Questions about removing a tattoo are one of the most common non surgically related phone calls in our office. And based on those calls, it is clear that there is a lot of misinformation about the process out there.
I have been using lasers to remove tattoos since 1999 and have ‘lasered’ 1000’s of tattoos. Based on that experience, I’ve realized some some basic truths: (1) Removing a tattoo is not easy (2) on the front end it is impossible to tell you how many treatments it will take (3) not all tattoos are treatable (4) not all lasers are equally capable, and (5) not all practitioners are equally trained. So be careful.
The way a laser works is by hitting the tattoo ink and breaking it into tiny particles so that your body can remove it. This occurs layer by layer, top to bottom, and so it takes time. Every time the tattoo is treated the ink closest to the skin is broken apart. But as most tattoos have several millimeters thickness of ink, it requires several treatments to work through the full thickness of the tattoo. So it’s not a “one and done” treatment. 6 to 12 treatments is normal.
Lasers are all different. Some will treat blue/black, some red/yellow/orange, some green. Very few lasers can treat the whole spectrum of colors, so make sure the laser you are considering has the capability to actually treat the colors within your tattoo. Additionally, not all lasers have the power to penetrate the skin so as to hit the deeper layers of ink, that is another question to consider.
Who is actually treating you? The person operating the laser may very well have no medical background at all. Zero. None. Yet they are using an instrument that can burn and/or scar your skin and it’s painful. Fact: Laser treatments hurt. There’s no sugar coating that. It’s painful. So, numbing the area is essential and a topical cream won’t cut it. Local anesthesia, in my opinion, is essential. Only an MD can appropriately numb the area. Lasering the tattoo without numbing is virtually intolerable. Questioning the pre-treatment numbing is highly recommended.
When you are considering laser tattoo removal, look very closely at who is operating the laser and where it is being done. Options range from Board Certified Plastic Surgeons and Dermatologists offices to someone in a store front who bought a laser off of E Bay. On-line coupons or treatment packages, while attractive, might not be the best way to go. Do your research.
In summary, removing a tattoo is possible. But it will require several treatments, it will be fairly expensive, and the cheapest, easiest, fastest claim is probably all hype. Look very carefully and choose wisely.
Lee Corbett, MD
Medical Director Corbett Cosmetic Aesthetic Surgery and Med Spa.