Tattoos represent an expression of self. They exist as a permanent declaration of some sort. Perhaps it’s a dedication to the one you love, or a remembrance of a meaningful experience or loss. It may be grounded in artistic expression or a spur of the moment act of rebellion. Whatever the reason behind your tattoo, chances are if you’re reading this you now regret it. In fact, studies suggest that 50 percent or more of people who get a tattoo eventually end up regretting the decision.
The good news is that a regrettable tattoo no longer need be a permanent mistake. In the past, tattoo removal required treatments like dermabrasion and acidic skin removal techniques that had varying levels of success. In some cases skin excision was even used which could leave significant scarring. Some people simply try to cover up their tattoo mistake with a new tattoo, but this could end up compounding the problem and costing you even more money. Fortunately, there’s another solution being used commonly today that’s having fantastic results: laser tattoo removal.
How Does it Work?
The ink from a tattoo penetrates into the dermal layer of the skin under the surface. Lasers are effective in tattoo removal because the energy is capable of penetrating this layer and vaporizing the ink.
During an initial consultation, your doctor will evaluate the tattoo you want removed, noting its location and color. The closer a tattoo is to the heart, the quicker it fades (this has to do with blood circulation). Colorless black ink tattoos are the easiest to remove because black pigment absorbs all laser wavelengths. Colored ink is more difficult to remove, but advancements in laser technology means that you can still get the same results, you just might need more treatments; and the right type of laser (lasers have differing wavelengths). Professional grade tattoos typically penetrate deeper than amateur tattoos and require additional treatments.
How Many Laser Treatments Will You Need
As many as 10 laser sessions or more may be required to fully remove a tattoo. These treatments are administered upwards of six weeks apart, meaning that the removal process is not a quick fix. It could take you multiple years to completely rid yourself of the unwanted tattoo.
Is It Painful?
A topical anesthetic may be applied to the treatment area during each laser session to minimize discomfort. An oral pain medication may also be advised if a patient has a low pain threshold or if a particularly large tattoo is being removed. Following each treatment, anti-bacterial cream may be applied to the lasered area. You shouldn’t really feel any pain beyond that of a mild sunburn.
Generally speaking, today’s laser technology is such that the likelihood of side effects from tattoo removal are minimal. However, there are certain risks associated with treatment. Side effects can include:
- Skin blistering
- Changes in skin tone/color
- Pinpoint bleeding
- Raising of the tattoo
Your doctor or dermatologist will go over all potential side effects with you during your consultation. Again, the likelihood of side effects is minimal, but in cases in which they do occur, they are likely short-lived.
Laser Tattoo Removal Cost
The good news is that laser tattoo removal is an effective way to get rid of a regrettable tattoo. The not-so-good news is that it’s not cheap. The cost of laser tattoo removal varies from treatment center to treatment center, but on average you can expect to pay more than $250, and in some cases upwards of $1,000. The bigger the tattoo, the more expensive it’s going to be to remove.
If you can’t quite afford the cost of removal but really can’t stand having the tattoo any longer, there’s more good news. Many treatment centers offer financing plans that can help you.
- Tattoo Lasers: Author: Douglas Wu, MD, PhD, FRCPC, FAAD; Chief Editor: William D James, MD
- FDA: Tattoo Removal Options and Results (n.d.)
- Optimizing Laser Tattoo Removal (n.d.)