Before and After Laser Removal
The practice of tattooing the face and body is an ancient one. Historically, tattooing symbolized many things from tribal affiliations to social status. Many tattoos were performed for medicinal and therapeutic purposes, however, most tattooing was a sign of personal expression and beautification. In some regions of the ancient world, tattooing was forbidden and was only performed on criminals and prisoners.
In more recent times, tattooing has experienced a global resurgence of sorts with a growing pop culture following that has resulted in TV shows like Inked and Miami Ink.
Tattoo Remorse and Removal
All popularity aside, like most long-term decisions, the decision to tattoo your body should not be taken lightly. Tattoos are not temporary – they are a lifetime commitment that many come to regret. Whether the tattoo remorse is because of a bad tattoo artist or because a good idea has passed its prime, tattoos can be difficult to remove once the image has been inked into the skin.
Early tattoo removal practices involved removal of the top layers of skin that often resulted in permanent scarring. These techniques included dermabrasion, TCA peeling, salabrasion (scrubbing the skin with salt), cryosurgery (freezing the skin) and excision (surgical removal of the skin along with skin grafts). For the most part though, today tattoo removal does not involve removal of the skin, thanks to the development of the laser which became commercially available in the 1990s.
Laser tattoo removal is the non-invasive removal of pigments using Q-switched lasers designed to shatter the pigment into particles that are absorbed then removed by the body’s lymphatic system. Total removal of a tattoo can take several treatments depending on the type and colors of the ink, the age of the tattoo and the part of the body the tattoo is located in. As a rule, the less body fat the location has, the more difficult the tattoo can be to remove.
The amount, quality, and depth of ink are important factors to consider for successful tattoo removal. Bright colors and fluorescent inks look great, but they are harder to remove. Dark colors, like black and red are usually easier to remove than lighter colors. A qualified and experienced tattoo removal expert should be consulted if you have a complex, colorful tattoo to remove.
Watch this brief video and see how basic laser tattoo removal works.
New Tattoo Removal Advances
One of the newest (and most effective) methods of tattoo removal is called the “R20 method”. This process uses Q-switched laser to fracture the ink in multiple sessions (usually 4 sessions) in a single treatment as opposed to the traditional single session per treatment.
Each pass with the laser is separated by 15-20 minutes. Waiting allows the microscopic gas bubbles (called laser frost) to clear before the next session. Each successive pass of the laser fractures the ink particles and penetrates deeper into the tattoo. This new method shows a faster removal of the inks without having extra side effects on the tattoo.
Other advances use fractional ablative laser together with traditional laser. This method removes half of the tattoo ink in just a single session.
Yet another study looks at treating a tattoo twice a day with a number of different laser wavelengths to remove different colors. This method has shown increase in effectiveness in removing blue, green, and black colors.
After Tattoo Removal Care
Proper care of the affected area is essential if you want to avoid infection, changes to the skin color or scarring after tattoo removal. Most people will develop blisters, crusting, or scabs 8 to 72 hours after the procedure – how you care for the area is important. Here are some basic rules for caring for the skin after tattoo removal:
- Apply a cool compress to the treated area for 24 hours after laser treatment to reduce discomfort and inflammation.
- You can shower 2 hours after the treatment, but take care to avoid soaking the treated area.
- Soaking the treated skin is not recommended (baths, hot tubs, swimming pool) until all blistering and scabbing is completely healed, as this may increase the risk of infection.
- Apply a thin coat of antibiotic ointment up to three times a day for 3 days while the area is healing.
- Cover the area with a sterile dressing for those 3 days.
- Do not allow the skin to become scraped during the healing process. This may result in infection and scarring. Do not pick blisters or scabs and shaving should be avoided in the treated area until it is completely healed.
- Itching is common during the healing phase. Sooth itchy skin with vitamin E ointment, or hydrocortisone cream.
- If the area looks infected (crusting and oozing or spreading redness), if you experience unusual discomfort or bleeding, seek immediate medical attention.
- The treated area may appear pink or pale after the scab separates – do not expose this new skin to UV light.
- Wear a sun block with an SPF 30 or higher over the area for 3 months following the treatment.