Laser Tattoo Removal Part II

Laser is an acronym for  Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. They emit a single colour/wavelength light through a process of optical amplification in a narrow beam or series of pulses. The lasers used to remove tattoos work with pulses that last nanoseconds, or, as has recently become commercially available, picoseconds. That means even less than one billionth of a second. 

But how does it actually work? 

What laser removal does, is to break up the suspended pigment into smaller parts, so that white blood cells (remember, the ones jumping into action at foreign invaders) can come and clean up the area. When the laser light is applied to the tattooed area, it is only absorbed by the ink particles, leaving the rest of the skin undamaged (if the laser is of good quality). 

The particles absorb the heat generated by the laser from above. This makes them swell instantaneously, but as the heat only reaches the top of the particle, the bottom part remains cold. This causes it to split, and shatter into smaller particles.

In the days and weeks following the treatment, those smaller parts are consumed by white blood cells. And then, just as some spare ink during the tattoo process itself, they are carried out through the lymph system, processed in the liver and, eventually, flushed out of the system.

Different laser wavelengths correspond to a particular colour of ink. That being said, tattoos with yellow, green and purple coloured ink used to be considered the most difficult to remove. However, with the new picosecond lasers, those can be broken apart as well, so make sure you check which kind your practitioner uses.

What to expect from a session

The actual session involves much more than just the practitioner pointing a laser at a spot on your body. There will be before-photos, cleaning, anaesthesia, the actual laser, icing, and wrapping. Some people report feeling mild pain for about a week after, and the area will usually blister, scab, peel and then heal. However, the more treatments you have, the fewer after-effects there will be. 

Be prepared for the removal to take several sessions, even for a smaller tattoo. And that it will take time. The regeneration process is about eight weeks, so if you need five sessions or more… well, the math speaks for itself. 

Furthermore, many tattoos can’t be removed entirely, and they will leave traces on the skin. Nevertheless, it can clear the canvas enough to get something almost entirely new in its place. 

Be as selective with your removal as with your (future) tattoos

We will end with a note saying that if you are considering layering off that Latin phrase or Chinese letter from your teenage years, your ex’s name (or face, in the case of some reality-show participants) or whatever else it is that you no longer feel comfortable wearing on your skin, please choose a well-renowned doctor.

There are spas and beauty salons that offer the treatment, but the lasers could potentially be outdated which would increase the risk of scarring. Although it will be more expensive, if you go with a medical clinic with proven track record and good reviews, you are looking out for your skin the best way you can. Or why not ask your tattoo artist if they know who to turn to. While you are setting up an appointment for a new piece you will never regret.