Laser Tattoo Removal

Quick Summary
Laser Tattoo Removal
Procedure Length
Approx 10-30 minutes per session. Sessions are usually spaced six to eight weeks apart
Topical anesthetic
Types of Lasers
Q-switched laser, Nd: YAG laser and Ruby laser
Hypo or hyperpigmentation, scarring, burns, poor wound healing, etc.
Recovery Time
Patients can return to work immediately. The treated area may take 1-2 weeks to heal.
Final Appearance
It depends on tattoo (ie color, depth, etc). Final results can be see after 1-10 treatment sessions.
Duration of Results
Average Cost
$200 to $500 per treatment session

What is laser tattoo removal?

It is common to get tattoos to remember a loved one, show how much a relationship or friendship means to you or keep a meaningful phrase or symbol with you at all times. For many people, tattoos may be seen as an expression of personality, creativity or rebellion. Whatever the reason was for once getting a tattoo, you may feel differently about it now. Fortunately, laser tattoo removal is a safe and effective option to remove your unwanted ink.

How does it work?

Tattoos consist of many large particles of ink that are too big for your immune system to naturally remove from the body. Laser tattoo removal works by emitting a light of a certain wavelength that targets the ink pigment. The pigment absorbs the light and converts it into heat energy that fractures the ink particles into smaller fragments. The smaller fragments can then be more easily eliminated by the body.

Types of lasers

  • Q-switched laser: A laser called the Q-switched laser is the most popular for treatment because of its high intensity and short pulses of light. This allows it to be more powerful and effective, while also resulting in less damage to surrounding skin because of its shorter contact time. Different types of Q-switched lasers emit light of different wavelengths. The type of laser used depends on your tattoo color and skin type. In some cases, many lasers need to be used if the tattoo contains many colors.
  • Nd: YAG laser: The Nd: YAG laser is the most often used Q-switched laser because it can treat many dark ink colors, such as black, blue, green and violet and also many light colors, such as red, orange, yellow and pink. It is also the ideal laser to use in individuals with darker skin because its longer wavelength allows for the laser to be less attracted to the skin’s pigment. This results in a lower risk for skin pigment changes.
  • Ruby Laser: Ruby lasers are good for treating more stubborn colors of ink, such as some shades of green and blue. However, it may pose a higher risk since the skin pigment may change.

Are you a candidate?

A good candidate for laser tattoo removal is someone who has a healthy immune system and is patient. In many cases, laser tattoo removal can take multiple treatments, so it is important to have realistic expectations of what it can do. Treatment should not be given to anyone with:

  • Active skin inflammation such as eczema or psoriasis
  • Active warts or herpes
  • Any other active disease that can slow healing
  • Pregnant or nursing

Before getting the procedure done, you will be asked about your medical history, the medications you currently take, previous surgeries, drug allergies and if you have had a history of scarring.

You might also need to provide information about the tattoo such as the colors of the ink and whether the tattoo was done by a professional or an amateur. The answers to these questions will determine how many treatments you will need.

Treatment details

Depending on the size of the tattoo, the whole procedure should take between 10 minutes to an hour.

A topical anesthetic or a lidocaine shot will be given before the treatment to prevent you from feeling much pain during the procedure. You will also be given eye protection to wear to prevent the laser from being attracted to pigmented areas of your eye.

Laser pulses will be targeted at your tattoo. You should not feel much pain during the procedure, but you may still feel like a rubber band is hitting your body with each pulse.

Recovery time

After the procedure, you will have a wound that you will need to clean daily and apply a healing ointment to it. You may feel some tenderness, which ice can help facilitate.

Your skin should heal within 5 days of the procedure, but you will be expected to wear a bandage for 7-10 days after treatment.

It is important to use sun protection for 3 months afterwards to avoid further complications with your skin.

Risks & side effects

Laser tattoo removal is a very safe procedure. It is common to experience some redness or tenderness after the procedure. However, other possible side effects or risks may occur. Some of these risks have a higher likelihood of occurring in individuals with darker skin. These side effects include:

  • Incomplete tattoo removal
  • Hypo or hyper-pigmentation (skin colour changes)
  • Scarring
  • Crusting
  • Swelling
  • Skin texture changes
  • Blistering
  • Burns
  • Poor wound healing

How many treatments will you need?

The number of treatments needed to remove your tattoo will depend on many factors, such as the size, the color, the depth and density of the ink and the age of the tattoo. For example, older tattoos fade and tend to be easier to remove than newer tattoos.

Most patients will need more than 1 treatment to see results. The number of sessions needed can range from 1-10, with treatments being spaced apart by 6 weeks.

The time between treatments is necessary for healing and for the ink particles to be excreted from the body.

When will you see results?

It depends on tattoo (ie color, depth, etc). Final results can be see after 1-10 treatment sessions.

How long will your results last?

Results are permanent.

Cost of laser tattoo removal

On average laser tattoo removal cost is between $200 to $500 per treatment session. Many patients require multiple treatment sessions.

The cost of laser tattoo removal depends on the experience of the person performing the procedure, the type of laser used, the size of the tattoo, the time it takes to perform the procedure and the region you live in.

Laser tattoo removal is not covered by insurance.

Alternatives to laser tattoo removal

Other methods for tattoo removal exist; however, many of these are less effective and result in a greater risk of scarring or damage to the surrounding skin. Some of these alternatives include:

  • Chemical peels: A chemical peel uses chemicals to remove the outer layers of the skin. The skin takes about 5-7 days to heal after treatment. This method can be used to treat tattoos that do not penetrate as deep, but it is not a method used often.
  • Surgery: This method involves cutting out the tattoo, which can result in scarring and complicated wound closure. For this reason, surgery is best reserved for smaller tattoos rather than larger ones.
  • Dermabrasion: This method involves using a machine with a fast-spinning wheel to abrade the skin to remove the top layer of the tattoo. The deeper layers of the tattoo can then be removed surgically. This method results in a healing time of 10-14 days and may cause scarring.
  • Salabrasion: This is an older method and is not often used today. It involves using coarse salt and gauze to abrade the top layers of the skin. This method can remove more superficial tattoos, but scarring can occur.