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Laser Tattoo Removal: How it Works

Laser tattoo removal is an increasingly common treatment in cosmetic dermatology, and when we look at the statistics, it isn’t surprising – according to a 2012 poll, 21% of adults in the US have a tattoo, and one out of every eight people in this crowd regret getting at least one of their tattoos*. But for many of our patients at Dermatology Associates of Atlanta (DAA), the procedure is surrounded by questions like, “Where does the ink go?” “Why do I need multiple treatments?” and “How do the lasers only impact the ink?” Today, we’re addressing some of the most common questions and misconceptions about laser tattoo removal by explaining how it all works.

To understand how tattoos are removed, the first step is knowing what tattoos are. Tattoos are made from insoluble ink (or ink that the body can’t dissolve) that is injected into the second layer of the skin, called the dermis, because the cells in the dermis are more stable than the cells in the outer layer of skin (the epidermis). This is why tattoos are permanent—because the body can’t naturally absorb the ink and because the ink is deep within the skin.Tattoo Removal Diagram - Full Ink

So, if tattoos are designed to be so long-lasting, how are they removed? The answer is with very precisely designed and administered laser treatments. At DAA, our highly-skilled practitioners use the laser to send light at a specific wavelength that causes it to be absorbed by the ink. Absorbing this energy causes the insoluble ink particles to break apart into much smaller particles, which are now small enough to be absorbed and naturally eliminated by the body. So, despite what many patients originally think, the laser doesn’t actually pull the ink from the skin, but instead breaks down the ink to allow your body to remove it naturally.

While the idea of laser tattoo removal sounds simple enough, there are important details and intricacies that the practitioner needs to know. For example, different colors of ink absorb different wavelengths of laser light, so especially in the case of multi-colored tattoos, the professional administering the treatment needs to know which laser to use and how to use it to best serve the patient. The procedure also has potential side effects, like scarring, which are more likely to occur if the practitioner is inexperienced or under-qualified. Additionally, older technology is more likely to be less effective as well as cause harm. Finally, multiple devices are needed to treat all skin colors as well as tattoo colors safely. To ensure that your laser tattoo removal treatments are as effective and safe as possible, only visit a qualified medical facility with top-notch equipment. DAA’s Laser Institute of Georgia has been performing laser treatments for over 25 years, and using our array of the latest picosecond devices including the PicoSure™ and PicoWayTM lasers allows us to remove tattoos more thoroughly and safely in fewer treatments than earlier tattoo removal lasers.

Like all of our cosmetic dermatology treatments, we take pride in making sure that each procedure is customized to fit the patient’s needs. Your laser tattoo removal process will require multiple treatments and is based on the location, color(s), size, and other features of your tattoo, so a pre-treatment consultation and exam is the only way to determine the best way to address your tattoo. Call today to schedule a consultation with DAA, or, to hear about our other popular treatments, current specials, and more important dermatology tips, join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

* Based on a 2012 poll by Harris Interactive, cited by the Food and Drug Administration: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm336842.htm