Whether it is an old boyfriend or teenage craze, you actually can remove the past … that is as long as it’s in the form of a tattoo. What seemed like a good idea at the time might be a permanent reminder of something worth forgetting. It is estimated that 10 million Americans have at least one tattoo and of those, 50% of them wish they did not have them and would get them removed. With recent advances in laser technology, patients now have an option to either remove the tattoo or lighten it with hopes of getting another.
There are several ways to remove tattoos such as dermabrasion, surgical excision, or cryosurgery. Unfortunately, the older technologies always leave a significant scar. Newer light based technologies, specifically lasers, now make it possible to remove or lighten your tattoo. The gold standard for tattoo removal is the Q-switched laser. The laser light delivers a bolus of light creating a photoacoustic affect to break up the ink particles. These particles are then absorbed by the body’s macrophages, tiny cells that scavenge the skin for unwanted materials. The laser selectively targets the pigment of the tattoo without damaging the surrounding skin. Different color tattoos actually take different wavelengths of light to be destroyed. With this in mind, the three q-switched lasers available on the market today are the ruby, alexandrite and the Nd:YAG.
Depending on the type of ink and whether the tattoo was done professionally or by an amateur will depend on the amount treatments it will take to lighten the tattoo. Black and other darker pigments of tattoos are more easily lightened or removed where as yellow are green are more difficult. Typically, for the removal of professional tattoos it can take between six to eighteen treatments to get a desired outcome. The most important aspect of getting your tattoo removed is having realistic expectations.
Laser tattoo removal can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour for treatment. A topical numbing cream is usually applied prior to the procedure to minimize discomfort. Immediately after the treatment, ointment and a non-stick bandage is applied to the tattoo. It is important to keep the tattoo dressed with ointment for about 1 week post procedure. Most patients experience redness, mild swelling and crusting or blistering at the site. Treatments are done 6-8 weeks apart in order to let the tissue heal properly and the ink particles to be absorbed.
Risks associated with tattoo removal include a change in pigmentation, either lightening (hypopigmentation) or darkening (hyperpigmentation) of the surrounding tissue, and scarring. These risks can be minimized by avoiding sun exposure during the length of your treatment times and not picking or rubbing the treatment area. There is a phenomenon referred to as paradoxical ink darkening, although rare, has been seen in some cases of tattoo removal where the tattoo will darken. These colors often contain iron and titanium dioxide that when heated to a certain temperature will oxidize and actually become darker. It is more commonly seen with lighter colored tattoos such as red, pink, white and skin tone colors. The cost of treatment depends on the size of the tattoo and can range from $150 to $1000 per treatment.
As with any cosmetic procedure it is critical to be an educated consumer and put your skin in the hands of those expertly trained in the field of laser science and cosmetic dermatology.
Book for Laser Tattoo Removal at:
USF Health Cosmetic and Laser Center on Davis Islands 813-259-8694