If you’ve come to regret a years-old tattoo, there’s good news: Laser tattoo removal has come a long way. But there’s more to it than scheduling an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist with the right technology. In an effort to shed some light on the process, here are a few things you’ll want to consider first.
Be realistic with your expectations
While the technology is distinctly better than it was only several years ago, you should know that tattoo removal is not guaranteed. Some fade after several treatments and can leave behind a ghost image or permanent raised scarring. Your dermatologist can help set your expectations during your initial consultation.
In that vein, this will not be a one-and-done undertaking. Virtually every tattoo removal case requires multiple treatments. Unfortunately, your dermatologist won’t be able to say how many sessions you’ll need before starting. In fact, if you get a standard-sounding answer, be cautious. There are just too many variables, including the age of the tattoo, the size of it, and the type of ink that was used, to say with any certainty.
Perhaps the most significant of those factors is the location of your tattoo. That’s because fading generally occurs more slowly for tattoos further down the arms and legs because they’re farther away from the heart. Tattoos in areas with good blood flow, like the neck and chest, disappear quicker.
It’s not one size fits all
Several different kinds of lasers can be used for the removal of tattoos, with different laser wavelengths treating different colors. The PicoSure laser applicator is perhaps the most common. It operates on three wavelengths, depending on the colors that are being removed. In case you’re wondering, the most difficult colors to remove are orange and pink.
Downtime is essential
These treatments do carry the potential of side effects, which include blistering, swelling, redness, pinpoint bleeding, raising of the tattoo, and temporary darkening. While they are fairly common, they usually subside within a couple weeks.
That also underlines the importance of scheduling sufficient downtime between treatments. Getting another treatment too soon can increase the risk of side effects. In most cases, that means going eight to 12 weeks between sessions. So, conservatively speaking, a tattoo can take up to two years to remove.
For those with darker skin tones, be aware that there’s also a higher risk of hypopigmentation, meaning the laser may remove pigment from your skin along with pigment from your tattoo. For this reason, your dermatologist will likely test the laser on a small area before proceeding.