How Does Laser Tattoo Removal Work?
While visible light is not very intense and consists of hundreds of different wavelengths of light, laser light is highly concentrated and is made up of only one specific wavelength. In general, the more the tattoo ink color absorbs the specific wavelength of laser light that is used, the more fading you get with each treatment. Unfortunately, there are an unlimited number of tattoo ink colors but there are only a few different wavelengths of light available with lasers that are effective in removing tattoo ink. The concept of laser energy was actually the brain child of Albert Einstein in the early 1900’s.
When the laser light hits a tattoo, some of the light is lost in reflection off of the surface of the skin while some of it is absorbed by skin pigment and the rest is absorbed by the ink in the tattoo. The amount that is absorbed by the ink depends on the color of the ink, how dark the skin is and the wavelength of light that is used. Once that light energy is absorbed, that light energy is converted to heat energy. The temperature of the ink is instantaneously elevated at such a rapid rate that some of the ink is destroyed in the process. In addition, if the ink is held by cells, those cells are also destroyed by the heat, exposing the ink to be cleared by your immune system at it heals the area from the laser treatment.
In addition, rapid heating of the ink and tissues can also result in the development of sound energy in the form of photoacoustic waves. The sound waves travel for short distances in the tissue and contribute to the breakdown on tattoo pigment; some feel that this is the primary way in which lasers eliminate tattoo ink.
After each treatment, the area treated is covered with an antibiotic ointment, which should be reapplied twice a day for several days. To reduce blistering, it is helpful to keep the area elevated for a few hours and use of an icepack, off and on for a few hours can also be helpful. As the area heals and the destroyed ink fragments are carried away, you can see fading of the tattoo.
You can find a variety of inappropriate treatments for tattoo removal on line. These include various lotions, creams, balms and acids as well as various mechanical treatments. They are mentioned only to be condemned; not only because they are ineffective, they can be dangerous. I have seen numerous patients with permanent severe scarring as a result of over the counter online treatments that claimed to remove tattoos.
Dermabrasion may also be offered by physicians to remove tattoo. This is effective for facial resurfacing to reduce the signs of aging, sun exposure and acne scars but done below the neck will result in severe scarring.