We are sure you must have a lot of questions about safe tattoo removal and we hope to be able to answer as many as we can in this website. We’ve worked hard to make sure our answers fact rather than fiction based. This is an ‘information rich’ website and we believe you should feel confident in the answers you find here. Apologies for where we repeat ourselves but most people won’t read the website cover to cover. If you can’t find the answer you are looking for then contact us by email.
Where we get our information from?
There is a lot of ‘Information’ on the internet about tattoo removal. Some of it is unfortunately wrong either accidentally or (for commercial reasons) deliberately wrong, particularly in the claims made about the successes/safety of non laser treatments or using poor quality and cheap lasers. What you read here may therefore differ from what you’ve read before. The Tattoo Removal Company’s answers are based information from the laser industry and from medical and scientific knowledge from medical journals such as the Archive of Dermatology, British Journal of Dermatology, American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery and the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. new paragraphLaser therapy has been repeatedly shown to be effective with minimal risk of adverse events in tattoo removal. It is the Gold standard and we recommend you use it and don’t risk any thing else. If we found good scientific evidence that tattoos were more effectively removed by rubbing salt or creams or cupcakes on your tattoo then we’d tell you and we’d be doing it that way, but we haven’t.
What is a tattoo?
A tattoo can be defined as any permanent discolouration of the skin caused by an external material getting ‘stuck’ in the skin. Most commonly tattooing is the result of a deliberate act of putting ink into the skin but it can also result from accidents such as gravel burns or fire arms residue.
What is a laser?
The term ‘Laser’ now commonly refers to the machines that carry out the process of creating laser light but really the term LASER comes from the process itself – Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission Radiation. A given laser machine will be made to produce light at a very specific wavelength and that will determine the properties or and applications of that particular laser light. For the purpose of tattoo removal lasers are a method of delivering energy into the skin which is predominantly absorbed by ink particles.
Lasers are often named after the type of material used to produce the specific wavelength of light. eg a ND:YAG (neodymium-doped yttrium aluminium garnet) laser or a Ruby laser. They may also have numbers used in their names – eg 1064nm Nd:YAG. The number refers to the actual wavelength of light produced. There are some other bits attached to the names of our lasers which tell you other important things about what they do – we think all laser used in tattoo removal should have them. We used an Active Q Switched Laser – the ‘Q switched’ means the laser light is effectively held back and then released in very short, very powerful bursts. By using these very short bursts we cause maximum damage to the ink particles and minimum damage to the surrounding skin cells. The term active refers to how the laser pulses are released. We are in more control of the Active laser. Active Q switched lasers are what the NHS use and where the evidence is for safety and efficacy. That’s why we use them.
A WARNING – not all lasers are the same.
How does a laser remove a tattoo?
Click here to watch our YouTube video
When light hits an object some of that light (certain wavelengths) will be absorbed by the object, some might pass through the object and other wavelengths will be reflected. It is the wavelength of light that is reflected that determines what colour we see the object as having – ie a blue ink is ‘blue’ because it reflects light with a blue wavelength most effectively and absorbs other colours/wavelengths such as green or red. The light absorbed by the object puts energy into the object which is most often released again as heat. In Laser tattoo removal the ink particles are subjected to very very short (eg nanosecond) bursts of very very high energy light. The ‘optically dense’ ink particles absorb this light very effectively but because it is such a large amount of energy in such a short period they can’t get rid of the energy as heat fast enough and instead ‘shatter’. The fragments of ink are then small enough to be removed the bodies own white blood cells.
Most of the cells in our skin doesn’t absorb the laser light as effectively and therefore don’t have to cope with this sudden influx of energy. The only thing that is naturally like ink in the skin is Melanin. Melanin is the natural pigment in the skin which determines how dark or pale our skin is. When you get a tan it is because your skin produces more melanin molecules as a defence against sun exposure. These molecules can also be destroyed by laser light.
Are all lasers the same? - NO - PLEASE READ
A WARNING – not all lasers are the same. To safely and effectively remove the tattoo ink the laser must be powerful enough to deliver the right amount of energy to the right depth in the skin – this is what active Q switched lasers do. They are big, expensive, heavy machines. If you are taking your tattoo to a tattoo removal provider that is using a ‘desktop’ machine or one with a ‘gun like’ hand piece then their equipment is almost certainly not going to be able to do a complete job. It will be slow (because it’s not an ‘active’ laser), therefore possibly more painful and you are very likely to be disappointed with the results, almost certainly if you have a coloured tattoo. If you have a black tattoo only then you maybe able to fade it enough for a cover up. If you have already had this kind of treatment it does not stop you having the remainder of the tattoo removed with an appropriate laser. A very real risk with these lower powered machines is that the operator ‘tries too hard’ to get a result, applies too much energy over too long a period of time and burns the skin, possibly scarring it. Our advice is that you find out as much as you can about the laser as well as the operator. Is it european made or from the far east? Is it an active Q switched laser? Does the operator have any medical training to understand your medical background or support you if there are any side effects. Would you send your Gran to these people?
Why do you need different lasers?
We want to use a laser that gets the most amount of energy into that particular colour of ink molecule. For example green inks reflect green light but absorb red light very well so we use a red (Ruby) laser to break up green inks. We use 3 different lasers to cover as much colour spectrum as possible.
Can you successfully treat all tattoo colours?
The lighter the colour more difficult to treat because it’s more difficult to get the ink particles to absorb energy. In particular white ink will reflect all wavelengths of light. Turquoise and bright blues are similarly difficult to treat.. They are sometime reduced however as a ‘bystander effect’ of treating a darker colour that is right next to it. Luckily these very light colours often become dramatically less noticeable once other darker colours in the tattoo are removed.
We cannot treat tattoos which only show up under ultraviolet light
How long does each treatment session take?
After your first assessment we will start each new session by checking there has not been a change to your medical status and reviewing the results of the last treatment. We can then discuss the plan for further treatment. Individual treatment sessions are quick as the laser can fire at up to 10 times a second and the area of tattoo can often be covered in matter of minutes. We can adjust the speed to suit you – some people like to go as fast as possible and some people like it a bit slower.
If your tattoo contains colours which require different lasers then this switch over only takes a few seconds as our laser machine contains three lasers in one machine. You will need to switch protective glasses for different lasers.
A small to medium tattoo will be typically given a 15 minute slot of which the actual lasering time will often only be one or two minutes. Larger tattoo’s will be treated in sections eg a full back might be treated in quarters. A given quarter would typically then be given 6 weeks to recover before the next treatment session but you could come back next week and get the next quarter done and so on.
How many sessions will I need?
Each time your tattoo is treated a proportion of the remaining ink will be broken down by the laser and the tattoo will steadily fade away. How much ink is broken down each time and therefore how quickly the tattoo fades will depend on a number of factors which are determined both when the tattoo is done and at the time of laser treatment. These factors include;
- the colour and type of the ink – Black is often easiest, lighter colours hardest because black absorbs most light and lighter colours reflect the most light. Inks however differ in what they are made of and some ink respond more quickly than others.
- Amateur vs Professional tattoo – amateur tattoos are often shallower and contain less ink than modern professional tattoos. The shallower and lighter the quicker to remove. If the tattoo has been done with substances other than ink eg soot from melted plastic then it may be impossible to remove with laser.
- The wavelength and power of the laser. See ‘How does a laser remove a tattoo’.
- Position on the body – Areas of the body with a better blood supply appear to get rid of the broken down ink better/faster. In general this means that the further from you heart the possibly slower the clearance will be.
These are just some of the reasons we can’t give you a guaranteed number but if you have a amateur tattoo with only black pen ink then you may only need 1-3 treatments. If you have a professional, coloured tattoo then it is likely you’ll need 8-12 or more sessions, again depending on the exact colours in the tattoo. We will give you our best estimation when you have your initial assessment.
Do you offer 'the R20 Method' of accelerated treatment?
Ooh you are up to date. This is a treatment protocol reported only in 2011 (and now widely offered in the US) which treats the same area of tattoo up to 4 times in a given session, allowing 20 minutes between each treatment. It seems there is more sunburn like damage to the skin but the healing time is the same. In the study there was a period of 3 months before retreating. It appears to definitely remove more ink in a single sitting so it’s definately faster but we don’t know yet if it removes 4 times as much so we can’t promise you it is 4 times faster. It costs the same to have 4 sessions in one go as to have them 6 weeks apart. It means that a tattoo that for example requires 12 treatments which previously took nearly 18 months to do might now only take 3 sessions over 6 months.
If it’s as good as it looks we think this is probably how tattoo’s will be removed in future.
Can things go wrong?
The right equipment in the right hands makes laser treatment very safe but just like everything in life there are some risks. The risks are generally rare or else we wouldn’t be doing the treatment! This is one reason why patch testing (trying the laser on a small part of the tattoo) when you have your initial assessment is so important.
- Skin colour change. Laser treatment affects the natural pigment molecules (called melanin) in the skin too and can sometimes cause a lightening effect (hypopigmentation) on the area of skin treated. This is rarely permanent. More common is a slight temporary darkening of the skin following treatment. Again this is usually temporary but rarely either effect can be permanent.
- Tattoo colour change – occasionally the pigments used in the tattoo, particularly iron oxides which are used in red,pink and white make actually darken when hit with the laser. This darkening may be got rid of by more (possibly a lot more) laser treatment or it may be permanent.
- Scarring. On a microscopic level the laser does cause temporary damage to the skin. The body repairs this damage as it would any skin injury. Occasionally it will repair this damage with more scar tissue than normal and there may be some minor textural changes to the skin or more rarely visual scarring. If there is already scarring within the tattoo the laser treatment will not remove this but will remove the tattoo ink. Very rarely the body may react toÂ anyÂ skin injury by producing a much thicker, bulkier scar tissue called a hypertrophic scar or even a scar known as a keloid scar. If you have had this response before you may be at greater risk of further keloid scar formation and should think very carefully about having any laser treatment.
- Infection. Infection is highly unlikely if you’ve kept the area clean and dry afterwards but if you feel your skin in the few days post treatment is getting redder or hotter or more sore then you may have an infection. Drop in and see us if we are open (we can’t prescribe for you but we can help assess if it is an infection or just inflammation) or make contact with your GP.
Does laser treatment hurt?
The million dollar question. Experiences vary but most would describe it as a ‘stinging’ sensation – like the snap of an elastic band against the skin or like the spit of hot fat. Reassuringly most people say it wasn’t as bad as they were expecting! See our stingometer. If you are very concerned about the pain we can provide a numbing skin cream (topical anaesthetic) to be applied 30-60 mins before the treatment. You will need to book ahead for this as we need to check your medical history and apply and cover it. There is a small charge for this. The cream contains local anaesthetic like that used in dental injections or in hospital before blood samples.
Do you use anything during treatment to cool the skin?
You can apply a cool pack to the skin in between bursts of the laser if you like but for most people the treatment is so quick that it’s not worth it.
How does my skin look and feel after?
For a few minutes immediately after treatment your skin will have a ‘blistered, white look’ [photo]. This settles very rapidly within minutes and your skin will look and feel as if it is ‘sunburnt’ afterwards. As with sunburn it will settle over a couple of days. Small blisters are quite common and as with all blisters these should be left alone and NOT popped or de-roofed. You can help with any discomfort by applying some quality skin ointment like Diprobase and taking some simple painkillers like paracetomol or Ibuprofen.
Very occasionally you might get some pinpoint bleeding from individual laser shots. We would apply a light dressing if required. You will be given a more detailed after care sheet following treatment.
Can I go straight back to work after a treatment session?
Sadly – Yes – as long as you can keep the treated area clean and dry and out of the sun.
How do I prepare my tattoo for laser treatment?
We will give you exact details about how to prepare your skin when you have your initial assessment but there is something you can do today – apply sunblock to the tattooed skin. Reducing any tanning of the skin (real or fake) back to your natural skin colour is a very important part of your treatment.
In general if you want to keep your tattoo ‘shiny new’ looking then you should be keeping it out of the sun or using sunblock whenever possible otherwise sunlight will fade and blur the tattoo over time.
What is IPL and can it remove tattoo's?
IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light. It is used to remove hair, not tattoos. Compared to lasers it gives off a very slow pulse of ‘mixed’ visible light who’s main function on the skin is to heat up the darker parts of the skin eg hair follicles thereby damaging them and causing the hair to fall out. Don’t let any one try and remove your tattoo with these machines.
Can you treat afro-caribbean or indian subcontinent skin types?
These skin types can be treated (very carefully) by lasers. However currently our insurance restrictions mean we cannot offer treatment to people with these skin types.
Can you remove permanent make up?
Unfortunately permanent make up inks can sometimes react to laser by going significantly darker, meaning your brown eyebrow can go black instead of disappearing. They may also spread after laser treatment meaning your eyebrow or lip liner becomes smudged looking. For that reason we strongly advise you not to laser your permanent make up or at least to find out a lot about the ink used before attempting even a patch test.
Are you licensed and insured?
I don't like my brand new tattoo - how soon can I start removing it?
We see some clients the day after they’ve had the tattoo on – so you won’t be the first to decide very quickly that your tattoo isn’t for you.
We always recommend you wait till at least 6 weeks after the tattoo has been put on before starting to remove it. This allows the skin to recover from the physical trauma of the tattooing process itself. After that we can start to treat. There is a theoretical benefit to early treatment in that less of the ink will have been wrapped up in fibrin – the protein used by the body to wrap up things it doesn’t like but can’t actually remove. Ink also drifts deeper into the skin with time where it is more difficult to reach with laser. So again there is an advantage starting treatment as early as you can once you have decided to part company from your tattoo.