How Does Laser Tattoo Removal Work: Facts You Need To Know

woman is undergoing a laser tattoo removal on her right arm

Everyone has made a bad decision in their life. In the case of many people, their regretful decision has something to do with tattoos. Getting a tattoo is so easy. You go to a tattoo shop, pick a design, and leave with a permanent mark on your skin. However, you do not have to carry the cute cat you got tattooed on your back when you were young and foolish (or the name of your ex) on your skin forever, thanks to laser tattoo removal. So how does laser tattoo removal work?

Don’t be fooled. The tattoo removal process is not as easy as getting the tattoo in the first place. Removing a tattoo requires more of a time commitment (and you can’t do it drunk). And of course, it costs more money as well. It may seem as easy as getting the ink done in the first place, but it is a far more complex process.

How Does Laser Tattoo Removal Work?

So how does laser tattoo removal work? To understand this, you need to know how the artist puts ink on the second layer of your skin (called the dermis) in the first place. The ink of tattoos contains metallic compounds such as copper, manganese, and lead. Red ink even contains mercury. Don’t worry, it’s not dangerous like ingesting these compounds would be, but there are risks involved.

tattoo artist holding a tool to make tattoos

Risks aside, these metals are responsible for making the ink latch permanently (more or less) on to your skin. When the needle deposits the ink on your skin, the immune system gets to work because it recognizes the ink as an intruder. This reaction is why the white blood cells do its best to bring these particles to the liver. The liver’s job is to eliminate waste from the body, after all.

However, because most ink particles are larger than the white blood cells, they remain on your skin despite fading over time. In order to erase a tattoo, you will need the help of lasers to facilitate the cracking of ink particles. This cracking makes ink particles smaller and allows for the removal from the body.

I’m sure you found this all fascinating but let’s get to the nitty-gritty: How does laser tattoo removal work? What exactly is involved?

What Is Laser Tattoo Removal?

person is undergoing a tattoo removal process

Laser tattoo removal is also called ultrashort pulse lasers or Q-switch lasers. These lasers are not only immensely fast, but also very hot and work with small frequency waves of light. Two of the most important aspects of laser removal are the heat and the speed of the device to break up the ink particles.

For an ink particle to crack, it needs to be heated so that it expands due to thermal expansion. However, this has to be very fast to make sure that parts of the tattoo remain cool. The contrast in cool and hot temperatures is responsible for cracking the particles. This process is called photothermolysis and is the same process used in laser hair removal.

So how does laser tattoo removal work during this process? Because the lasers break up the ink particles into smaller sizes than the white blood cells, these cells can (at long last) take the smaller ink particles to the liver. And from here, the liver expels the ink particles from the body.

How Long Does It Take?

arm showing his vanishing tattoo after the treatment

Now that we have established that removing a tattoo would not be as easy as getting it, you may already have the inkling (pun intended) that it would not take just one day. In fact, the grueling process could take months. First, you have to do an initial tattoo removal consultation so that your doctor can tell you what to expect. This consultation outlines the process and helps you decide whether or not you want to go through with the treatment.

Many people want their tattoos removed as soon as possible. However, that is often not viable. But how does laser tattoo removal work with your timetable? It’s safe to say that although it is effective, it is not immediate. You just have to trust that patience is a virtue. The time frame of the tattoo removal process depends on how your body eliminates the ink particles in your skin. So it is best not to push through with the process if you only have a week until an important event or job interview that requires no tattoos. Your wedding next week will not miraculously make your tattoo disappear.

In some cases, the body takes up to a year to completely get rid of the ink. This slow process is because you have to give your skin time to recover between treatment sessions. It is recommended to have sessions six weeks apart for those who have lighter complexions and eight weeks apart is better for those who have darker skin. Additionally, having treatments without adequate recovery time may cause complications.

Number of treatment sessions vary

There is no definite number of session that works for everyone. One reason is that there is no way of knowing how many treatments you need to get to have your tattoo entirely erased. The process involves many body systems, and medical science cannot guarantee these outcomes. Despite this, your doctor can assess the ease or difficulty of your tattoo removal.

Usually, many people who get laser tattoo removal will see optimum results within five to eight treatments. However, some people are the exception and are able to remove their tattoos after only three to four sessions. But others may need as many as 10 sessions if their tattoo has multiple layers and features scarring.

How fast the treatments can remove your tattoo gets is also dependent on factors such as its location, the color of the ink, amount of ink, pre-existing scarring, and Fitzpatrick skin type. This practical method uses the Kirby-Desai scale and is used to assess the relative success and number of sessions that you need for laser tattoo removal.

How Much Does It Cost?

Many of our purchase decisions revolve around the price of a good or service. So how does laser tattoo removal relate to other purchase decisions? Usually, the cost of getting laser removal treatment is around $200 to $500 per session. However, the price may change due to various factors including the size of the tattoo and the expert level of the professional.

To fully remove your tattoo, it may cost you as much as $1,000 to $10,000 depending on the number of sessions you require. However, do not be overwhelmed. Many clinics have discount rates and payment options to help.

Does It Hurt?

man wearing eye gear is getting his tattoo removed by a laser

Ask anyone who wants to know how does laser tattoo removal work, and one thing is for sure, they want to know if the process hurts. As expected with any procedure, you will definitely feel an amount of pain. However, many people have said that it hurts less than what they initially had in mind.

According to many people who have undergone the procedure, the pain feels like a rubber band is snapping on your skin. Some people also said that the pain is similar to the sensation that they feel when they got the tattoo. In other words, although it can be quite painful, it is definitely bearable.

It is important to remember that you can manage the pain level and discomfort associated with the process. If you have a very low pain tolerance, you can speak to your surgeon or technician about giving you something to soothe your skin during the procedure.

You can opt to go through with skin numbing procedures such as the Zimmer Cyro 6, which is a machine that blows cold air on the skin throughout the entire duration of the treatment. This chilling tool is very effective. If you want other options, you can also apply ice packs, numbing creams, or lidocaine injections. Just remember that some numbing methods may have their own drawbacks.

Can You Get Another Tattoo on the Lasered Area?

person getting a tattoo on the arm

If you still want to re-tattoo your lasered area, do not worry, this is actually possible, believe it or not. Researching how does laser tattoo removal work will tell you that you can re-apply a new tattoo on the treated area. Laser removal is, more or less, wiping the slate clean. In many cases, people do not want to get rid of their entire tattoo during the process. Instead, they want it to have a new look. This preference results in either fading before a cover-up, or selective removal.

For those who just want to fade their tattoo so that the cover-up will be easier, a few sessions can do the trick. Selective removal, on the other hand, is when a patient wants to get rid of a portion of the tattoo completely. For this procedure, the laser targets a specific area to treat.

Just remember that you already made the mistake of getting a tattoo that you regretted once and it is something that you do not want to happen again. Make sure to research the tattoo artists near you so that your cover-up or re-tattoo will look amazing.

Are There Side Effects?

We’ve answered the question “How does laser tattoo removal work?” However, it is also essential to know that you might encounter some side effects. Side effects are common among people who remove tattoos via lasers. Don’t worry, though. These side effects are simply part of your body’s reaction to the treatment and generally aren’t permanent.

Hypopigmentation and hyperpigmentation

white scars on the skin after removing the tattoo

One of the most common side effects of removing a tattoo through lasers is skin pigmentation. This side effect is very common, especially with people who have a darker complexion. Hypopigmentation and hyperpigmentation happen when your body produces too much or too little melanin respectively. These conditions result from altered melanin production because of the laser treatment.

Hyperpigmentation is when your skin darkens. Meanwhile, hypopigmentation is when your skin lightens. When this happens, you will notice that the lasered area has a different shade than the rest of your skin. This noticeable patch bothers many people. But don’t worry. This discoloration does not pose any health concerns and is purely cosmetic. In most cases, hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation will heal on its own after 6 to 12 months.

You now know the answer to the question “How does laser tattoo removal work?” Considering this information, it makes sense that you can avoid pigmentation problems by not treating your skin with another session of laser treatment until it has returned to your normal skin tone. Skin pigmentation issues worsen if the practitioner treats the area without waiting for it to heal completely.

Skin sensitivity

red skin allergy around the tattoo area after a laser tattoo removal process

If you didn’t skim over the part when we explained the science behind “How does laser tattoo removal work,” you will recall that it involves zapping your skin with a laser to heat up the ink. Naturally, this will have effects regarding sensitivity. They’re zapping you with a laser! When getting your consultation, it is important to ask your doctor about the side effects that you may suffer.

This way, you will not have any unrealistic expectations about the process. And it won’t shock you when you experience tenderness, swelling, scabs, blistering, redness, and bruising. Remember that these side effects will not last long. Typically, redness, swelling, and tenderness will subside within a day or two after the session. On the other hand, scabs, blistering, and bruising may take up to a week to heal. It is also important to note that while your skin is still healing, it is at greater risk of infection.


scarred tattoo with red skin allergy around it

One side effect that may be permanent after the tattoo removal procedure is scarring. However, it only happens to a small percentage of people. Scarring occurs if the patient does not give proper care to the treated area. This adverse outcome is why it is essential to follow the proper steps to ensure that the affected area will completely heal. Scarring is also likely if the patient picks at the scabs or blisters.

Other Alternatives Available

man on suit sitting down the sofa with a lot of tattoos on his hands

Finding out how does laser tattoo removal work will let you make a more informed decision if you decide to push through with it. If you are still considering other options to remove your tattoo, there are other forms of treatment.


This treatment involves using a device that rotates fast to sand the skin until your tattoo disappears. Dermabrasion is a conventional method of skin resurfacing. Usually, the skin that grows back looks younger and smoother. However, sometimes, it leaves a scar or a pale area.

Surgical excision

Surgical excision is an invasive option to remove a tattoo. It is best for small tattoos. This process involves removing the tattoo with a scalpel and closing the wound through stitches. This method also offers high precision and accuracy.

Topical treatments

This method is common among people who want their tattoos to fade. Topical treatments usually involve lotions and creams that help make the tattoo less visible. Although it cannot completely eliminate your tattoo, it can help make it less noticeable over time if you use it consistently. Be careful, these are often marketed as “removal creams,” but so far none have lived up to the hype.

Summing It All Up

There are tons of reasons why people decide to remove their tattoos. Whatever the reason may be, they’re going to want to know how does laser tattoo removal work. And having the answer will help you determine if it is suitable for you. Although it requires time and money, removing a tattoo through the use of lasers is one of the most effective ways to get rid of your ink. Tattoos aren’t a life sentence. It won’t be fun to get rid of, but it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds.

Have you had a tattoo removed with a laser? Tell us about your experience in the comments!



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