Laser Tattoo Removal

by Catherine Rein
(last updated April 22, 2009)

My sister got a tattoo of a butterfly on her ankle when she was a junior in college. After a few years she decided to have the tattoo removed. Apparently the laser removal took about three months of treatment and cost several times more than the original tattoo cost.

Some things to consider when looking into laser tattoo removal:

  • Laser Tattoo Removal Process. The laser directs light energy toward the ink in the skin. These laser light beams divide up the ink particles allowing the body to rid itself of them. This process involves several sessions depending on the depth of the ink level. The laser treatment does cause pain and blistering in some patients and there is the chance of scarring.
  • Treatment and Cost. After consultation with the doctor, the patient will likely be prescribed Tylenol for pain relief a few hours before the procedure. Some doctors also use a topical anesthetic ointment to further decrease the pain. Some tattoos require 15 to 20 laser treatments for complete removal at a cost of $200-$500 per session. The total fee may range from $1,000 to $10,000.
  • Other Removal Methods. Other methods include dermabrasion, camouflage and excision of the tattoo. These methods are generally not as effective as laser removal. Surgical excision works well for small tattoos on loose areas of the skin, such as on the buttocks, but always leaves a scar. Dermabrasion involves sanding the skin with a device like a rotating wire brush. This method will also likely leave some change in pigment (pale areas) or the tattoo will still be lightly visible. The results depend on how deeply into the skin layers the tattoo ink was injected. Deeper tattoos will not likely be good candidates for dermabrasion.

Patients with fair skin are the best candidates as are those with tattoos on the arms, chest, buttocks or legs. Tattoos in other locations, such as the hands or ankles are more difficult to remove because these locations have less fat. Individuals with dark skin are also more difficult to treat and the tattoo removal may not be as complete.

Newer tattoos are more difficult to remove than older tattoos. Over time the body absorbs some of the ink so older tattoos tend to be more faint in appearance. The color of the ink used in the tattoo also plays a factor into laser effectiveness. Turquoise tattoos are extremely challenging to remove because no laser effectively targets that color. Red, white and flesh colored tattoos are also a challenge, as they may turn black after laser treatment.

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