According to Inked, 45 million Americans have tattoos. That equates to 14% of the total population. Adults between the ages of 26 and 40 have a higher percentage, up to 40%. That's a lot of people with tattoos, which is why there's a lot of talk about tattoo removal. According to a 2015 Smithsonian article, “as a result, more people with tattoo regret are doing something about it; the tattoo removal industry has grown 440 percent in the last decade.”
How Are Tattoos Removed?
Tattoo removal is not a one-and-done procedure at a dermatologist. If complete erasure is desired, it is necessary to commit to multiple laser treatments, usually spaced out at four to six weeks intervals. During treatment, the patient may experience a variety of skin reactions ranging from redness to swelling or blisters to a temporary lifting of the tattoo.
Why is tattoo removal so difficult, and why is the skin so sensitive?
To answer this, it is necessary to first define what a tattoo is—
Ink deliberately inserted into the dermal (second) layer of the skin via ruptures in the epidermis (top layer of the skin) (the first layer of skin). Tattoo machines produce a wide range of punctures per minute, ranging from 50 to 3,000 distinct "pokes" per minute.
In order for a tattoo to fade, each of the tiny dots of ink that have been injected into the dermis must be broken up.
Today, there are numerous types of laser removal available. Lasers that deliver light in very short pulses are used in standard technology. This light is selectively absorbed by the ink in the tattoo. Because of the high energy, the tattoo ink fragments into smaller pigment particles, which are then removed by the body's immune system.
The PicoSure laser was introduced to the market about two years ago. According to the Smithsonian, it debuted "what is known as "picosecond technology," firing laser pulses at a trillionth of a second—a "picosecond." This broke down tattoo ink into even smaller pieces than was previously possible, allowing your body to process the tattoo more easily.”
Skin Care Concerns
There are potential skin concerns in play regardless of which laser a dermatologist uses—and it is critical to see an experienced, professional dermatologist for tattoo removal.
The first consideration is the possibility of pain during treatment. Although a topical numbing solution can help, many patients report that lidocaine injections (such as those given at the dentist) are far more effective.
Patients may experience symptoms such as blisters (especially if the ink is dense or dark), swelling, temporary darkening, or pinpoint bleeding immediately following treatment (especially if the treatment is aggressive). The majority of these are common, though some doctors believe that pinpoint bleeding and scabs can cause scarring. The reactions usually go away after a few weeks, but patients should see their doctor if they have any concerns.
The most common long-term side effect is a darkening or lightening of the skin (called hyper or hypo-pigmentation). Fortunately, this usually corrects itself within 6 to 12 months of the final treatment session.
A scar will form from time to time, with keloid scarring (overgrowth of scar tissue) posing a risk. However, if the right laser is used at the right level, there should be no scarring.
Other, more rare, issues include burns and infections, which is why you should find a dermatologist you can rely on. Both of these situations require immediate attention from a medical professional.
Because each tattoo is unique in terms of size, placement, and colour, the patient may have a variety of reactions when it is removed. What happens to the skin, from minor irritation to temporary pigmentation changes, is to be expected given that a tattoo, after all, is an invasion of ink past the protective top layer of skin, which then resides in the second layer for years.
Tired of Your Ink?
Fortunately, what has been done in the tattoo world can be undone with the assistance of a qualified dermatologist. Patients should expect their skin to react to the treatments and to require time to heal. In any case, they'll be relieved to say goodbye to their ill-conceived ink.
Published by Dr Niketa Sonavane