers work to remove tattoos by breaking up the dermis in your skin which disperses and breaks ink particles into small pieces so the white blood cells can absorb them.
With each pulse of the laser, it sends light energy into your skin. To break up the ink particles requires thermal expansion to expand, but each laser pulse is quick enough that the particle remains cool.
These cool and hot forces cause the ink to separate and break down into smaller pieces absorbed by the white blood cells.
Different wavelengths are used for different laser treatments between patients because of the tattoo’s size, and the ink colors used in the tattoo may require different lasers and wavelengths.
The light energy is directed into your skin and absorbed by the tattoo ink particles, breaking down the dermis in your skin. Your ink particles then absorb this energy and break down the ink into tiny fragments.
After your first tattoo removal session, your immune system works to remove the ink over the following weeks, flushing it out of the skin away from the tattooed area.
Each laser treatment breaks down more and more ink.
From session to session, you will notice that your tattoo will begin to lighten in appearance; each procedure treatment will break down the dermis and eliminate the ink until the tattoo can no longer be seen.
Tattoo removal lasers use very narrow frequencies in a very fast pulsing action to break down ink particles efficiently and uniformly.
Targetting tattoo ink color
Your body works in magnificent ways, but tattoo removal isn’t always as easy as using one laser; smash out a couple of sessions, and you’re done. Tattoo removal is a complicated process.
People always assume light and colorful tattoo ink is easier to remove than black designs, but this isn’t always the case.
So how well does tattoo removal work?
Well, black colors tend to be much easier to remove because they can absorb all wavelengths and can be used with most tattoo removal lasers.
Colored tattoos and tattoos with different colors are much more complicated, and the removal time is much longer as different colors require different wavelengths and lasers.
So, believe it, or not darker colors are easier to remove than lighter ones– not always the case for stains, but tattoos it is much easier, and black tattoos will take fewer sessions to remove.
Light blue, green, yellow, and orange are the hardest to remove, and turquoise can be almost impossible as not many laser removal clinics have the right lasers to target the color.
So how do the different wavelengths work in removing colored tattoo ink?
Tattoos can come in every color under the sun, and different colors absorb and reflect different wavelengths and lights at different rates.
The goal of laser tattoo removal is to have all the ink absorb the laser length, so ensuring the laser is at the right wavelength to absorb all the tattoo ink is crucial in the laser tattoo removal process.
- Red ink should be treated with a green laser light because the red absorbs the green light and reflects the red light, causing the tattoo ink particles to heat up and break down.
- Treating multicolored tattoos using a variety of laser wavelengths is so crucial for targeting the different colors. Most tattoo removal methods with multicolor tattoos tend to use 1064nm lasers and 532nm.
- For treating bright blue and green colors, some practitioners use a wavelength of 755nm and 694.
To put it simply, our body and the colors of our skin types and tattoo colors absorb different wavelengths to break down the skin cells and break down the ink within the tattoo.
Specialists base their laser treatment and laser wavelength based on the tattoo color; if the tattoo is multi-colored, they will use a certain laser for some sections and another laser for others.
What is Q-switching?
Q-switching is a key aspect in how tattoo removal works; q-switching is a type of laser pulse creation; it produces power pulses of energy intensely for a couple of nanoseconds.
Q-switched lasers are useful for laser tattoo removal as the ink particles are extremely small, and they should only be heated for a brief period of time; they will then heat up and explode.
Q-switched pulses are so brief and shatter the tattoo ink without heating the surrounding skin tissue so your skin won’t be damaged as a result– it targets the small pieces of ink only.
The Q-switched laser allows practitioners to effectively damage the ink particles while keeping the surrounding skin protected and intact, preventing any cause of damage.
How your body naturally contributes to the laser tattoo removal process:
Now, laser tattoo removal isn’t an instant fix; your immune system plays more of a role than you may think. It can take months of laser tattoo removal sessions, as well as staying healthy.
Laser tattoo removal can take up to a year to complete as, on average, removing all the ink particles in the tattoo takes around 5-10 treatment sessions, which have to be at least 6 weeks apart.
Not all tattoo ink particles can be shattered in one session; many layers and depths are injected into the dermis. After the first session, the top layers may absorb the laser, breaking down the shallow areas of the tattoo without reaching the deeper parts.
Once your body flushes away the top layers of ink and is absorbed by the white blood cells, the laser can penetrate more deeply and reach the deeper layers.
Your body needs time between each treatment to flush away the shattered tattoo ink particles, and that is why the laser tattoo removal process takes so long.
The act of flushing away the ink also relies on the immune system’s phagocytic cells, which gradually move the ink particles in lymph nodes.
Waiting the maximum time between sessions is extremely beneficial. It allows any scabs or blisters to heal and promote maximum fading by your body, as it takes time for your body to flush away the ink.
A healthy and fit faster will speed up the laser tattoo removal because your body can flush away the ink at a faster pace, as your immune system works faster.
Does laser tattoo removal hurt?
Tattoo removal can be quite painful, sometimes a bit more painful than getting the tattoo itself in the first place. This is because the lasers heat ink particles at thousands of degrees to break them down.
You won’t feel this heat, though, so no need to worry. You may see that and go ahh, that’ll be painful, but the pain can be referred to as a rubber band pinging against your skin quickly.
The heat happens rapidly during the laser tattoo removal and in a concentrated area rather than collapsing into the shockwave.
This shockwave vibrates through the skin, causing frost over the skin, which appears to be white. This causes an initial pain which is painful but only lasts a few seconds.
But you don’t always need to stomach the pain, most laser tattoo removal clinics offer topical numbing cream, or if the area is vast, they may give you local anesthesia.
The room is often very cool, and they blow cool areas on the area or use a metal plate to keep your skin cool and reduce the chance of burning, minimizing the pain.
In the coming weeks, you will notice swelling, tenderness, and pain in the area (almost like a sunburn sensation), but this will only last a week or two with the right laser tattoo removal aftercare.
Laser tattoo removal aftercare instructions
Laser tattoo removal aftercare is just as important as aftercare after getting the tattoo itself. Your body will be run down, too, so it’s important to stay healthy during the procedure.
Your doctor will give you a specific set of inst
You should keep your skin clean, moisturized, and covered in a sterile dressing for the first week or two after the treatment.
How long will it take to remove my tattoo?
The laser tattoo removal procedure can take longer for some and can be shorter for others. This is because the tattoo pigment may take longer to be removed for some people over others.
Some patients may wish their tattoo is removed before a certain wedding or event where they don’t want their tattoo to be visible.
Most people go to the tattoo removal clinic in autumn, hoping it will be removed by the following summer. But the process may take over a year to complete and eliminate the ink particles.
It’s not unusual for your body to take over a year to completely remove the tattoo but knowing this upfront is critical because then you won’t feel misled when six months have passed and your tattoo is still prominent.
But why does it take so long?
Well, you need to take into consideration that in between each session, you need to allow at least 6 weeks for your body’s immune system to flush away the ink and to heal after the laser exposure.
Having treatments too close together may actually damage and cause permanent side effects to your skin, such as a darker skin tone in the area.
This may because your body hasn’t had enough time to flush out all the ink that has been shattered, and you’re just damaging the cells that have already been exposed. 6-12 weeks between appointments is recommended.
Your practitioner can provide you with a rough idea of how long your tattoo will take to remove fully, but this could change; it can remove quicker or take even longer, it can be quite hard to predict.
Tattoo removal treatments fit along a bell curve; most patients will need between 5-8 treatments. Some may see complete removal after 3 or 4 treatments, but it can take over 10 treatment sessions for tattoo removal patients.
It shouldn’t really take more than 10 treatment sessions factors such as the tattoo colorful, big, there is some significant scarring, or in some cases layered with a cover-up, the tattoo can cause the laser treatment to be much longer.
How the placement of your tattoo affects tattoo removal:
The placement of your tattoo has a massive part to play for how long it will take to remove.
The location of your tattoo on your body plays a massive role in the ease of tattoo removal. Many people may not realize this, but the location affects how long it takes for tattoo removal and how many tattoo removal treatments are needed.
Tattoos in areas far away from the heart may take longer to remove as it takes longer for the blood flow to reach these areas. When a tattoo is faded through laser tattoo removal treatment, the dermis is broken up, and white blood cells work to kill the small ink particles from the skin.
Essentially, if your tattoo is closer to your heart, this process speeds up because the blood can rush to the area and the skin where the tattoo is being removed, and the tattoo ink more can be dispersed efficiently and quicker.
For example, a tattoo on your chest, arm, neck, or stomach will remove quicker than tattoos on your hands, fingers, legs, feet, and toes as they don’t receive as much blood flow.
As a result, the treatment plan and the tattoo removal process will take longer, and the overall laser tattoo removal cost will be higher, as well as the time it will take to remove each ink particle.
All in all, tattoo removal works using lasers at different wavelengths to penetrate the skin through a set of up to 10 treatments.
Both the laser and body play an important role in removing the tattoo ink, the laser breaks down and destroys the particles in the ink, and your body then flushes out the remains using white blood cells.
If you’re considering getting your tattoo removed, it can be quite an expensive and long-lasting process, but it is definitely worth it for the results!
If you have any questions, the best thing I would recommend is booking a consultation to see your options.