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What Happens During a Laser Tattoo Removal Session?

If that tattoo you once loved has fallen from grace in your mind, don’t worry – you don’t have to just live with it. At Zormeier Cosmetic Surgery & Longevity Center in Indiana (Noblesville and Shelbyville), Illinois (Danville), and California (Healdsburg and Ukiah), we understand that what was once a good idea may no longer be so. We offer laser tattoo removal to give patients a fresh start.

Explaining a Laser Tattoo Removal Session

Each session is typically quick, depending on the size of your tattoo, so you can get on with your day. Some sessions require as little as five minutes. During this time, we move a laser across the tattoo in a very methodical manner. This laser differs from others that are used cosmetically in that it emits pulses of light energy. Others often give a constant beam of light.

Laser treatment works on the premise of absorption; tattoo ink particles attract each energy pulse as it penetrates the skin. Those particles then heat and break into tiny, fragmented pieces. Every subsequent treatment continues to attack the ink until it’s completely broken down.

What to Expect

Thanks to the advanced technology employed by today’s lasers, settings can be precisely matched to ink color for faster and more effective removal. They are so fast, in fact, that they work in picoseconds, which measure as just one-trillionth of a second.

During your laser session, you and our staff will wear protective eyewear. We may also apply a topical numbing agent to the treatment area so you remain as comfortable as possible. After that, we set the laser according to your ink color, meaning we ensure it targets specific pigments. The removal process is then as follows:

  • Ink particles get heated and shatter into smaller pieces
  • The laser’s speed keeps some ink particles cool
  • The opposition created by hot and cold helps separate the particles
  • Cells transport the smallest particles to the liver
  • The liver helps expel ink out of the body


How Does It Work?

As you can see, the laser works by essentially dismantling ink particles. They continue to get smaller and smaller until they are surrounded by the body’s “housekeepers,” or macrophages. These highly specialized cells help detect and destroy bacteria to flush them from the body. You might think of this process as breaking down rocks first into pebbles and then into sand that is small enough for the macrophages to sweep away.

Because this treatment works in synergy with the body’s natural processes, it takes time to completely eliminate the tattoo. It is for this reason that you’ll need multiple sessions. The exact rate of removal – and the number of sessions we recommend for you – will depend on:

  • Your skin type
  • Tattoo layering
  • Ink colors
  • Specific location (foot, ankle, etc.)
  • Amount of ink used


After Treatment

Once finished with the laser, we will apply a soothing gel to help cool and protect your skin. We’ll also provide aftercare instructions to help you heal between sessions. The length of time between your appointments will depend on the factors listed above and will be outlined in your treatment plan.

You may note some skin discoloration throughout the healing process, which is completely normal. It’s also temporary, and your skin will return to its normal tone as top dermis layers peel away. This peeling helps clear, tattoo-free skin emerge as part of the process known as cellular renewal. All of your body cells continually undergo this process; laser simply speeds it along so we can eliminate your tattoo.

An Inside Look at Tattoos

Tattoo inks are usually made from heavy metal compounds, such as copper, lead, and even mercury. These compounds provide the permanent effect tattoos have on skin. As soon as a needle deposits the necessary ink, your immune system responds by sending white blood cells to the tattoo spot. Tiny ink particles are then consumed by cells and carried to the liver for processing and excretion.

This reaction is part of the body’s attempt to clean away the ink. But not all of the white blood cells that rush to the skin make it to the liver. Instead, they surround ink but remain in the dermis. This is how tattoos remain visible long after they’ve been applied.

The Color Spectrum

While some people prefer traditional black ink for their tattoos, others want a variety of colors. This is an important consideration in tattoo removal, which works on the premise that pigment will absorb the laser light. For this reason, we ensure the correct wavelength is used for every part of your tattoo.

On a red tattoo, for example, we use green laser light. This is because red garners its color by absorbing green light wavelengths. All objects work in this same way: they absorb and reflect light at different speeds to produce visible colors.

Help the Healing Process

To assist with your recovery, we recommend boosting your immune system with nutritious foods and exercise. Citrus fruits, yogurt, almonds, and broccoli are just some of the foods you should reach for. Berries and tea also pack antioxidant punches that will help your body prepare for treatment.

Why is this important in laser tattoo removal? Macrophages serve as the first cells in the immune system line-up. They are sent to wounds and sites of infection, so supporting them before treatment begins can ensure they’re released to full effect.

Clean with Care

It’s important you properly clean the treatment area to prevent infection. The best way to do this is to:

  • Wash gently with tepid water and soap
  • Pat dry
  • Avoid rubbing so you don’t irritate skin
  • Apply antibiotic ointment
  • Cover with a clean bandage


Apply Topicals

About three days after treatment, you will be able to apply different ointments to assist with topical healing. If your treatment area is itching, hydrocortisone cream can help. Just remember to not scratch, as this can prolong healing and even cause scars. Vitamin E can help skin tissues recover more quickly, and wearing sunscreen will protect you from damaging UV rays.

Manage Stress

It’s impossible to tell patients to avoid stress because it is a well-known component of hectic lifestyles. We therefore recommend that you manage stress to maintain healthy immunity levels. Stress opens the door for inflammation, a condition that can slow healing and leave you susceptible to chronic conditions.

Stress also reduces the body’s white blood cell count. These cells stave off infection; when they’re low, you’re at greater risk for viruses that can interfere with your recovery and subsequent laser treatments.

Quit Smoking

We won’t lecture you on the perils of smoking, but we will tell you this: quitting can increase your chances for total tattoo removal by 70 percent. Cigarettes constrict blood vessels and, in turn, limit blood flow. After treatment, you need strong circulation to deliver nutrients to skin cells. If you do smoke, at least try to cut back to improve the efficacy of your laser treatment.

Steps to Avoid During Recovery

In describing what you should do to assist the healing process, we felt it necessary to also detail what you shouldn’t do. We’ll start by telling you to avoid a hot tub, swimming pool, or bathtub. While showering several hours after laser treatment is fine, soaking can cause an infection. You should also skip high-pressure water spray directly on the treated area.

Another common cause of infection is shaving. You probably already know that razors can readily nick and cut the skin. For this reason, we recommend you not shave or otherwise remove hair from the treatment area. If you follow this protocol, you’ll promote skin healing.

Forego the Tanning Products

Tanning creams, sprays, and lotions contain high levels of chemicals. Applying these while undergoing laser treatment can cause hyperpigmentation or blisters. It’s best to keep your skin its normal color, which means waiting on sunbathing and tanning beds as well. UV rays can increase skin sensitivity and delay your recovery.

Don’t Take Antibiotics

Antibiotics can adversely affect your body’s immune responses. They also cause some people to have skin sensitivities they wouldn’t otherwise have, increasing your risk for burns, rashes, and unwanted reactions. It’s best to avoid antibiotics during your laser treatment, but if you can’t, we suggest you delay your tattoo removal.

Don’t Rush Appointments

We understand the decision to remove a tattoo comes with a sense of urgency. You probably want it gone immediately. But it’s important to keep in mind this is a gradual process. Additionally, to allow the body to work as it needs, we must schedule your laser sessions with time in between. Trying to rush this process could mean more sessions for you and/or adverse side effects.

Answers to Your Questions

It’s normal to have questions before you begin a new therapy, and laser tattoo removal shouldn’t be any different. Commonly, patients ask if this treatment hurts. Everyone has a different definition of pain, so we answer like this: removing a tattoo will feel similar to having it applied. Most people tolerate it very well, especially if they follow our instructions for aftercare.

The Truth About Scarring

Laser very rarely causes any scarring, especially if you wait the recommended time between treatment and avoid sun exposure. If you had a scar in the treatment site before starting laser, that will likely remain. It’s true the laser breaks down pigment, but it does not treat scar tissue. This therapy, however, will not cause or amplify scars.


We Can Revise Your Tattoo

If you don’t want your tattoo completely removed, but instead want it revised, we can work with you to yield the desired results. Some patients don’t like the way their tattoos turned out, feel they extend too far over a portion of the skin, or want a name or other component removed. By clearly stating your goals, we can help provide the look you desire.


Every Patient Is Different

Each patient is unique, which makes it hard to give a specific number of treatments you will need. Most professionally-rendered tattoos require five to ten laser sessions. Those that are homemade or provided by a non-professional usually require less. As explained earlier, the number of sessions needed depends on several factors, including the age of the tattoo and the quality of ink used.

The Choice to Remove

You don’t have to live with that tattoo you once thought was a good idea. Laser removal is the only viable option, but it’s safe and effective. Additionally, as long as you follow aftercare recommendations and allow the treatment to follow its course, the process is simple and straightforward.

We’re here to make this therapy as easy as possible. Call Zormeier Cosmetic Surgery & Longevity Center in Indiana (Noblesville and Shelbyville), Illinois (Danville), and California (Healdsburg and Ukiah), today to schedule your consultation appointment.

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