Laser Tattoo Removal

Everything you ever wanted to know about tattoo removal

Laser Tattoo Removal

No longer just the markings of navy men and outlaws, tattoos have become popular with men and women from all walks of life that “tattoo culture” is now a whole world of its own.  Tattoo parlors have popped up everywhere as hip neighborhood hangouts and art galleries.  There is a new breed of professional tattoo artists making their mark in this burgeoning, lucrative career field.

While laser technology has advanced and helped tattoos to become more intricate, beautiful works of art a couple of things remain the same. Ink is still ink, and people still make mistakes. It is estimated that 45-50 percent of Americans have tattoos, of those approximately 25 percent have one or more they would like to get rid of. Why so much tattoo regret?  The reasons vary widely, but the overriding theme is change.  The three biggest changing factors with people who seek tattoo removal are:

Tattoo Removal Factor #1

Beliefs change, which boils down to the fact that the tattoo no longer displays on the outside what’s on the inside.  The cover and the title of the book no longer represent the story within the pages of the book.  Obviously, this would include those with a name that’s no longer a meaningful name, a belief that’s no longer pertinent like “life sucks” or “everyone dies” etc.

Tattoo Removal Factor #2

People’s environment changes, which would be those who have tattoos in visible areas but the career choice or merely social perception doesn’t match this type of expression.  Obviously, a CEO of a conservative corporate company doesn’t do very well with a neck, face or hand tattoo.  A parent often can’t imagine their perfect, wonderful child with a tattoo, so they become self-conscious about the tattoo that they have. Military police and firefighters are often banned from having tattoos, so people reluctantly rid themselves of what stands in the way of a career advancement.  Former gang members and prisoners often find it easier to discontinue a cycle if the outside markings of a prior life can be erased to match their growth and change.

Tattoo Removal Factor #3

Art changes. With the advancement of tattooing techniques and achievable artistry on the skin has drastically changed altered expectations of tattoo enthusiasts.  If you’re wearing what used to be great 20 years ago, but you want something that’s great now, the easiest way to get what you want is to erase what you had and start with a clean canvas.  Taadaa! This is where laser tattoo removal comes in!

What is laser tattoo removal?

Laser tattoo removal is a procedure that has been FDA approved for about twenty years. Both the process and technology have come long ways over the past couple of decades to become a safe and effective procedure. The tricky part of tattoo removal is the art of getting all the hundreds of variables lined up to achieve complete and successful removal.  Tattoo removal is a relatively complicated and involved process. However, it can be broken down into three main components which are the laser, the body, and the tattoo.

The First component of tattoo removal is the laser.  When the laser beam comes in contact with the ink in a tattoo in the subdermal layer, it causes the ink to break down into tiny particles. The truth of the matter is that your body has always tried to break down the particles of your tattoo from the moment the ink was introduced.  The reason your body has not been successful is that the ink particles have been too large for the body to digest successfully.  This is why you can tell when a tattoo is older by its lighter hazier appearance.  After ink molecules are shattered into microscopic particles by the laser, the body can finally be successful at doing what it’s been trying to accomplish since the tattoo was applied.  There are two different types or laser technologies available to someone seeking tattoo removal. The laser that has been around the longest is the traditional Q-Switch ND YAG laser. A Q-Switch laser utilizes nano-second technology and a thermal wave to break ink particles down into a digestible size. Mostly seen as an “older technology” a q-switched ND Yay laser is extremely effective on dark, thick black inks. Working with darker Fitzpatrick scale skin tones of level five or six is most safely achieved with a traditional 1064 nanosecond laser.

The second and newer technology is Pico second technology. The main difference this type laser has brought to the table is the rate at which the laser goes in and out of the skin.  Picosecond technology goes in and out of the skin in 1/10000 of a second while Q-Switched ND Yag technology is at 1/1000. The faster rate causes the ink the break down into even smaller particles than those hit with a nanosecond technology which allows the body to digest these particles at a faster rate.   We have found that Picosecond technology works best with the 755/532 wave length to remove colors like blue, green and purple which were nearly impossible to remove before. The pressure wave technology also typically leaves your skin in less discomfort during removal and post treatment.

The second component to tattoo removal is the body on which the tattoo resides. After the laser has done its job by breaking down the ink, the body is left to dispose of it. The body’s natural immune system will begin to attack the shattered particles of ink and dispose of them through the bodies lymphatic system.  This is why your health is an essential key determinant in laser tattoo removal, and also why the number of sessions needed for removal varies from person to person. The healthier your immune system, the more quickly it will be able to digest and dispose of the shattered particles.  If you have a healthy immune system with very few external stresses, the process should be relatively quick and easy. This is the part where you come in!  There are three main factors of your health that we are concerned about.  The first is your immune system, the second is metabolism and circulation, the third is the age of the client and the tattoo, and the fourth is your lifestyle.

Autoimmune: Anyone with autoimmune issues like lupus, diabetes, celiac disease, etc. are going to have a more difficult time breaking down the foreign particles of ink because the immune system is busy taking care of bigger things.  Something so simple as an illness like a cold or flu, even allergies are going to slow the tattoo removal process because the body is going to focus on protecting the vital organs before it works on removing little nagging particles of ink.  The body naturally prioritizes what it needs to deal with in order of importance. At The Finery, we encourage our clients to take the appropriate supplements to build and protect your immune system before and during the process to keep the immune system working at full steam.

Metabolism and Circulation. The faster your metabolism, the more quickly the shattered tattoo particles will disappear. So those people blessed with a fast metabolism will be ink free faster than someone with a lagging metabolism.  Exercise will help to build a more quickly burning metabolism.  Circulation is also important to enable the body to take the shattered particles to the nearest lymph gland to be processed and disposed of.  A tattoo located on the upper body which is close to the core where circulation is better and the lymphatic system more readily accessible are more easily removed than those tattoos located on extremities like wrists, fingers, ankles, and toes.  Obviously, this is the section where we preach to you about exercise!  While you can’t control where your tattoo is positioned on your body, you can certainly control the amount of exercise your body gets.  Your body just works better if it’s active, your circulation, your metabolism, and your lymphatic system are affected by the level of physical exercise you do every day.  I’m not suggesting you run a marathon each morning but if you can just spend a few minutes every day doing something active you will certainly have better luck with your removal process.

Age: Age does matter! Both the age of the tattoo and the age of the body.  This was an unfortunate reality for me with the removal of my company logo tattoo.  Everyone in the shop got the logo of our business tattooed on us so we could document the removal process.  All of these tattoos were done by the same artist with the same ink on the same day. Everyone in the company is in their twenties, except for me I’m 55. The long and the short of it is that after two years of lasering, my tattoo is still evident and everyone else’s has long since disappeared.  I lead a more healthy lifestyle than any of them, but my metabolism and circulation are no match to those in their twenties.  Another thing working against me in this scenario is that the tattoo was new when I started to remove it, so it hasn’t had years to be attacked by the body rendering my removal a complete nightmare.

Lifestyle: Lifestyle is the third factor and the one that you have complete control over.  We’ve already talked about the importance of exercise and how it helps your body metabolize and process the shattered particles, so I won’t reintroduce that topic.  The biggest factor in the lifestyle section is smoking.  Someone who smokes every day is going to slow down the tattoo removal process by 70%.  It’s unbelievable how much slower clients who smoke see tattoo removal results.  The problem is that smoke deoxygenates your system, so circulation is decreased.  Remember circulation is something we depend on for fast, efficient removal. My best advice, if you smoke, is to stop or reduce as much as you can before you start the removal process.  Things like drinking to excess, not getting enough sleep, not drinking enough water, unhealthy eating choices are all lifestyle choices that you are in complete control of and that do make a difference.  If you want to be super proactive with your removal process, do a detox to prepare your body before starting the with your laser treatments.  Your body will then be able to concentrate on the shattered particles more quickly and more efficiently.  Again, the body is an incredibly smart system.  It takes care of the most dangerous toxins first and then will move to the secondary ones.  So, if you can make the body more “clean” before the removal process, we will have a head start on your tattoo removal journey.

The last component of tattoo removal is the tattoo itself. In the United States, there is no FDA clearance on tattooing ink.  The composition of the ink itself will determine a significant portion of how quickly a tattoo is removed. Some ink compositions are relatively organic, lending itself to an easy breakdown and removal, other ink types can have very synthetic components like plastics or metals causing those inks more reluctant to break down when exposed to a laser beam. Elimination of this kind of ink is lengthier with more sessions needed to finally break down all the particles. The application of the tattoo is another variable.  If the artist was heavy handed depositing ink lower in the sub-dermis, the removal process is going to be more difficult.  If a heavy-handed artist created scar tissue, the laser would not be able to remove the scar tissue.  Sometimes we get lucky, and scarring is reduced because of stimulation, but this is off label and only a bonus if achieved.  If scarring is present, it appears slightly raised on the skin and is most likely found in the outline of the tattoo because the outline is typically done with a lining needle which penetrates the skin at a deeper level.  Those tattoos that are applied by an artist with a light hand are much easier to remove completely. So, a very deep and dense application of a tribal tattoo or an Asian symbol is much harder to remove than a fluffy cloud like tattoo.  The way a tattoo comes off is directly representative of how it was applied.  The uneven application will result in uneven removal.  It’s easy to tell when an artist has paused in a corner or gotten a little deeper in a bonier area.  Just another reason why your tattoos should best be created by one of the amazingly talented artists rather than some guy in a basement who tattoos for cheap.

The last component of tattoo removal is the tattoo itself. In the United States, there is no FDA clearance on tattooing ink.  The composition of the ink itself will determine a significant portion of how quickly a tattoo is removed. Some ink compositions are relatively organic, lending itself to an easy breakdown and removal, other ink types can have very synthetic components like plastics or metals causing those inks more reluctant to break down when exposed to a laser beam. Elimination of this kind of ink is lengthier with more sessions needed to finally break down all the particles. The application of the tattoo is another variable.  If the artist was heavy handed depositing ink lower in the sub-dermis, the removal process is going to be more difficult.  If a heavy-handed artist created scar tissue, the laser would not be able to remove the scar tissue.  Sometimes we get lucky, and scarring is reduced because of stimulation, but this is off label and only a bonus if achieved.  If scarring is present, it appears slightly raised on the skin and is most likely found in the outline of the tattoo because the outline is typically done with a lining needle which penetrates the skin at a deeper level.  Those tattoos that are applied by an artist with a light hand are much easier to remove completely. So, a very deep and dense application of a tribal tattoo or an Asian symbol is much harder to remove than a fluffy cloud like tattoo.  The way a tattoo comes off is directly representative of how it was applied.  The uneven application will result in uneven removal.  It’s easy to tell when an artist has paused in a corner or gotten a little deeper in a bonier area.  Just another reason why your tattoos should best be created by one of the amazingly talented artists rather than some guy in a basement who tattoos for cheap.

How long does it take to remove a tattoo?

 

If you want to remove a tattoo completely, it takes about a year to remove.  Treatments are spaced no closer than six weeks apart with the average number of treatments being at about eight depending on which laser or combination of lasers used.  Again, depth and density of the tattoo, ink composition, ink location, health and lifestyle choices will all weigh heavily in determining how long it will take to remove your tattoo.  To improve results, start your process with a detox, make certain your lifestyle is as healthy as possible, get on an exercise regimen and massage the area to increase circulation.

 

How do I prepare for a cover up?

 

If you’re hoping to fix or cover a tattoo that you’re not in love with, a partial removal option removes as much ink as possible from your skin in one to four sessions depending on the artist and new art you want. We encourage you to coordinate with your tattoo artist to figure out how much ink needs to be cleared to cover it properly. Six weeks after your last laser session you can tattoo the area with your new design. By removing the darkest parts of the existing tattoo, you’ll offset the chances of old ink rising to become apparent in the new tattoo.  You also can remove enough, so the new tattoo doesn’t have to get much bigger than the original poorly done tattoo.  The world of options opens again when you prepare properly for your cover-up.

 

 

What does the skin look like after removal?

 

The goal is 100% clearance; however, no one can ever guarantee that a body will be able to remove all tattoos entirely.  A body that is completely healthy and has been applied evenly leaving no scarring or damage is going to look completely normal with no evidence of the tattoo ever having been there. End Results differ for everyone because everybody is different and every tattoo is applied differently with different techniques and different ink.  Also, critical in overall outcome is after care. If proper aftercare is lacking, the skin can become hypopigmented or hyperpigmented.  The Finery has tons of before and after photos accessible at Thefinery.net to see first-hand what the skin looks like after removal.