Laser Therapy for Unwanted Tattoos

Laser therapy – also called laser surgery and laser rejuvenation – has become the preferred treatment for tattoo removal since it offers a low-risk option with minimal side effects.

The dermatologic surgeon removes the tattoo by using high-intensity laser beams to break up the pigment colors of the tattoo. Laser actually stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

The type of laser used generally depends upon the pigment colors. Different lasers or different settings of the same laser are needed for different colors. A Q-Switched laser is commonly used to remove tattoos. The laser selectively targets and removes the tattoo without damaging the surrounding tissue, which greatly decreases scarring. Most tattoos do require multiple treatments.

Tattoo Removal

Why choose laser therapy for tattoo removal

  • Considered safer than other treatment options
  • Offers improved therapeutic results
  • Has a reduced risk of infection
  • Less scarring in most cases
  • Is considered a “bloodless” surgery
  • Can be done on an outpatient basis

Possible risks

Side effects are generally minor, but may include: 

  • Skin discoloration
  • Infection
  • Lack of complete pigment removal
  • Some scarring
  • A raised or thickened scar may appear three to six months after tattoo is removed

What to expect after the procedure

An ice pack, antibacterial ointment and dressing may be applied to the area. The area needs to be kept clean with ongoing application of ointment, as directed by your doctor. A shower or bath the day after treatment is usually acceptable, but avoid scrubbing the treatment area. A patient can expect to wear a bandage or patch regularly for protection and quicker healing. If left uncovered, sunscreen should be used when going outside.

How to prepare for the procedure

Before the procedure, the doctor will most likely review the patient’s medical history and conduct a physical exam. This is the time for the patient and doctor to discuss expectations, potential risks and outcomes of the procedure.

Some doctors recommend that non-aspirin products (such as acetaminophen/Tylenol) are good to take for minor aches and pains prior to the procedure. Avoid aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (such as ibuprofen/Advil) prior to treatment since it can cause bruising to occur following treatment. Some doctors prescribe an anesthetic cream to be applied about two hours before the procedure, while other doctors may opt to inject a local anesthetic into the affected skin.