It may be surprising to hear that a large number of people who go on to get a ‘tattoo of their dreams’ end up wanting it removed at some point in their lives. Tattoos are considered to be rather ‘cool’, though some people get one as a way to remember someone they loved or someone they lost.
People use tattoos to remind them of something that inspires them or something that reminds them of a better time in their lives.
Tattoo removal is unfortunately not a straightforward process, an in this article we shall briefly discuss how tattoo removal is performed and what, if any, are the issues faced when undergoing the procedure.
Removal of tattoos
When tattoos are performed, tattoo ink is embedded into the skin. In order to remove this, the ink needs to be broken down and absorbed. This is often performed using a laser that is designed to breakdown the different colours used in creating the tattoo by emitting sufficient energy. Laser tattoo removal is the procedure of choice when it comes to removing tattoos.
How Tattoo Removal Lasers work
When tattoos are created, the ink is embedded into skin in the form of tiny particles in the skin cells. As the particles are fairly large, they remain within the skin, and new skin cells that grow during skin healing are unable to cover this entire pigment.
As a result, the pigment stays for years to come, though it may fade ever so slightly with time. Lasers are concentrated light beams that when directed onto the tattoos break them down into smaller particles. Natural skin growth and healing then result in the tattoos fading away over a period of time.
When the ink from a tattoo dries up, over time it becomes rather hard. This hard pigment needs to be shattered, and the best way to do that is to use a laser. The laser directed onto the tattoo heats up the ink of the tattoo, which goes on to get converted into a tiny shock wave that breaks up the hard surface of the tattoo ink into tiny pieces.
However, for the procedure to be successful, the laser should be strong enough to reach the tattoo pigment, and should be absorbed sufficiently enough to break down. The neighbouring tissues should not be damaged by the laser.
The video below will give you an idea as to what the laser procedure involves.
Does it work all the time?
If you take a look at the literature online, experts state that laser tattoo removal may not necessarily work for all colours. The black (or shades of black) tattoos are the easiest to remove, and the yellow and pale green tattoos are a lot harder.
How many sessions are needed?
Laser tattoo removal may require a number of sessions conducted over a few weeks. They are evenly spread apart so as to not cause side effects such as skin scarring, burns or alteration in the colour of the skin or even the tattoo.
It is to be remembered that tattoo removal process is a gradual process, and not one which occurs overnight.
Over the weeks of treatment, the tattoo gradually fades away, ultimately disappearing. This can take months to take place completely, and depends on a number of different factors such as location of the tattoo, the type of skin and the amount of tattoo ink that has been used.
There exists a scoring system that practitioners who remove tattoos adopt before proceeding to tattoo removal.
This is called the Kirby -Desai scoring system, and includes the parameters mentioned at the end of the paragraph above.
Below is a video that demonstrates how tattoos are removed in brief –
Some practices have two different kinds of laser removal procedures – the passive removal procedure and the active Q-Switched Laser procedure. The disadvantage of the passive removal method is that while it might be cheaper, it is not necessarily offered by experts and only removes the tattoo partially.
On the other hand, the active Q-switched laser is a very effective way to remove tattoos, and is the preferred technique when it comes to laser tattoo removal. Q-switched lasers produce short pulses of high energy light that is absorbed by the tattoo ink but not by the surrounding normal skin. The effects can be rather satisfying, though the entire process can take a while, as has been previously mentioned. The procedure may be uncomfortable, and pain relief may be offered to the patient if they would like to have some.
Side effects of Tattoo Removal
We have already mentioned that laser treatment may cause scarring depending on the site and type of tattoo. Patients may also experience skin blistering which can take a few weeks to heal. In the event of this occurring, further laser treatments may need to be put on hold to allow the skin to heal.
Another worrying risk of treatment is the loss of the skin’s natural colour, called skin de-pigmentation. Lasers can be used to remove dark pigmented tattoo using light of a particular frequency – this laser can also damage the normal skin melanin pigment, resulting in a rather unsightly appearance.
Newer techniques are being studied, and below is a video that explains some recent advancements in tattoo removal.
Other tattoo removal methods
While other methods of tattoo removal are not commonly adopted, it is worthwhile bearing these in mind before seeking tattoo removal treatment.
One such way is to use certain types of chemical peels. These chemicals bind to the ink, literally ‘burning’ it away. They are not terribly effective, and with the advent of laser tattoo removal, this procedure is rarely recommended these days. Patients are more prone to develop skin scarring, which can be rather distressing, especially if the tattoo is on an exposed area of the body.
Tattoo removal is a frequently sought after treatment by a large number of people who have had tattoos. Laser treatment is the gold standard of treatment, and results are satisfactory, especially with darker colours such as black and dark blue.
Tattoo Removal Recommended Reading
- Tattoo Removal at WebMD
- American Society of dermatological surgery
- ‘Laser Tattoo Removal’ Bernstein
- Surgical tattoo removal
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