Like a tattoo itself, laser tattoo removal can be a time-consuming process, which takes commitment and perseverance.
As well as your commitment, though, what other factors affect the length and effectiveness of laser tattoo removal?
1. Skin tone
Tattoos are designed to be permanent. The ink used in tattoos penetrates the second layer of skin called the ‘dermis’ which is protected from all outside elements by the first layer of skin, called the ‘Epidermis’.
For a tattoo to be removed, a laser is used to penetrate the dermis whilst leaving the epidermis without any damage. Skin tone can affect the length of time it takes for a laser to penetrate the dermis. Darker skin tones, on average, take a lot longer to successfully achieve a tattoo-free look. The reason for this is because a higher wavelength laser is required, which causes less damage, but is less effective at tattoo removal. A low frequency wavelength on dark skin can cause scarring or hyper/hypo pigmentation.
2. Ink quality/ink types
Tattoos are not just unique in their design – they are unique in their composition. All tattoo artists use a variety of compounds to create tattoo pigment. The trouble is tattoo artists can’t determine the exact make-up of each tattoo pigment. This composition does not only include colours – it also includes ink quality and ink type. Common inks include homemade concoctions, Henna, Kuro Sumi, Intenze, plus many more. Some compounds in ink, such as beryllium, are hard to laser remove.
3. Tattoo location
The success of a laser tattoo removal will often be determined by where it is located. As a general rule, the closer the tattoo is to your heart, the more effectively it can be removed. Areas of the body with a large blood and lymph node count, such as the face and neck, are the easiest to work on. The upper and lower back also have a high blood and lymph node count, as do arms and legs. The lower down the body a tattoo is, though, the harder it is to remove due to the lower blood and lymph node count. The Wall Street Journal cites location as a key factor in tattoo removal.
When a tattoo is made, there are several things that happen to your skin. The major issue is damage to the epidermis, which is a given – although quality tattoos heal well, lower quality one’s heal more slowly and can result in scarring (even if it is not visible). Scar tissue is harder to remove a tattoo from than regular skin.
5. Size of tattoo
The size of your tattoo is one of the biggest factors with regard to how many tattoo removal sessions you will require. For example, a 3cm x 3cm heart on your arm will take fewer sessions than a half or full sleeve tattoo.
6. Age of tattoo
As tattoos age they sink into the skin more. That’s why some tattoos appeal ‘faded’ as they get older. In general, an older tattoo will take less sessions to remove than a new tattoo.
7. Ink colours
Contrary to what you might think, darker inks are actually easier to remove than lighter inks, with black ink being the easiest to remove. Most traditional lasers such as the Nd:Yag struggle to remove green, pale blue, and yellow, but the PicoSure lasers can treat these colours effectively. For more information on the easiest and hardest ink colours to remove read this post. For more information on ink colours visit the chemistry page on About.com.
8. Depth of ink
Depth of ink refers to the level of penetration ink makes into the dermis (second layer of skin). Professional tattoo artist tend to use more ink and penetrate a little deeper than amateurs. The further the ink is in, the harder it is to remove.
9. Immune system
Your immune system is a vital component to good laser tattoo removal. In fact, your immune system does ALL of the work, after a laser session, of course. A healthy immune system will remove destroyed ink efficiently, using Macrophages. Macrophages eat and destroy alien bodies, including ink. For further reading, Harvard Medical School have a great piece about boosting your immune system.
Research from Italy has found that smoking can reduce the chances of successful tattoo removal by 70% over a ten session period! That number halves to 35% over 20 sessions. If you are serious about getting rid of your unwanted tattoos then smoking is a no-no!
11. Sun exposure
Laser tattoo removal cannot be performed on sun burnt skin. On tanned skin, the chances of effectiveness are slightly reduced. Also, the avoidance of sun exposure is highly recommended before, during and after treatments. If sun exposure can’t be avoided then cover the area loosely and don’t spend longer than 10 minutes in the sun at any one time.
Tattoos may result in increased collagen deposition in the skin, with potential for scar formation. If the original application of a tattoo left some scarring then removing the ink will be more difficult and likely require more treatments.
Cover ups involve tattooing a pigment similar to skin tone on top of an existing tattoo. Cover ups add to the amount of ink in the skin and therefore will require more tattoo removal treatments.
14. Type of laser
There are a few different types of laser used in the removal of tattoos. Traditional Q-Switched lasers are among the most common and can take around 10 – 20 sessions to achieve a good clearance. With the new PicoSure laser you can expect to see more complete tattoo removal up to 75% quicker than traditional lasers. Traditional lasers heat the ink in your tattoo breaking it into small pieces, but the patented PressureWave™ impact from the PicoSure laser shatters the ink into tiny particles which are more easily disposed of by your body.
If you are having a tattoo removed soon or if you’re considering it, it’s important to take into account each of the factors above (especially smoking). These will all contribute to the length of time it will take for a safe laser tattoo removal and ultimately, the cost. Prior to any removal, a consultation will be required and then a small patch test to see how your tattooed skin reacts to the laser.
For a free consultation call our clinic on 01282 421174 or fill in the call back request form.