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5 Things You Should Know About Tattoo Removal

Not in love with your tattoo as you were once and thinking about removing it? Then this article is just for you! Dr. Holly Singletary, a certified dermatoloigst, talks about how tattoo ink has been removed historically, and focuses on the specifics of how the laser tattoo removal works today.

How does tattoo removal work?  

There are several techniques that have been used to remove tattoo ink from the skin.

Historically, mechanical removal such as with dermabrasion or chemical destruction, using trichloroacetic acid, or a cold spray, called cryosurgery was performed. Some would have the tattoo burned off or even undergo complete surgical removal of the entire tattoo. All of these are considered destructive processes.

As you can imagine, these methods create a wound therefore a higher risk for scar formation, incomplete removal of the tattoo and associated with more downtime. There have been significant advances in tattoo removal over the years offering new and improved methods using different lasers and light devices.  

The majority of tattoo removal is now performed using lasers, particularly the quality-switched, also known as Q-switched, ruby, Alexandrite and the Nd:YAG lasers. The laser treatment protocols are also becoming more advanced combining different lasers and doing multiple passes during the same treatment session. The most recent advancement is the ability to deliver the energy in very rapid pulses, for example in the nanosecond or picosecond range.  

Laser tattoo removal

Laser tattoo removal works by using a process called selective photothermolysis. This is a process using laser light to create heat to break apart a specific target. The target in tattoo removal is the ink placed in the skin. The different lasers are chosen based on their specific wavelength and what is needed based on the color of the ink in the tattoo. 

The ink is very small and sitting in the dermis of the skin, so if heated rapidly using a laser with a very small pulse duration, the ink is then broken up. 

It is highly recommended to see a physician or licensed professional, under the direct supervision of a physician, who specializes in tattoo removal.

The body will initiate a response that bring cells to the area to remove the particles. These are taken to the lymphatic system to be excreted from the body. It's a very effective way to selectively target a specific ink pigment and protect surrounding tissue.  

Can a tattoo be removed only by professionals?   

There are many people who offer tattoo removal. However, it is highly recommended to see a physician or licensed professional, under the direct supervision of a physician, who specializes in tattoo removal. This will provide the patient with the most efficacious and safe treatment plan.

It is possible that if you seek care from someone who does not have the experience and knowledge of the advancing technology, one could end up with an undesirable outcome. 

Are there any tattoo removal creams or gels?  

There are probably many topical creams or gels on the market that claim they are able to remove tattoos. Currently, there are no topical agents that have the ability to remove a tattoo.  

And what are the possible side effects?  

Immediate side effects of laser tattoo removal include redness and swelling in the area and occasionally this is followed by slight crusting. Strict post procedure care is recommended to minimize the formation of a scar. 

It is important for patients to understand multiple treatment sessions are often needed and depending on the nature of the tattoo, there could potentially be an incomplete removal of the tattoo pigment.   

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