Tattoos are a common way for people to express themselves. They have been have been for centuries. And yet, not everyone who gets a tattoo is happy with it. Some experience immediate regret, while others only decide to remove a tattoo after having it for years.
Historically, removing a tattoo required actually cutting out the skin, which left horrific scars just as visible as the tattoo. Today, the best way to remove a tattoo is with the use special lasers over a series of treatments.
Reasons for Removal
People have many reasons to remove a tattoo. One of the most common is that tattoos located on the hands and face can sometimes make it difficult to get certain jobs. Some people want to remove tattoos that cause embarrassment, like the name of a former spouse or partner. Others got a tattoo in their youth that a spouse or partner doesn't like.
While most people seek laser tattoo removal for cosmetic reasons, some people have actual medical reasons to seek care. "Laser tattoo removal is also used when someone has a traumatic tattoo," says Erika Summers, MD, a dermatologist at University of Utah Health. "An example would be someone whose skin is stained after contact with asphalt due to a car accident."
Preparing for Tattoo Removal
Preparing for removal is more of a mental process than anything else. While laser removal is very effective, it does take time. Depending on the color of the tattoo, it may take a year of monthly sessions before it's gone. The process can also be painful, and knowing this in advance is important. A final factor to consider is that laser removal is expensive, which means that many people will have to save up or take money out of savings in order to pay for it.
The Removal Process
Lasers are able to remove tattoos by actually shattering the pigment underneath the skin, which disperses the color enough that it becomes invisible.
"The hardest pigment to break up is black," Summers says. "Removing a black tattoo can take 9-12 monthly visits before it finally fades. Blue or purple tattoos are the easiest to remove."
Summers also states that professional tattoos are much harder to remove than amateur tattoos, as the pigment is ingrained much deeper during the professional process.
While undergoing the removal process, it is possible to mitigate the pain via a topical numbing compound that is applied an hour before treatment. Using this method to control the pain usually requires a prescription. Other ways to treat pain include injections to numb the skin during the treatment or using ice to numb skin.
Undergoing laser removal can cause blistering or mild scaling of the skin, so it helps to keep the skin moist and out of the sun. Most doctors recommend applying something like petroleum jelly, which also helps protect the tender area from further damage until it heals.