How Many Sessions Will It Take to Remove My Tattoo?

Lasers have revolutionized the removal of unwanted tattoos

Man having tattoo removed. Credit: Image Source / Getty Images

Question: How Many Sessions Will it Take to Remove My Tattoo?

Answer: Tattoos have been in existence for thousands of years and they have played an important part in culture. While this is true, tattoos no longer have to be permanent. The advent of quality-switched (Q-switched) lasers has revolutionized the removal of unwanted tattoos.

Intense and fast-pulsed Q-switched lasers can safely and effectively remove or significantly lighten a tattoo by focusing the laser’s pulsed light on the tattoo, converting energy to heat and breaking up ink particles into tiny pieces.

The pieces are then absorbed by the body, without damage to surrounding tissue.

Laser tattoo removal candidates are typically fair-skinned with superficially placed tattoos on the arms, legs, buttocks or chest. Ideally, the area has a greater concentration of body fat. Tattoos on the ankles or fingers, where there is less body fat, are more difficult to remove. Before laser tattoo removal the methods for removing tattoos included dermabrasion, cryosurgery, and surgical excision.

The Laser Tattoo Removal Procedure

Before the laser tattoo, removal procedure patients are advised to take acetaminophen to minimize the discomfort. Pain medications that thin the blood are not recommended. Before the procedure begins, the patient will be given an eye shield to protect their eyes. A topical anesthetic will be applied to the skin and in some instances; a cooling system will be used before, during and after the procedure to help lessen any discomfort.

The specialist will then test the skin's reaction to the laser in order to determine the most effective approach. With this information, intense nanosecond pulses are sent from the Q-switched laser to the skin. Smaller tattoos require fewer pulses than a larger tattoo.

A laser tattoo removal session typically lasts a few minutes and, at the end of each session, the tattoo area is iced for about 30 minutes to minimize swelling.

A topical antibiotic and a sterile dressing are applied after the skin has cooled. Patients are advised to keep the skin around the tattooed area dry, and to treat it as if it were sunburned.

Results and Risks of Laser Tattoo Removal

Laser tattoo removal results will vary depending on the complexity of the tattoo, placement on the body, the age of the tattoo, and the colors of the tattoo. Some tattoo pigments, such as yellow and light blue, are harder to remove. Simple tattoos can be eliminated within four treatment sessions but more detailed tattoos might require ten or more. While side-effects rarely occur, there are certain reactions associated with laser tattoo removal. They include hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, infection and permanent scarring. The skin may temporarily appear sunburned for a few months.