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.
Learn about other options for tattoo removal
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.
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
Side effects are generally minor, but may include:
Skin discolorationInfectionLack of complete pigment removalSome scarringA raised or thickened scar may appear three to six months after tattoo is removed
The cost for laser tattoo removal can range from several hundred dollars up to thousands of dollars, depending on several factors:
- The size of the tattoo
- Type of tattoo
- Location on the body
- Age of the tattoo
- Number of office visits required to remove the tattoo
It is difficult to predict how many treatments it will take to get the desired results. Certain pigments have proven to be easier to remove, with fluorescent colors being the most challenging. Because tattoo removal is considered an aesthetic or cosmetic procedure in nature, it generally is not covered by medical insurance.
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.
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.
Find a doctor for your tattoo removal
Visit “Find a dermatologic surgeon” and choose “Tattoo Removal” from the dropdown menu. In 2013, ASDS dermatologists performed nearly 96,000 laser/light/energy-based tattoo removal procedures, up from 63,000 in 2012. Because ASDS dermatologists are trained in a variety of the best and latest techniques, they are the most qualified to evaluate and select the best treatment choice based on the individual patient and the unique tattoo.