Tattoo removal by laser: the facts

Published: 04th January 2012
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So you've got a tattoo. And you've changed your mind. Maybe you just don't like the way it looks or it's a reference to a relationship you'd now rather forget.

Not so long ago, there was little you could do about those feelings. Tattoos are intended to be permanent skin markings and the only option was massively expensive plastic surgery.

But now the arrival of laser tattoo removal has brought new hope to thousands of people who regret their tattoo. Modern, precision laser equipment and techniques mean tattoos can be removed over a number of affordable, straightforward sessions at your local salon.

If you're thinking about laser tattoo removal, this article will hopefully answer some of the questions you may have about the process, and highlight some important points to consider.

First of all, it goes without saying that the company you choose to remove your tattoo should have a staff of fully-qualified practitioners, using regularly inspected equipment.

Any reputable company will also insist on a full consultation before the treatment begins. Time will be taken to check your medical history and assess your tattoo's suitability for removal. At this stage, you should also be given an estimate of the number of treatment sessions needed, and the likelihood of a full removal. The latter will be arrived at by a small test patch laser treatment.

So we've reached the big question: Will laser treatment be able to completely remove that tattoo of yours? The good news is that today's advanced equipment can remove most tattoos but as these works of body art can vary enormously in size, density and colours, some inevitably respond better to treatment than others.

The accuracy of modern lasers brings another benefit. If you just need part of a tattoo removing like a name, or a misspelt word, this can be done quite easily. So if you're mostly happy with your tattoo, this can be a very cost-effective way of proceeding.

The second question most people ask is, does it hurt? Well, lasers do cause some discomfort but usually no more than being snapped with a rubber band. Some patients equate the pain of laser tattoo removal with the pain of actually getting the tattoo done in the first place.

The amount of discomfort also varies according to the location of the tattoo. Some areas can prove more sensitive than others, especially around the ankles or shoulder.

The good news is that generally speaking, the amount of discomfort decreases as treatment progresses and the tattoo fades. Your practitioner should be able to supply our recommend local anaesthetic creams which can help.

Another big concern - with good reason - is safety. Tattoo removal lasers are very safe when used by a trained operator. You should naturally be supplied with appropriate safety equipment, such as goggles for your eyes, depending on where the treatment is being applied.

Modern tattoo removal lasers are "Q-switched". Basically, this means that the lasers deliver high power but in a very short pulse (billionths of a second). This means the treatment normally causes no lasting damage to the skin.

So what happens at a treatment? Normally, where the laser has been applied, there is an immediate whitening of the skin but this generally fades quickly. The area is likely to feel tender for a few hours once the initial hot pricking sensations have settled.

You might find that the tattoo initially looks no different but don't panic - you need to allow four to eight weeks after each treatment for the body to disperse the broken-down ink pigments. Very occasionally, there can be some superficial blistering on the treated area but this is quite normal.

Typical treatment sessions last between five and 40 minutes, depending on the size of the area being treated. The number of sessions needed will vary considerably, as already noted.

Prices naturally vary from practitioner to practitioner but are usually quite reasonable, from as little as 30/$50 per session. However, every tattoo is different, and your chosen practitioner should be happy to provide a detailed estimate during the consultation process.

So what are you waiting for? If you want that tattoo gone, laser removal treatment might just be the best thing you ever did!

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