For men and women who are looking to get rid of an existing tattoo it can be quite confusing to pick the right tattoo removal method since there are a number of different options and techniques available, each which offer varying levels of success.
Generally, tattoo removal methods fall under the following categories:
- Laser Treatment
- Tattoo Removal Creams
- Chemical Peels
Laser Treatments for Tattoo Removal
*Disclaimer: Results may vary with each patient.
Laser treatment is the most common method of tattoo removal and is the method recommended by Dr. Michele Green. While getting a tattoo is relatively straight forward, the removal of the same tattoo is a much more complex process. Laser treatments offer the most effective means for removing an unwanted tattoo. Dr Green utilizes the Candela Alex-Trivantage® laser because it is equipped with multiple wavelengths and treats all colors of tattoos including red, blue, green and black tattoos. This laser also treats patients of all skin types including patients with dark skin.
Both your skin type and the colors which comprise the tattoo will determine the complexity of your tattoo removal. Black or darker ink tattoos are easier to treat, whereas pink or yellow tattoos are somewhat more challenging. Lighter skin is easier to treat than darker skin as well. Regardless of the size or color of the tattoo, laser treatment will always require a series of sessions in order to completely remove the tattoo. Generally, at least six sessions will be required and for more colorful and larger tattoos, more sessions might be needed.
To understand how laser tattoo removal works, firstly you need to understand how the ink of a tattoo stays in the skin. The ink particles in the skin are too large for the body’s white blood cells to process and extract from the skin. A laser can be used to ‘break’ up these ink particles into much smaller particles which the body can then remove. The laser works by firing a high intensity energy beam at the skin and this is what breaks up the ink into smaller particles. Unfortunately, a laser cannot complete the entire job in one session. Because different color pigmentations of ink react differently to laser treatment, some pigments are harder to remove than others.
Each laser treatment session will last around twenty to thirty minutes and a patient should wait six weeks between each session. Over the course of the treatment the tattoo will fade and in some cases will be removed completely.
Tattoo Removal Creams
Another method of tattoo removal that you may have read about are tattoo removal creams. Dr. Green does not recommend this method for a number of reasons. Firstly, tattoo removal creams can take a long time to have any effect, if they even work at all.
Tattoo removal creams might be tempting as a cheaper at-home solution to laser treatment, but the downside to this saving is that the cream may be completely ineffective. Worse, for some patients the chemicals contained within the cream such as Trichloroacetic Acid and Hydroquinone can be hazardous and may cause adverse effects such as hypopigmentation or scarring.
Chemical Peels for Tattoo Removal
Chemical peels can be effective for improving a number of different skin conditions, however the use of a peel for removing a tattoo is not recommended, since a peel will never completely remove a tattoo. A chemical peel does not penetrate deep enough into the skin to remove a tattoo. A very deep chemical peel has the potential for scarring and discoloration.
Cryosurgery / Cryotherapy for Tattoo Removal
Another common option is Cryosurgery. Cryosurgery (also known as Cryotherapy) is usually used to remove warts, but has also been used in tattoo removal. It is a method of freezing off cells and often combined with dermabrasion. It is sometimes advertised as a cheaper option, but does require several treatments also. And since the procedure can burn the skin, it is not a recommended form of treatment for tattoo removal.
Dermabrasion for Tattoo Removal
Prior to laser tattoo treatment, dermabrasion was the most common method to remove a tattoo. However, since then, dermabrasion has fallen out of favor and is rarely recommended as a first course of treatment. This is mainly because the technique is invasive, painful and in many cases causes scarring.
The way dermabrasion works is that the top layer of skin is basically removed from the body. The skin is scraped away, and the ink in the tattoo is removed along with it. Then as the skin is regrown the replacement skin is ink free. It is this healing and regrowth of the skin that can cause scarring in many individuals. In addition to this, the removal of the skin can be quite painful and therefore some form of pain relief will be required for the procedure.
Overall, when any of these other surgical and non-surgical tattoo removal methods are compared to laser treatment, the pain and the downtime, and the potential for side effects is greatly reduced when using laser tattoo removal.
If you have an old, outdated or unwanted tattoo, contact Board Certified Dermatologist Dr. Michele Green online today or call 212-535-3088 to learn more about whether laser tattoo removal may be right for you.