Also known as laser tattoo removal and body art removal
Tattoo ink lives underneath the top layer of skin, which makes it difficult to remove, often requiring multiple laser sessions or in some cases, surgical removal. Laser tattoo removal is a noninvasive procedure that uses a Q-switched laser device to break down the pigment colors of an unwanted tattoo, while causing minimal damage to surrounding tissue. Laser tattoo removal has become more and more popular as the prevalence of tattoos has increased over recent decades.
These are the top three pros and cons to weigh when considering tattoo removal. If you wish to focus on what is unique to you, please consult with your aesthetic plastic surgeon.
Are you a good candidate for a tattoo removal?
The following are some common reasons why you may want to consider laser tattoo removal:
If you are in good general health, have a positive attitude and realistic expectations, you are most likely a good candidate for this procedure.
Laser tattoo removal requires multiple sessions for optimal results.
Q-switched laser therapy is currently the preferred method of noninvasive tattoo removal. There are a number of Q-switched laser devices available. Different lasers are better for treating different tattoo colors. After evaluating your particular tattoo or tattoos, your plastic surgeon will choose the option that is best suited for your particular situation.
Variables affecting laser device tattoo removal
Surgical excision is more invasive, but might be a good, one-time, guaranteed removal method for a smaller tattoo. This technique is more precise than a laser, but there will be some scarring and higher risk.
What are the types of lasers used for tattoo removal?
Your surgeon may use one or a combination of the following devices, depending on your skin type, the color of your tattoo, the age and type of your tattoo, the size and location of the area being treated, and the treatment timing:
It’s important to choose your surgeon based on:
Members of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery are experienced and qualified to perform your aesthetic procedure. Learn how to select a surgeon.
After finding a board-certified plastic surgeon in your area who is experienced in performing laser tattoo removal, you will need to make an office appointment to set up your consultation. Generally, because of the in-depth nature of the consultation, there is a cost associated with the initial visit.
During your initial consultation, you will have the opportunity to discuss your cosmetic goals. Your surgeon will evaluate you as a laser tattoo removal candidate and clarify what laser tattoo removal can do for you. Understanding your goals and medical condition, both alternative and additional treatments may be considered (see related procedures).
Certain tattoos are more difficult to remove than others and may require more sessions to achieve a satisfactory result. Darker colored tattoos (red, blue and black) are easier to remove and can usually be removed more completely than lighter ones (green and yellow). Amateur tattoos are easily removed and often only require one to two sessions, while many multicolored tattoos require twelve or more sessions spaced several months apart.
You should come to the consultation prepared to discuss your complete medical history. This will include information about:
Based on your goals, physical characteristics and the surgeon’s training and experience, your surgeon will share recommendations and information with you, including:
For a general list of questions to ask your surgeon about his or her background, find out about plastic surgery safety, and to plan your procedure visit the Planning Toolkit.
We developed these questions to help you:
It is important for you to take an active role in your surgery, so please use this list of questions as a starting point for your initial consultation.
Your surgeon will provide you with pretreatment instructions and answer any questions that you may have.
In advance of your procedure, your surgeon will ask you to:
Laser tattoo removal is usually performed on an outpatient basis and you are usually able to return to your normal activities immediately after the treatment. If necessary, arrange for someone to drive you home after treatment.
What can I expect on the day of tattoo removal surgery?
Laser tattoo removal is performed on an outpatient basis. Some form of local anesthesia, such as a topical anesthetic cream, may be applied before treatment. The pain experienced during treatment is quite tolerable and is described as feeling like a “grease splatter” or a “slap” from a rubber band. Most laser tattoo removal sessions take only a few minutes to complete; however, a longer time period may be required, depending on the nature of your particular tattoo.
Surgical tattoo removal will require an anesthetic before the procedure begins. Your surgeon will excise the area of the tattoo and either close the wound with stitches or use a skin graft. Once the surgery is complete, you may be prescribed medication to help with healing and pain.
In most cases you may return to work and other daily activities immediately following your treatment. After the procedure, you will receive detailed instructions about your post-treatment care, including information about:
It is important that you follow all patient care instructions provided by your surgeon. Your surgeon will also provide instructions about the normal symptoms you will experience and any potential signs of complications.
See options for short-term recovery locations in Aftercare and Recovery (Planning Toolkit).
Immediately after tattoo removal
It is normal to experience some mild pain or discomfort for up to forty-eight hours following treatment. In most cases, pain can be managed by applying an ice pack to the affected area. You may notice a slightly elevated, white discoloration and possible pinpoint bleeding in the treatment area immediately following the procedure. Minimal edema and erythema of adjacent skin may also occur. These symptoms typically resolve within twenty-four hours. Subsequently, a crust will form over the entire tattoo, which will fall off after about two weeks.
If you experience extreme or long-lasting pain or redness and swelling after treatment, contact your surgeon to find out these are symptoms are normal or a sign of a problem.
Week two to eight
You will notice your tattoo gradually fading over the eight week healing period following the procedure. It is important to realize that the amount of time it takes for recovery varies greatly among individuals.
Laser tattoo removal is permanent but it may take as many as two to twelve different sessions to obtain satisfactory results.
Maintain a relationship with your aesthetic plastic surgeon
For safety, as well as the most beautiful and healthy outcome, it’s important to return to your plastic surgeon's office for follow-up evaluation at prescribed times and whenever you notice any changes in the treatment areas. Do not hesitate to contact your surgeon when you have any questions or concerns.
The cost of tattoo removal varies from doctor to doctor and from one geographic area to another. Costs are also related to the size and complexity of the tattoo, as well as the number of sessions required for complete removal.
See the national average for physician fees per procedure.
These numbers only reflect the physician/surgeon fees last year and do not include fees for the surgical facility, anesthesia, medical tests, prescriptions, surgical garments or other miscellaneous costs related to surgery.
Because tattoo removal is an elective procedure, insurance does not cover these costs. Many surgeons offer patient financing plans to make the procedure more affordable.
Choose your surgeon based on quality, training, and experience—not cost.
See why ASAPS members are widely recognized for upholding the highest standards in the area of aesthetic plastic surgery by viewing their basic credentials, training, and certifications.
Fortunately, significant complications from laser tattoo removal are infrequent. Your specific risks for laser tattoo removal will be discussed during your consultation.
All procedures have some degree of risk. Some of the potential complications of all procedures are:
Other risks specific to laser tattoo removal are outlined below:
You can help minimize certain risks by following the advice and instructions of your board-certified plastic surgeon, both before and after your laser tattoo removal treatment.