Tattoo removal

Tattoos may be lightened but cannot be completely removed. Faint scars remain for life.
Tattoos may be lightened but cannot be completely removed. Faint scars remain for life.

Tattoos may be lightened but cannot be completely removed. Faint scars remain for life. A person may require many sessions depending on the ink used to lighten the shade. Tattoos are permanent because the ink is inserted deep into the skin using needles. The tattoo removal process includes

  • Tattoo removal requires using an ultra-short pulse laser. These lasers work by emitting extremely hot blasts in short, quick bursts to heat up and break up the ink particles.
  • They work at an extremely fast speed, which can be as quick as one trillionth of a second. The speed plays a significant role in the effectiveness of removal.
  • The color of the ink matters because they absorb different wavelengths. The immune system thinks of it as an intruder. Similar to other injuries to the skin, white blood cells will spring into action to protect the body.
  • The white blood cells will attempt to break down the ink, though very slowly. They will also carry small parts of it to the liver, where the ink will be processed and discharged.
  • Once the laser breaks the ink down into smaller pieces, the white blood cells seize them and carry them to the liver, so they can be flushed out along with other foreign objects and toxins in the body.

Common techniques for tattoo removal include

  • Laser surgery: This is the most common way to remove a tattoo. Before laser treatment, the skin is numbed by injecting local anesthesia at the site. Then, a powerful pulse of energy is applied to the tattoo to heat up and shatter the tattoo ink. Multicolored tattoos might need treatment with various lasers and different wavelengths. The person may need repeated sessions to lighten the tattoo and it might not be possible to completely erase the tattoo.
  • Surgery: Surgical tattoo removal is effective only on small tattoos, but it leaves a scar. During surgical removal, the skin is numbed by injecting local anesthesia at the site. The tattoo is removed with a scalpel, and the edges of the skin are stitched back together.
  • Dermabrasion: During dermabrasion, the tattooed area is typically chilled until numb. Then the tattooed skin is sanded down to the deeper layers with a high-speed rotary device that has an abrasive wheel or brush. This allows the tattoo ink to leach out of the skin.
  • Chemical peels: This procedure may not require anesthesia. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels can also be used to remove tattoos. TCA is a mild acid that is applied to the skin to remove the outer layers of the skin and tattoo ink.

Is tattoo removal painful?

Yes, tattoo removal is painful and may cause a certain amount of physical trauma to the area being treated. The pain intensity may not be the same for everyone because each person has different pain thresholds. Some areas, such as the inner sides of the thighs and arms, the neck and the ankle are more sensitive than others. Areas with more fat like the arms and legs are generally not as painful as the neck, ankle or finger, which are close to a bone and have less fat.

People who undergo tattoo removal described the pain as a hot rubber band snapped on the skin or sunburn being scratched. A few people say it is a little bit more painful than being tattooed, but it is a lot quicker.

Before tattoo removal, high potency lidocaine cream may be applied to the area to numb the pain. Throughout the process, the tattooed skin may be treated with ice packs or cool spray to decrease pain.

The most common side effects of tattoo removal may include

  • Redness
  • Soreness
  • Sensitive skin
  • Swelling
  • Bleeding
  • Blisters
  • Hyperpigmentation (dark patches of skin)
  • Hypopigmentation (light patches of skin)
  • Infection

How to take care of the skin after the tattoo removal process

The first 24 hours after the process is crucial for better skin healing. The healing process may be enhanced by following the steps below

  • Apply a cold compress to help reduce the inflammation or discomfort that may likely occur.
  • Avoid physical activities and taking a hot shower during the first 36 hours.
  • Avoid using any type of makeup for 48 hours after undergoing the removal process.
  • Avoid using any non-prescribed medication or cream on the treated spot for the first 24 hours.
  • Apply ointment, such as antibacterial cream or Neosporin on the treated spot for at least three days.
  • The dressing may need to be changed every day on the treated skin.
  • For at least two weeks, limit exposure to the sun, pool water, hot tubs and saltwater.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/24/2021
References
Medscape Medical Reference

American Society of Plastic Surgeons