If you have an unwanted tattoo you can either remove it entirely or dramatically reduce its’ appearance using laser. We will guide you through what a tattoo is made of and how it can be removed using laser.
What is tattoo ‘ink’ made of?
Strictly speaking, modern tattoos do not contain ‘ink’, but contains pigment dissolved in a solvent to make it liquid. The pigment is commonly made of metal salts but can be made of plastics or vegetable dyes. By using different metal salts, various pigment colours can be achieved. Black pigment is made using iron oxide whereas green pigment is made using chromium oxide.
By law, tattoo ink manufacturers do not have to declare which ingredients are in the ink that they inject under the skin.
How can laser remove a tattoo?
Tattoo removal works by directing light energy, in the form of a laser, onto the skin to break down pigment. The pigment is then removed by the body via the lymphatic system.
We select the correct laser energy and wavelength of light to emit from the laser in order to break down pigment.
To remove black or dark tattoos we select the 1064 nm (nanometres) setting. This wavelength of light is highly attracted to black or dark ink. This is the most common setting as most tattoos are dark or black.
To remove brown, yellow, violet and orange we select the 532 nm wavelength setting on the laser.
Which are the easiest tattoos to remove?
I have been able to remove home-made tattoos in one treatment with Medlite laser. Home tattoos – made using basic ink and injected using a sterile needle is not very densely packed under the skin. It is easy to break down with the laser and so only one treatment may be needed.
In summary, easier to remove tattoos include:
- Home-made tattoos or tattoos made using non-professional ‘ink’
- Very old tattoos which have started to fade already
- Small, thin tattoos with one colour
Which tattoos are more difficult to remove?
- Professional tattoos – The ink that is used in professional tattoos is generally a better quality than home made tattoos. The tattooing needle delivers ink under the skin at the rate of between 50 and 3000 skin punctures per minute and every puncture places small amount of pigment in the dermis (a layer of the skin). To remove the tattoo using the laser, we need to break down every piece of pigment.
- Red, green and blue tattoos are difficult to remove using most standard lasers. The Medlite C6 laser, which I have used, has two settings: 532nm and 1064nm. The ideal setting for removing red, green and blue tattoos is outside of this laser’s settings and may need to be performed using a different laser.
- Large tattoos – The larger the tattoo the more difficult it is to remove as there is more pigment to be broken down
How many treatments will it take to remove my tattoo?
This is a very difficult question as lots of factors are taken into account including:
- Was the tattoo professional or home-made?
- Is there just one colour or many colours?
- What quality of ink was used?
- How large is the tattoo?
- Is there any blue, green or red in the tattoo?
As a general rule I advise patients that you will likely need between 8 and 12 treatments to reduce the appearance of the tattoo or remove it entirely. Home-made tattoos can be removed with 1 – 3 laser treatments.
Is tattoo removal with laser painful?
Patients tell me that it feels like an elastic band snapping in the skin. The discomfort can be reduced using a cooling device to numb the skin before using the laser.
Can I have tattoo removal with laser when pregnant or breastfeeding?
We do not recommend tattoo removal when pregnant or breastfeeding.