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The Complete Guide to Tattoo Removal Chapter 2

Chapter 2: How Tattoo Removal Works

Laser tattoo removal is a science. Biology, chemistry, and physics are all brought together in an effort to remove the ink that was once permanent underneath the skin. If you’ve got hours to read about the process, it’s actually pretty fascinating.

But since you might not have hours, we’re going to skip the scenic route and give you the basics. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Tattoo inks are made up of heavy metals whose molecules are too big for the body to naturally break down (or else a tattoo would disappear just a few weeks after getting it).

2. Laser tattoo removal blasts the ink particles with really fast energy pulses that heat the ink without damaging the surrounding skin. These pulses of heat break up the ink into molecules small enough for the body to break down and eliminate naturally.

3. Your body’s immune system, specifically the lymphatic system, will spend the next couple of weeks removing the broken down ink molecule by molecule, causing the tattoo to fade over time.

4. In a full tattoo removal, this process will be repeated several times. Because the body takes time to eliminate the broken-down ink, you will have anywhere between 3-15 short laser removal sessions (depending on the type of laser being used) with healing periods in between. We’ll talk more about that in the next chapter.

Image by Smarter Every Day

If you really want to dig into the science of tattoo removal, and see it in slow motion (super cool!) check out this impressive video breakdown by Smarter Every Day on YouTube.


Types of Lasers

There are several types of lasers usable for tattoo removal, and as laser removal technology has progressed, the lasers available have become more effective and more comfortable for their users.

The main thing to understand about these lasers is that the quality of a laser is based on the speed of its pulse. Faster pulse = better laser.

This is especially important because tattoo removal lasers have recently advanced from nanosecond pulse speeds to picoseconds pulse speeds (100 times faster). This new speed means that with a picosecond laser:

  • *Each removal session is more effective
  • *Fewer removal sessions are needed
  • *The laser can break down more ink particles with less time under the laser
  • *A wider range of ink colors can be easily removed, including oranges and reds (the most difficult ones to remove)
  • *The procedure is more comfortable and convenient
  • *There is a dramatically less chance of scar tissue (in fact, the Picosure laser has a 1% chance of scarring when used properly)

The most advanced tattoo removal clinics, like here at Pasadena Aesthetic Laser Center, use the PicoSure Laser by Cynosure, which is the most technologically advanced picosecond device available for laser tattoo removal.

About 70% of clients see incredible results after only 3 sessions with the Picosure laser. Check out this side by side comparison using picosecond technology on the left and nanosecond technology on the right.

before and after image

The Different Variables of Tattoo Removal

Each tattoo is unique. And each person is different. But there are some commonalities with tattoo removal. Here are the three main factors that will determine the success and speed of your tattoo removal:

* The laser you choose to use: nanosecond or picosecond
* The tattoo itself: ink type, age, and the application process
* The immune system of the person having the tattoo removed

Which type of laser you use (nanosecond vs picosecond) will affect how much the ink is broken up in each session. Advanced picosecond technology will blast apart the ink under your skin far more effectively than a nanosecond laser. Nanosecond lasers can still be effective, but they can take, on average, 5-10 more sessions than a picosecond laser to remove a tattoo. That means it can take months longer to remove the same tattoo, and all the while the customer is paying for each additional session required.

As for the tattoo itself, the color, ink, and depth of the ink all make a difference. Dark inks like black and blue are far easier to remove than bright colors like yellow and red because they absorb the energy of the laser much better. Brighter colors tend the reflect some of the energy and not break up as much.

And lastly, the process of placing ink under the skin is an art in itself. Professional tattoo artist know just how to place the ink precisely between the dermis and epidermis layers of skin. If your tattoo was placed too deep in the skin, it can take more time to remove your tattoo. All of these factors will play a role in how easily it is for the ink to break up under the skin.

Once the ink is all broken up, your immune system does the rest of the work, eliminating the ink particles from your body. Because of this how strong of an immune system you have will factor into how quickly the ink actually fades. Eating healthy, staying hydrated, being active, and avoiding excessive smoking and alcohol will all help your body flush out the broken up ink molecules quickly and effectively.

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Pasadena Aesthetic Laser Center (at Skin Deep Laser MedSpa) 425 South Fair Oaks Ave. Pasadena, CA 91105
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