Tattoos are meant to last a lifetime. Artists create these works of art using a high-power electrical machine that moves a needle in an up-and-down motion to inject ink pigments into the skin. The process penetrates the outer layer, or the epidermis, and deposits ink into the second later of the skin called the dermis. Compared with the cells of the epidermis, the cells in the second layer are more stable, so the ink will stay in place – not budging or moving an inch – for a person’s lifetime. But even though tattoos are supposed to last forever, it is not totally irreversible. If you regret your tattoo enough to consider get your tattoos removed, you will understand that the process it is not as complicated as it sounds, thanks to innovations in aesthetic medicine.
Tattoo removal is often performed as an outpatient procedure. The three common techniques are laser surgery, surgical removal, and dermabrasion.
- Laser surgery
Most doctors agree that the best and most cost-effective method to remove tattoos is through the use of lasers. A Picosecond laser is one of the newest and most effective type of laser that is designed to emit energy in one strong pulse, which heats up the in the skin to a point where it can be dissolved. Picosecond lasers are capable of emitting powerful laser beams at a shorter pulse duration. This makes it safer, faster, and twice as effective, with less risk of causing complications like hyperpigmentation and scarring. It worth noting, however, laser removal is best suited for those with lighter skin.
Prior to a laser treatment, the doctor will inject local anesthesia to number the treated area. Next, the tattoo is subjected to a powerful pulse of energy to heat up and eventually shatter the pigments in the skin. If your tattoo has more than one color, the doctor may use different type of lasers with varying wavelengths for better results.
When using laser surgery, it might not be possible to completely remove the tattoo and there is a high chance that you will need repeated sessions in order to lighten the tattoo.
- Surgical removal
This process is also known as excision tattoo removal and it works by using a sharp instrument called scalpel to cut off the tattooed skin. Once done, the remaining skin is then stitched back together. It is considered as the most invasive method of removing a tattoo, but at the same time, it is the only way to completely remove a tattoo. It is also less costly compared to other options and since surgical removal is guaranteed to leave a scar, it is typically recommended for miniscule tattoos.
A sanding device is used in this process to remove layers of skin so that the ink will bleed out. As the least common option in tattoo removal, its efficacy differs for each person. People with sensitive skin or skin conditions like eczema are not advised to choose dermabrasion while those with darker skin are at a higher risk for changes in skin pigment.
Another option is to cover up the unwanted tattoo with a new one. It is both a quick and cost-effective method for camouflaging an existing tattoo.
Regardless of the tattoo’s size, it will take multiple sessions to entirely remove pigment from the skin. The average number is six to ten sessions, with between four to six weeks of interval in between. In some cases, tattoos may take years to completely fade away. While the doctor prefers to make your tattoo removal experience as fast as possible, your body need time to adjust and expel the fragmented ink pigments. This is part of the body’s biological processes and it cannot and should not be rushed.
When it comes to pain management, anesthetics are there to alleviate the unpleasant sensation and your pain tolerance is key; the doctor may use something as simple as topical creams or ice packs to numb your skin, or you may be given cold air machines and injectable local anesthesia if you are sensitive to pain. Bear in mind that only doctors are authorized to administer anesthetic injections.
Whether you choose laser surgery, surgical removal, dermabrasion, or a no-fuss cover-up, meticulous aftercare is essential. The doctor will provide specific aftercare instructions. In general, you need to apply antibacterial ointment to the treated area for several days after each session. If wound dressing is required, make sure to use fresh wound dressing every time the ointment is applied. You should keep the area dry and clean and no matter how tempting it is, do not pick at the scabs or blister because it might slow down the healing process, or worse, lead to an infection. If you have any concern, feel free to reach out to your doctor or clinic, as it is always better to address a potential problem at an early stage rather than wait until it has worsen.