Laser Tattoo Removal: What Are the Side Effects?

Laser tattoo removal is a process that targets the tattoo with short bursts of laser light. The laser light penetrates the skin and causes the tattoo ink to break into particles small enough for the body to absorb and expel through its natural waste elimination process. Because the skin is breached during the procedure, there is a potential for side effects.

Side effects of laser tattoo removal

While somewhat rare and not usually serious, there are some side effects associated with laser tattoo removal. Here are the most common:

  • Scarring: Scars can be the result of the original tattoo process or the removal process. Sometimes, a faint scar in the image of the original tattoo is visible after tattoo removal.
  • Blistering: Laser removal can cause the skin to blister; it is a temporary condition.
  • Infection: While rare, infection can occur anytime the integrity of the skin is broken. Antibiotic ointment is routinely ordered to treat the area after tattoo removal to help prevent infection.
  • Hypopigmentation or loss of pigmentation: The skin in the area where the tattoo is removed commonly turns lighter than the surrounding tissue. The area appears as white spots and can be temporary or permanent.
  • Hyperpigmentation or increased pigmentation: There can be deepened skin color of the treated area in some skin types, especially on dark-skinned individuals. The area appears as dark spots.
  • Swelling: Swelling at the site is temporary and expected immediately after the procedure. It is treated with ice packs to the area, or the patient may be given anti-inflammatories.
  • Scabbing: Scabbing is a typical reaction to a skin breach. Scabs usually last about two weeks.
  • Change in skin texture: These changes are not very common and are usually temporary.

Further considerations

The aforementioned side effects have been linked with laser tattoo removal, but they also occur with other removal methods—and quite often. Although the best tattoo removal results are seen on patients with pale skin tones and dark ink tattoos, laser technology is continuing to evolve, making even the most difficult ink colors easier to remove and allowing patients with darker skin to receive the same benefits from treatment that someone with lighter skin would see.

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