The Science Behind Laser Tattoo Removal: How It Works

Cleancanvasmoreart in Guides

Laser tattoo removal is the answer for your unwanted ink...

Got a tattoo you no longer want? Laser tattoo removal is the answer. Let's break it down so that it's clear how a laser can remove your tattoo. There are no magic wands to get rid of that unwanted tattoo, and generally tattoo removal will usually take a minimum of 18 months.  Tattoos are meant to be permanent, so the fact that technology has given us a way to take our skin back is impressive. With laser, time, patience, and money you can remove your ink.

A simple guide to laser tattoo removal. Chart courtesy of Fallen Ink Laser Tattoo Removal.
A simple guide to laser tattoo removal. Chart courtesy of Fallen Ink Laser Tattoo Removal.

When you get lasered, your tattoo will be traced over with a Q-Switch Yag or Picosecond laser (the only two types of lasers capable of tattoo removal). This will create trauma at the site of the tattoo. The body's natural response to this trauma is to send white blood cells which are the warrior's of your body's immune system. They surround and attack the tattoo ink, breaking the ink into smaller particles that are carried away by white blood cells. This is called the Macrophage process.

Laser breaks the tattoo ink into small particles that your body can digest. Courtesy of Fallen Ink Laser Tattoo Removal.
Laser breaks the tattoo ink into small particles that your body can digest. Courtesy of Fallen Ink Laser Tattoo Removal.

Your heart, circulation, and immune systems are the key players in the laser tattoo removal process. Your bloodstream carries the particles of ink to your lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is the trashcan of the body, and this is where the ink particles are disposed of. Since the laser process revolves around your heart and blood flow, a tattoo that is closer to your heart will break up faster than one on a lower limb; the further away from your heart that a tattoo is on your body, the longer the process can take.

Tattoo removal results are individualized for everyone and with each tattoo. There are various reasons why tattoo removal is so individualized. Everyone's immune system works differently when it responds to the laser treatment.

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Other key factors that affect the removal process include the age of the tattoo. A brand new tattoo less than 6 months old and older tattoos that are 15 years old (or older) are typically more responsive to laser. The inks used in your tattoo can be more or less responsive to laser treatments. There are a wide variety of tattoo inks used in the tattoo industry. These inks all have different ingredients and respond differently to laser treatments.

There are literally hundreds of brands of tattoo ink available to tattoo artist. Each one responds differently to laser treatments.
There are literally hundreds of brands of tattoo ink available to tattoo artist. Each one responds differently to laser treatments.
Various ingredients that may be found in different color inks. Chart courtesy of cFile Online.
Various ingredients that may be found in different color inks. Chart courtesy of cFile Online.

Your health plays a big role on the results you get. If you have any medical issues that affect your immune system (Ex. diabetes or autoimmune illness), if you have a cold, you are feeling run down or smoke cigarettes you will see slower results with your removal process.

The Immune System. Image courtesy of Find Fun Facts.
The Immune System. Image courtesy of Find Fun Facts.
On the left a tattoo before it has been lasered. On the right immediately post laser treatment.
On the left a tattoo before it has been lasered. On the right immediately post laser treatment.
Pictured here is a a tattoo 10 hours after being lasered. This is a very normal response to a laser tattoo removal treatment.
Pictured here is a a tattoo 10 hours after being lasered. This is a very normal response to a laser tattoo removal treatment.

Immediately after your tattoo gets lasered, it should turn a whitish gray color. This is called the steaming of the skin, it means the tattoo has responded to the laser treatment. After your laser treatment there will be a healing period. Blistering can occur anywhere from 8 to 72 hours after the laser treatment. You should be provided with specific aftercare instructions. The average heal takes 3 to 10 days.

Once you get lasered, your body begins to break down the ink in your tattoo. Day to day, week to week this process goes on in your body. You do not wake up the day after your first laser treatment with your tattoo almost removed.

As the trauma heals from the laser treatment, the process that breaks down the ink slows down as well. Additional laser treatments are necessary to keep the body breaking down the ink and completely the removal process. On average it will take 8 to 12 laser treatments to remove a tattoo. Typically laser treatments are scheduled 6 to 10 weeks apart.

Here is a complete tattoo removal. This process took 8 laser treatments spaced over 18 months. Laser work by Clean Canvas More Art.
Here is a complete tattoo removal. This process took 8 laser treatments spaced over 18 months. Laser work by Clean Canvas More Art.

Laser tattoo removal works but it is a slow process that requires multiple laser treatments. Tattoo removal gives you the opportunity to get rid of a mark that was intended to be permanent. The only other option is to have a plastic surgeon cut your tattoo out of your skin for you.

Surgically removed tattoo. Image courtesy of Kaplan Cosmetic Surgery
Surgically removed tattoo. Image courtesy of Kaplan Cosmetic Surgery

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