Young adults (and some devious underage teens) will sometimes get tattoos that they later regret. It may be because the tattoo was in poor taste and/or in an obvious area; it may be because the tattoo was not well done to begin with. In particular, people who have gang affiliated tattoos may want to have them removed to improve their chances in the work force.
There are many ways to remove a tattoo. Some of these include dermabrasion (sanding off the top layer of skin and ink), and excision (literally cutting off the tattoo and replacing the skin with grafts if necessary). There are also creams marketed toward removing tattoos, but there has been no evidence that they actually work. However, the most common and effective methods of tattoo removal are laser based procedures.
Before Your Tattoo Is Removed…
Your skin will be examined. How healthy is it? What is the ratio of ink to skin? What color is your skin to begin with? This will help the doctor determine the best type of laser to use. You will be given goggles or other protective eyewear, and your doctor may recommend Tylenol or other painkillers, as well as a topical anesthetic (numbing cream). Some patients may even get an injection of a localized painkiller.
The Actual Procedure
Lasers are attracted to dark versus light, so it gets rid of the ink without damaging the surrounding skin. Lasers use pulses of light to break the ink up into fragments; your immune system takes care of the rest. Different lights are used for different colors. Black ink is the easiest, since it absorbs all spectrum of light, while other colors must be handled differently.
The better your blood circulation, the better your immune system can get rid of the fragments of ink. Tattoos can be removed faster from areas with a great deal of blood flow, such as arms and legs. Hands and feet are more difficult because there is less circulation.
To make progress on removing a tattoo, you may need one to ten sessions. Each one only lasts for a few minutes. Your body will then be allowed to heal from four to eight weeks. Each laser treatment goes deeper into the skin than the last, which removes more ink and lightens the tattoo. You may never be able to completely get rid of the tattoo, but it will be much less noticeable than it was.
An anti-bacterial ointment and a bandage will be used to cover the tattoo area. You may be asked to elevate it and stay out of the sun, since your skin will be much more prone to sunburn. In fact, the tattoo area may feel slightly sunburned for a few days, and be red for a few weeks.
Who Is A Good Candidate For Laser Tattoo Removal?
The best candidates have a fair to medium light complexion and have darker ink tattoos. These tattoos should be sparse and close to the surface of the skin. Again, the greater the contrast, the easier the removal. However, darker skinned patients have also had success in using this method.
Laser Tattoo Removal Side Effects
These are rare, but you may experience blistering, infection, loss of skin color, or scabbing. Scabbing will usually disappear in about two weeks and skin will return to normal. Due to advances in technology, scarring in particular is quite rare.