The Tattoo Removal Process

Individuals seeking tattoo removal may begin their quest for ink-free skin by consulting with a tattoo removal specialist. Some tattoo removal clinics may offer free consultations to prospective patients to discuss what treatment options may work best, while others may apply the cost of the consultation toward the overall cost of the procedure.

Every tattoo is different and the size, shape, and age of a tattoo can influence which tattoo removal method is utilized. Laser tattoo removal is one of the more commonly used tattoo removal options available.

During consultation, a tattoo removal specialist will discuss treatment options, taking into account the size, complexity, depth, location, and nature of the tattoo. Skin type and skin conditions may also influence which treatment option is chosen.

Using this information, an estimate of the total cost for tattoo removal and the number of necessary treatments may be provided. Each patient's results will vary and realistic expectations are recommended. Certain tattoos are more challenging to remove than others and there are a number of other variables that may affect how the body responds to tattoo removal. Discussing these matters with an experienced tattoo removal specialist can allow for a greater understanding of the treatment process and its effects.

Before the procedure, some physicians recommend a non-aspirin pain medication that does not act as a blood thinner, such as Tylenol (aspirin and ibuprofen can cause bruising). Discomfort levels between treatment methods will vary. Laser tattoo removal has been compared to a rubber band snap on the skin.

Each patient's discomfort tolerance levels will differ and treatments should be avoided when the skin has an increased level of sensitivity (which can be associated with sun damage, hormone fluctuations, or other skin conditions.) Anesthesia is available at many clinics if desired.

Laser tattoo removal targets the tattoo pigment with short bursts of high-intensity light from a laser. There are different kinds of lasers for different colors of ink (e.g. ruby, alexandrite, and nd:yag lasers). Most of the lasers used are “Q-switched”. Q-switched lasers produce very short but very intense pulses of light.

The laser penetrates the skin, directly targeting the tattoo pigment, but sparing surrounding tissue from damage. The pulses of light from a Q-switched laser are so brief that it takes many pulses to cover the entire area of the tattoo. Thus, depending on the size of the tattoo, treatment times can vary from about 10 minutes to 30 minutes for small to medium sized tattoos. Larger tattoos may obviously take longer to treat.

Repeat treatments spread out by a few weeks or months are typically best since the body's removal of the ink which is broken down by the laser takes time. Understanding the process is important so that treatments are done at optimal intervals for satisfactory results.

After Tattoo Removal

After treatment, the physician will have specific instructions for how to care for the treated area. Failure to adhere to follow-up care instructions may lead to unsightly scars or pigmentation problems. Immediately after the procedure, the treated area may feel sunburned and it is important to keep the area covered until it heals. Specific directions for the proper care of the area to ensure a safe and quick recovery should be closely followed.

Recovery time is generally minimal but will vary for each patient. The skin will be sensitive after treatment for a couple of weeks and should be cared for to allow the skin to heal without interference.

After treatment, the body begins to repair any damaged skin and further breaks down and removes tattoo ink from the treated area. The laser thus disrupts the tattoo pigment so that the body's own immune system can begin to break the pigment down and carry it away.

This leads to a lighter and less visible tattoo over time. Schedule a consultation with a tattoo removal specialist in your area to learn more about how tattoos are effectively removed or minimized with the latest in medical technology.

Photos courtesy of S. Zimmet, MD

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