The newest laser technologies have changed tattoos in terms of their permanence and effects.
The allure of makeup has been discussed repeatedly and dissected amongst beauty pundits and the public. The responses are often diverse and divergent. Some credit its appeal to its ability to grant confidence, where users can craft an illusion to meet a certain beauty standard. Then there is the argument that it is a creative outlet and form of expression. Both camps agree that the appeal of this form of makeup is its temporary nature. Defined brows and a contoured jawline can be swiped away with a cotton pad soaked in micellar water and replaced by powdery arches and a flushed visage in seconds. Your follies do not stay with you—the same cannot be said for other modification forms.
It’s safe to say that injecting ink into the dermis layer of the skin has more enduring consequences than slathering on a layer of self-tanner or bronzer. The immutable nature of tattoos does serve a specific purpose. It allows us to commemorate important moments and individuals. It is not impossible to remove a tattoo, even if it can be a difficult task. A solution arrives in the form of laser tattoo removal, a procedure that involves the breaking down of ink particles with a high-intensity light beam.
“This allows the body’s immune system to remove the ink from the skin over time naturally,” explains Dr. Gerard Ee, founder and aesthetic doctor at The Clifford Clinic. “The entire process does comprise several steps and can take multiple sessions to achieve the optimum results.”
What does the entire procedure involve? Is everyone a good candidate for laser tattoo erasure? Below, we’ve tapped into the medical expertise to answer all your burning questions, from the potential ramifications of removing tattoos to aftercare requirements. Below, you’ll find all the information you need.
How does laser tattoo treatment work?
It is as it sounds—an intense beam of light directed at the tattooed area in short pulses to dissolve pigment residues over time. “It is a relatively simple procedure. The numbing lotion is applied before the laser treatment. After some time, it will be removed, and the laser procedure will commence,” elucidates Dr. Ee. “After the laser treatment, the technician applies an antibacterial ointment before covering the treated area with a simple dressing. That’s all.”
Can the laser remove all tattoos?
Most of the time, yes. But there are some things to keep in mind. “It depends on the age of the tattoo, the type of ink used, the size and location of the tattoo, and the patient’s skin type,” states Dr. Ee. “Such considerations will guide the type of laser used, the laser wavelength, and the energy setting at the start of the treatment session.”
According to Dr. Ee, tattoos in white or pastel colors are harder to remove. This is because the pigment in the tattoo absorbs the laser energy, and lighter colors do not absorb the power or darker colors. Handpoked tattoos, too, tend to have a more uneven distribution of ink due to their manual insertion—which can make it a tad tougher to remove.
When will the patient start to see results?
“Depending on the size and complexity of the tattoos, multiple laser sessions may be necessary to achieve complete removal,” Dr. Ee affirms. “Typically, sessions are scheduled 4-6 weeks apart to allow the body time to absorb the ink particles the laser has broken down. It is a gradual process, though patients can usually see some lightening after the first session.”
Who should not undergo laser tattoo removal?
Avoid the treatment if you are pregnant or nursing, have a skin condition prone to scarring like eczema, or have a skin condition.
What are the medical risks of getting tattoos removed?
Tattoo laser removal is generally considered safe and effective. However, some side effects are possible. Scarring is one of the possible side effects. “This is likely to occur if the patient has a history of keloids or hypertrophic scars. Do note that scarring is more likely to happen, too, if the patient picks at or scratches the treated area during the healing process,” warns Dr. Ee. The area can become infected if not cleaned correctly and well after the procedure.
“In some cases, laser tattoo removal can also cause hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation, which is an increase or decrease in the skin’s natural pigmentation,” says Dr. Ee. “This can result in a patchy, uneven appearance of the skin in the treated area.” Texture changes are also likely, resulting in rougher, bumpier skin, mainly if scarring occurs.
What are the best practices for aftercare?
Dr. Ee believes that the most important thing is to keep the area treated clean and dry. “Patients should avoid soaking the treated area in water until the skin heals. This usually takes about a week. The area should be gently washed with mild soap and water and patted dry with a clean towel,” he instructs. “Apply topical ointments or creams as directed—to minimize chances of skin infection.” Avoiding sun exposure or covering the area with clothing or a bandage is also best.
What other treatments are available to remove laser tattoos?
“There’s surgical excision and dermabrasion, but do note that the former works best for small tattoos and will leave a scar, as it involves the tattooed skin being surgically removed and the remaining skin being sutured together,” Dr. Ee answers. “The latter involves removing the top layers of skin using a high-speed rotary device. This method is more painful than laser tattoo removal and can cause scarring.” If anything, there is also the option of covering up the tattoo with new ink from a tattoo artist. As it goes, if you can’t remove something entirely, remake it to give it new meaning.
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