Contents

Fast Facts:

About: Laser tattoo removal is a popular and modern method to remove a variety of tattoos. Whether it be for the sole purpose of removing an unwanted tattoo, or to fade a tattoo to facilitate a cover-up, laser technology has allowed for a safe and effective means to permanently remove tattoos.

Safety: When performed by an experienced and qualified board certified physician using the appropriate lasers FDA approved for tattoo removal, it is a safe treatment involving minimal and manageable side effects and downtime. 

Convenience: One laser session for tattoo removal typically takes no longer than 15 minutes, making it a convenient process, even for those with busy schedules. Tattoo removal comes with minimal aftercare, allowing patients to return to normal activities immediately after their treatments.

Cost: The average cost of laser tattoo removal ranges $400 – $2000 per session depending on the size and complexity of the drawing. 

Efficacy: If performed by a qualified medical professional using the appropriate lasers, laser tattoo removal is a safe and effective method to permanently eliminate unwanted tattoos.

body tattoo removal by laser

What is laser tattoo removal?

Before the discovery of lasers being effective in removing tattoos, the primary methods used to get rid of them included dermabrasion, cryosurgery, or surgical excisions, all of which are incredibly painful and associated with extensive downtime, scarring, and infection. Modern medical technology has allowed for a less invasive and more effective option to remove tattoos through the use of a variety of lasers targeting the pigment in the tattoo itself without damaging surrounding tissue and skin. There are several types of lasers that may be used to eliminate a variety of tattoos, based on their color, depth, and age.

Nearly 30% of the U.S. population have at least one tattoo, with approximately 20% of tattooed persons left with regrets. 

Deciding on whether or not to get a tattoo removed can be difficult, whether it be due to negative associations or symbols of your past, to correct an artistic change of heart, or for professional purposes. In some cases, laser tattoo removal is used to reduce the pigment to facilitate the process of a cover up tattoo or a different design.

Previous methods used to remove tattoos, such as burning, scraping, or cutting out tattoos involved invasive surgeries or inappropriate lasers leaving patients with painful downtime and scarring. 

Today, Q-switched and picosecond lasers are the most popular lasers used to remove tattoos, allowing patients to achieve their desired results with minimal discomfort and downtime, as well as a lower risk of scarring or damage to the skin.

How does laser tattoo removal work?

In order to understand how tattoo removal works, it is important to understand how tattoos work in the first place.

How getting a tattoo works?

Using a tattoo gun, ink is inserted into the dermis as your body’s immune system sends white blood cells to remove as many ink particles as possible. Larger ink particles that the body is unable to break down are then left behind, resulting in a visible tattoo. Your immune system is constantly working to remove the tattoo ink, as it is a forein body in the skin, meaning that tattoos naturally fade over time.

How laser tattoo removal works?

Given that your immune system is actively and consistently working to get rid of the tattoo ink particles, laser tattoo removal works to break down the larger pigments that the body is unable to eliminate on its own, into microparticles, using a high intensity laser beam. This allows phagocytosis, a phenomenon in which the microparticles are broken down and carried out by white blood cells, and then eradicated through the liver. 

Laser tattoo removal is centered on the process of selective photothermolysis, meaning that darker colors allow larger wavelengths to be absorbed by the laser. This also means that black or darker shaded inks respond better to laser tattoo removal than colored or lighter pigments. There are a variety of lasers that can be used to break down different pigments with continued sessions. However, it is important to consult with a qualified and experienced board certified physician to ensure that the appropriate laser is being used for your unique tattoo without causing damage to the surrounding tissue and to avoid unsatisfactory results.

What types of tattoos can be removed? Does it matter where my tattoo is located on my body?

Tattoos come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, all of which can be removed if the appropriate laser is selected. You must be examined by a skilled, qualified, and experienced medical professional who has the expertise and knowledge to select the proper laser in order to effectively remove any given tattoo.

At Skinly we specialize in the treatment of cosmetic microblading tattoos, as well as “road burn” and “scar tattoos”. Whether you have gradient, cosmetic, or decorative tattoos, they can be removed with the appropriate laser.

The area in which your tattoo is located can have an impact on the process of removal. Blood circulation is more intense in areas closer to your heart. For this reason, tattoos located further from your heart are typically denser, meaning that it may take more sessions to remove your tattoo. With less circulation, your body takes longer to break down the ink.

Am I a candidate for laser tattoo removal?

Laser tattoo removal can be used on any healthy adult who is looking to get rid of a recent or older tattoo. You should consult with your provider if you have any serious health issues, a history of abnormal scarring, are taking medications such as retinoids that may make your skin more sensitive to light and UV exposure, or if you have a skin condition around the area to be treated.

Lighter skin tones typically respond better to laser tattoo removal as darker complexions are more susceptible to hyperpigmentation due to the heightened levels of melanin. For this reason, patients with a darker complexion may require more sessions at a lower intensity to avoid such side effects.

How do I prepare for my tattoo removal?

There is minimal preparation needed for laser tattoo removal. You should discontinue retinoids and other medications that may make your skin sensitive to UV exposure or light to avoid hyperpigmentation 2 weeks before your treatment. Be sure to consult with your provider to confirm that you are a candidate for laser tattoo removal before scheduling your first session.

What will my tattoo removal treatment be like?

Before your treatment you will have a one on one consultation with Dr. Schwarzburg to evaluate your tattoo and choose the appropriate laser to effectively remove it, based on the colors of the ink and your skin tone.

On the day of your procedure, your tattoo will be sterilized and a topical numbing cream will be applied to reduce discomfort during the lasering process. 

Once the area is numb, you will be provided with protective glasses to avoid any damage to your eyes during the treatment. Dr. Schwarzburg will then use the selected laser to target the ink in the tattoo without affecting the surrounding areas. At this time you may experience some discomfort, similar to the feeling of a rubber band snapping against your skin. This process typically takes 5 – 15 minutes depending on the size of your tattoo. 

laser tattoo removal

How long does a tattoo removal procedure take?

Overall laser tattoo removal is a quick procedure. If a topical numbing cream is applied beforehand, it should settle within 25 – 30 minutes. Once the treatment area is numb, a single session typically takes 5 – 15 minutes depending on the size, colors, and depth of the tattoo. 

What are potential side effects of laser tattoo removal?

The most common side effects following laser tattoo removal include redness, swelling, tenderness, and scabbing. In some cases you may have some bruising and pigmentation irregularities, though most of these side effects subside within 2 – 3 days, it is crucial to follow post-procedural care instructions, specifically moisturizing the treated area. 

Rare but possible side effects include infection, blistering, or scarring, as well as long lasting discoloration, hyperpigmentation or paradoxical darkening. Though these side effects are treatable, you should contact your provider immediately if you notice any signs of infection or abnormalities.

Post laser tattoo removal treatment – is there downtime and what is the aftercare?

There is minimal downtime after your procedure, though there are some after care instructions that you should follow. Your skin may be tender, similar to the feeling of a sunburn. Dr. Schwarzburg will provide you with a moisturizer that should be applied 2 – 3 times a day. You should also apply sunscreen to prevent hyperpigmentation or sun damage to your skin, as the treated area will be sensitive to UV exposure. 

Your tattoo will turn white during the treatment, followed by some swelling and redness, which typically subsides within a few hours.Because the treated area may become itchy, be sure not to scratch and pick at it, as this may cause infection or trauma to the skin.

How much does laser tattoo removal cost?

The cost of laser tattoo removal is dependent on the size and measurements, complexity, color, and depth of the tattoo. These factors determine the type of laser needed, which can also play a role in the pricing of the removal. In addition, the geographical location, credentials, experience, and skill level of your provider may affect the price, as a board certified physician with years of experience located in a larger city will likely charge more than an esthetician or nurse. On average, you can expect to pay $400 – $800 per session, with an average of 3 – 12 sessions needed to fully remove a tattoo.

What are the different types of lasers used to remove tattoos?

There are several types of lasers that can be used to remove tattoos based on color, size, depth, and age of the tattoo itself.

The most common laser used for tattoo removal is the Q-switched/ND-YAG laser, that bursts high intensity light beams into the skin to break down tattoo ink pigments in the treated area. This laser is safe for nearly all skin types including darker and Asian skin and is most appropriate to use on darker tattoos. For colored tattoos, PicoSure and Pico Plus lasers are popular. 

Other lasers used to remove unwanted tattoos include Fraxel Repair, Fraxel Dual, and the Ruby laser. The best way to find out which laser is right for you is to consult with Dr. Schwarzburg who can examine your tattoo and your skin to find the perfect fit.

FAQ

Can tattoo removal be combined with other treatments?

Depending on how you respond to your treatment and how long it takes, you can get other work done in the treated area once it has healed. Many patients only get 1 or 2 sessions to fade their current tattoo for an easier cover up tattoo. Typically tattoo removal is not paired with other cosmetic procedures like Botox or CoolSculpting until it has fully healed and the tattoo is fully gone. Because this procedure always involves a laser, you should be sure to consult with your provider before getting any other treatments as it can make your skin more sensitive and more susceptible to potential side effects regarding other laser or skin tightening treatments and facials.

How many treatments does it take to remove a tattoo? How frequently can I return for more treatments?

The number of sessions needed to fully remove a tattoo depends on its size, age, depth, and color. In addition, different skin types may also have different responses to a variety of treatments. While it is difficult to predict the number of treatments that will be needed, Dr. Schwarzburg will be able to make an educated guess once he sees your tattoo and how you respond to the first session. On average a more superficial tattoo, or one that is older and faded that is black can be eliminated in just 2 – 3 treatments, whereas a professional tattoo can take over 12 rounds of lasering to fully come off. 

Typically you should wait at least 4 – 6 weeks before getting another session, though this may also vary depending on how quickly you heal from the previous round and your body’s immune system.

How tattoo removal works for different skin tones

Lasers can affect different skin tones in different ways, and can often leave darker skinned patients with hyperpigmentation. As a board certified physician specializing in lasers and minimally invasive cosmetic treatments, Dr. Schwarzburg will analyze your tattoo and your skin carefully before selecting the laser that will meet your individual needs and suit your skin and tattoo the best. However, regardless of the type of laser used, darker skin tones do typically require more treatment sessions in order to achieve optimal results, as a lower intensity setting will likely be needed to prevent any skin damage or side effects.

Does laser tattoo removal hurt?

Laser tattoo removal is typically well tolerated by patients with the application of a topical numbing cream before starting the procedure. As the laser is delivered you will feel something similar to what it would feel like if a rubber band was being snapped against your skin. Cooling units or a Zimmer Chiller (cold air blower) are often used to cool the area being treated to relieve discomfort. 

In some cases or in patients more sensitive to heat or pain in general, the feeling has also been compared to that of getting the tattoo in the first place.

When will I see results?

In order to fully remove a tattoo you may need anywhere from 2 to over 12 rounds of lasering, depending on the size, depth, age, and colors of the ink. Being that each session should be spaced out by 4 – 6 weeks, it may take anywhere from 2 months to 18 months to completely remove your tattoo. This may also be affected by your immune system, as it carries the broken down ink particles and filters them out of your body through your liver. If you have a strong immune system with no liver problems, the process may be quicker than it would be on a patient with liver conditions and a weaker immune system.

What will my laser tattoo removal before and after results look like?

Before you get your tattoo removed you will have an unwanted tattoo, whether it be an unwanted memory or generally no longer physically appealing. After your first laser session, your tattoo will be faded, though likely not fully gone. Once you have completed the appropriate number of laser sessions and have healed from the last, you will be left with zero traces of your tattoo. Be sure to apply sunscreen to the treated area and follow any after care instructions provided to you to ensure proper healing.

Can I lighten an existing tattoo or fade my tattoo for a cover up?

Absolutely. In fact, many tattoo artists encourage people to get larger or darker tattoos partially removed before a cover-up. This will reduce the chances of your old tattoo showing through your new ink. Sometimes only one or two sessions are needed to accomplish this. 

Will my tattoo be removed completely?

Thanks to advanced laser technology, most tattoos can be completely removed. While darker colored tattoos are easier to remove, as lasers are able to absorb a wider range of wavelengths, colored ink can be removed using properly selected lasers with the ability to target various colors of tattoo ink. However, due to the organic and inorganic ingredients in certain inks, there are a few tattoos that may not be fully removable, though they can be significantly faded.

How long does it last?

Laser tattoo removal is permanent, meaning that you can either live tattoo-free, or use the newly established empty space to replace your old tattoo with a new one.

Is it covered by insurance?

Tattoo removal is considered a cosmetic treatment and therefore is not covered by insurance.

Does laser tattoo removal work? How effective is laser tattoo removal?

Modern technology using lasers for tattoo removal is incredibly effective in removing unwanted tattoos safely with minimal recovery time or side effects. While older methods of removing tattoos were somewhat effective, patients were often left with scarring or damage to the skin in the treated area. Today, if properly treated by a board certified cosmetic physician qualified to use a variety of lasers, your tattoo can safely and effectively be removed without a trace left behind on your skin. While the color, depth, and age of your tattoo, as well as your skin tone do play a role in the process, most tattoos are successfully removed using this technology.

Is laser tattoo removal safe?

Yes, when performed by a skilled, trained, and experienced board certified physician, laser tattoo removal is safe. Risks, side effects, and downtime are minimal as long as the proper laser is selected for your individual case. Be sure to consult with your provider beforehand to confirm that you are a candidate for the treatment.

Does laser tattoo removal cause cancer?

Based on studies conducted by the Skin Cancer Foundation, laser tattoo removal does not cause skin cancer. However, because laser treatments make the skin photosensitive and more sensitive to sun and UV exposure, it is important to wear sunscreen on the treated area to decrease the risk of sun damage which could potentially lead to skin cancer.

Can laser tattoo removal cause nerve damage?

Because the laser only penetrates the skin to destroy the ink pigment, it does not penetrate deep enough to damage the nerves below the skin. However, it is important to go to an experienced and qualified physician to ensure that the laser is being used properly to avoid risking any damage to the skin.

Is there a risk of scarring?

Due to the advanced technology of the lasers used to remove tattoos, the risk for scarring is minimal. However, consulting with Dr. Schwarzburg beforehand to discuss your medical history and whether you have the tendency to form keloids is important to confirm that you are a candidate for a tattoo laser removal to avoid the risk of scarring. While immediately after your treatment you may experience redness, swelling, and even scabbing, proper aftercare will avoid the treated area to be left behind with a scar.

What are the pros and cons of laser tattoo removal?

Pros:

  • Minimally invasive
  • Minimal risks and side effects
  • Can remove a variety of tattoos

Cons:

  • Typically requires several sessions
  • May not fully remove all tattoos
  • Can make the skin sensitive to sun exposure

Takeaway

Laser tattoo removal is a safe and effective method to remove a variety of tattoos. To successfully remove a tattoo, 2 – 12 laser sessions may be required, which should be spaced out by 4 – 6 weeks. Risks and side effects are minimal though redness, dryness, and itchiness are common between sessions as the treated area is healing. Darker tattoo ink pigments are easier to remove, though advanced laser technology is able to remove even colored tattoos. 

How can I get started with my laser tattoo removal?

Skinly Aesthetics is a boutique medical spa located on the Upper East Side, owned and operated by Dr. Schwarzburg, a board certified cosmetic physician who specializes in minimally invasive procedures and laser technology. With over a decade of experience in the field, Dr. Schwarzburg has the skill and expertise to identify which laser is ideal for your individual needs, based on the complexities of your tattoo as well as your skin type and tone. 

To schedule your one on one consultation with Dr. Schwarzburg, please contact the clinic at (212) 774-4264, or email us at info@skinlyaesthetics.com.