Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, David Beckham – it seems some of the most beautiful people in the world share a penchant for tattoos.
The tattoo business is bourgeoning, with tattoos having become nothing short of a staple among Generation Y. Britons spend thousands every year getting inked with designs that pay homage to their favourite football team, star sign, celebrity and family members. Tattoos have long been considered a way to make a personal statement. For many, having one is simply a fashion accessory.
But despite the high number of people getting tattoos, the number of people wanting to remove them is also on the rise. Whether you want to change your tattoo or erase it completely, laser removal is a viable option to get the job done.
Of course, although it might sounds as easy as A,B,C there are plenty of factors to consider before taking the plunge. You’ll probably have all sorts of burning questions to ask about the tattoo removal process such as, ‘does laser tattoo removal hurt?’, 'does laser tattoo removal really work?' and ‘how much does laser hair removal cost?’ Our tattoo removal guide will serve to answer all of the commonly asked questions in detail and provide you with every ounce of information you need to decide whether or not tattoo removal is for you.
Is laser tattoo removal for me?
If you regret getting a tattoo, you’re not alone.
In an article that appeared in The Independent, Barry Crake, chairman of the Life Trust charity, explained that many Britons regret their decision to go under the needle. "There are approximately 20 million people with tattoos in this country," he said, "and I'd suggest at least 15 million regret having them.”
In fact, Crake isn’t far off.
According to findings at the 2012 British Association of Dermatologists, almost a third of people with tattoos now regret them, with the Harris Interactive Poll in 2012 revealing 14% of respondents wanted to rethink their ink.
There are many reasons people opt to remove tattoos.
The most prominent reason is simple regret - what seemed like a good idea at the time may no longer fit into your current lifestyle. Many people have regrets about the size, shape, colour, location or content of their tattoo, while others regret getting one altogether. Secondly, many people choose to reverse their ink due to what’s become known as the “tattoo taboo”. Many institutions employ a “no visible tattoo” policy, and as a result, having one can be detrimental to your livelihood and make finding employment or switching jobs difficult. Another common reason for seeking laser removal is an allergic reaction or skin condition that has developed around the tattoo, causing it to become unsightly and painful.
Here, we debunk the myths and take a look at the common questions and concerns surrounding tattoo laser removal.
Tattoo Removal FAQs
1. How does laser tattoo removal work?
There are other methods of tattoo removal such as dermabrasion and cryosurgery, but laser removal is widely regarded as being the most effective method to remove tattoos. A laser injects the skin with intense light, which penetrates the skin to break up the ink particles and leads to tattoo fading. The body’s immune system will then remove these pigments over time. The laser energy is harmless, and only targets the pigmented skin, leaving the un-inked surrounding skin unharmed. Similar to laser treatment, IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) uses bursts of light as opposed to the concentrated light of a laser to achieve the same effect.
Multiple sessions are needed to break down the tattoo, the number of which depends on the size and scope of the affected area. As the body needs to remove the fragmented pigment (using scavenger cells), treatments are normally scheduled at least three weeks apart.
Tattoo removal is carried out using one of three Q-switched lasers, the Ruby, Nd:YAG and alexandrite lasers. Q-switching refers to the process of producing short laser pulses very quickly (some as fast as a nanosecond). This type of laser has developed over the past few decades to produce a high-quality removal that leaves behind little scarring. The Q-switched ruby laser is the most effective when removing black and dark blue inks, while the Nd:YAG produces both green and red light, making it effective in treating dark tattoo pigment as well as colours such as red, yellow and orange found in newer tattoos. Alexandrite lasers are successful in treating dark pigments, brightly-colour pigments as well as green, which can be a problematic colour and is often the only hue left behind after a treatment. Depending on your tattoo, your technician will assess which is the most fitting to use for the best results.
2. Does laser tattoo removal hurt?
Depending on the size of the job, laser tattoo removal can be a painful process.
Tattoos by definition are designed to be permanent, so removing them isn’t always straightforward. Some patients have described the pain as a burning or tingling sensation akin to being splashed with grease that spits out of a frying pan. This is caused by the heat generated by the laser. There are certain factors that can increase or decrease the pain associated with laser removal, such as the colour of the ink or age of the tattoo.
Taking over the counter products such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can help alleviate laser tattoo removal pain, although the product should not contain aspirin as it can cause severe bruising afterwards. Your laser removal technician may administer a local anaesthetic before beginning the procedure to help with the pain. Depending on the size and scope of the tattoo, multiple treatments can potentially result in blistering. You should keep your tattoo treated with antibacterial ointment and covered with a bandage after a treatment to reduce this risk.
3. Is laser tattoo removal safe? Are there any side effects or risks of tattoo removal scars?
New technology and lasers are reducing the side effects of tattoo removal. That said, the risks haven’t been eliminated completely.
The biggest danger is a risk of infection and tattoo removal scars. This risk can be reduced by keeping the area dry, clean and covered. There is also a risk for changes in pigment to the skin, making it appear noticeably lighter or darker than the surrounding areas. Your laser removal technician should go over your medical history before beginning the procedure, as there can be increased risks if you have certain auto immune diseases, acne, diabetes or other skin conditions.
The best way to reduce the risk of your removal is by doing your due diligence before picking a clinic, and having the procedure done by a trained, experienced specialist.
4. Does laser tattoo removal really work?
Laser removal is an effective way to remove tattoos, although some will react to the treatment better than others.
Black and dark blue inks respond best to lasers as they absorb all the wavelengths, compared to other colours that absorb only selected light from the laser. Factors such as how long you’ve had the tattoo can also make a difference in the healing process. The tattoo application can have an impact too; if the tattoo was applied correctly, an even amount of ink will be distributed in the same level of skin, making it easier to remove evenly. If not, the removal can appear blotchy and uneven, taking the ink out the same way it went in. The FDA classifies tattoo inks as ‘colour additives’, listing over 100 that are available for use. As a removal technician is unlikely to be able to discern which of these inks were used, this can also have an impact on the level of removal.
5. How much does laser tattoo removal cost?
Just as pricing a tattoo is a bespoke process, so is quoting the price for removal.
Some tattoo removal technicians charge by inch, while others charge by session. Many clinics offer a starting price of around £50 per session, but can range up to £200 per session depending on the tattoo! Others can charge around £25 per inch as a starting rate. The removal process will be different depending on the tattoo itself – some may require several shorter sessions, while others may need fewer longer sessions.
Another important thing to remember when it comes to paying for your tattoo removal is that you’re unlikely to get any help doing so. Tattoo removal is no longer covered by the NHS, meaning you’ll have to go through a private practitioner to have to have process done, which can be pricey. Many insurance carriers will not cover the removal, as it is considered an elective cosmetic procedure. Speak to your technician to see if there are any promotions for multiple sessions or payment plans available to help alleviate the cost.
Removing a tattoo for any reason can be a big decision. Do your due diligence and research to discern which form of removal is right for you.