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Laser Tattoo Removal

Laser is an acronym for Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. A laser emits short high-energy bursts that pass through the epidermis and are absorbed by the tattoo ink causing it to disintegrate and be removed by the body. It is particularly effective with blue and black tattoos and less effective with yellow and green pigments.

Three common types are Q-switched Ruby, Q-switched Alexandrite, and Q-switched Nd:YAG. According to a 1999 report from The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery the average cost of laser tattoo removal was about $2,800 for doctors fees alone. This is usually not covered by insurance. Of the various techniques presented here, laser tattoo removal has the most scientific research supporting its efficacy.

It usually takes several sessions to have a tattoo removed. Each session usually lasts less than half an hour, and sessions are spaced around a month apart to allow the skin to heal, and the body's immune system to carry away to disintegrated ink. There is some pain involved, described as similar to a rubber band snapping against the skin. A topical anesthetic cream, cooling gel or injection of lidocain may be used for more pain-sensitive patients. Patients wear eye protections during the procedure.

There is often swelling and blistering during the first couple days after treatment, this is followed by a scab in a couple weeks with a gradual lightening of the tattoo for the next month. Antibiotic ointment, pain relievers as needed and sun avoidance are recommended.

Depending upon your skin color, there may be skin lightening (hypopigmentation) or skin darkening (hyperpigmentation). These changes may be temporary or permanent.

In general, laser tattoo removal is more effective on:

  • darker color ink (as opposed to lighter color ink) since darker colors absorb more of the laser's energy
  • newer tattoos (as opposed to older tattoo) since the ink is less likely to have migrated into deeper tissue
  • amateur applied tattoos (as opposed to professionally applied ones) since professionals tend to use more ink's that has been injected deeper in the skin
  • light-skinned individuals (as opposed to dark-skinned individuals) since there is less natural pigmentation to block the laser's impact


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