It wasn’t that long ago that removing a tattoo was a long and often painful process. Invasive excision surgery left scars and was basically only an option if you absolutely HAD to get rid of that tattoo. Those days are over, and good riddance. These days, tattoo removal with laser technology is fast and simple. At Old Town MedSpa in Chicago, IL, we have the solution for getting rid of your tattoos: no matter how long you’ve had them or what color they are.
How Long Does It Take to Remove a Tattoo?
It’s not possible to tell you exactly how long it will take to remove your tattoo, and if anyone promises to give you a timeframe without consultation, you should look elsewhere for the help you need. Professionals know that every tattoo is different.
The time it takes to get rid of your tattoo will depend on the depth of the pigment, the size of the tattoo, your age and general health, and precisely what you’re looking for. Do you want to remove an entire tattoo completely, or do you want to just get rid of part of it? Do you want to dim a tattoo so you can get another one on top? These questions are important, and the answers will be a factor in how long your individual case takes.
In general, know that you’ll typically need several treatment sessions and that the younger and healthier you are, the faster it will go. The other good news to know is that you’ll see a difference after your first session. Today’s lasers are more efficient and faster than ever before.
How Does It Work?
In the past, removing a tattoo required surgery or carbon dioxide lasers, which were inefficient and often left significant scarring behind. Today, lasers are fast, safe, and much less intrusive.
The first step in the process takes place when the laser energy penetrates the outer layers of your skin and breaks up the tattoo ink. We can adjust the laser light in such a way that it does not hurt your skin–it simply passes through. The laser heat is absorbed by the colors in the ink pigments. As the ink pigments in your tattoo absorb the heat, they shatter into even smaller pigments.
What good is it to have your ink particles shattered into smaller pieces? From the moment you first got your tattoo, your body got to work trying to remove it. Your immune system recognizes the ink as an invader and attempts to absorb and dispose of it, just as it would with a virus or bacteria.
However, the ink particles are too large: your body’s macrophages aren’t capable of carrying them away. That is, until you make them smaller! The next step in your tattoo removal process is to give your immune system some time to grab those particles and get rid of them.
In the next step, you return to our office so we can give you a second treatment. Why can’t we get it all in one treatment? Think of the layers of ink in your skin like the leaves on a tree. If you wanted to plant sun-loving flowers in your yard, you couldn’t put them under the tree because the leaves would block the light and heat from the sun.
In your tattoo, the upper layers of pigment are “shading” the lower layers. We have to break up the upper layer, allow your body time to get rid of it, and then we can target the lower layers.
FAQ About Tattoos and Tattoo Removal
What Is In Tattoo Ink?
Tattoo ink is made of a colorant, like a dye or a pigment, with a carrier solution. This carrier solution might be alcohol, water, glycerin, or something else. Certain carriers are more effective at protecting your tattoo from your immune system. In general, the poorer the quality of the tattoo, the faster you can get rid of it. Of course, poor-quality tattoos also start to look bad a lot sooner than those of better quality!
Can You Explain the Immune Response a Bit More?
Your immune system isn’t deliberately trying to interfere with your bodily aesthetic. It’s designed to protect you from any “intruder” into your body, and it simply can’t distinguish between the intruders you don’t want, like a microorganism, and the ones you do want, like tattoo pigments. As soon as your body notices an invader, it sends white blood cells to absorb the intruder and destroy it. Ironically, though, the only reason a tattoo remains permanent is because of the immune system!
Your body’s white blood cells attempt to absorb the tattoo ink particles, but because they’re unable to do so, they just stick around until they die. As each layer of immune cells dies around the tattoo, a new layer comes to keep up the attack. This process is continuous, and your immune system effectively keeps your tattoo in place. If it weren’t for the immune response, your tattoo would gradually spread out.
What Kinds of Lasers Are There?
There are a couple of laser options, and the laser used plays a large role in how long a session takes. To effectively treat your tattoo pigment, but also keep your skin safe, you have to use a laser that features short pulses. Pulses should be less than 30 nanoseconds. However, you also need to be able to adjust the length of the pulses, within the safety margins, to effectively target different color tattoo inks.
Certain colors will absorb certain laser wavelengths better than others. The two primary types of lasers are nanosecond and picosecond lasers. In general, you’ll need a picosecond laser to target brighter, lighter colors. Nanosecond lasers work better on dark pigments. We use a combination of treatments to get you the best, fastest results based on your tattoo.
How Many Sessions Will It Take?
As stated, laser tattoo removal has to work in phases. You need to remove the top layers of color so that the laser light can go deeper and reach the layers beneath. You will notice a difference very soon after your first treatment, but then you’ll notice the fading stops. At that point, all the upper layers of pigment have been removed, and it’s time to go after the deeper ones.
Depending on your health, you’ll need several weeks between treatments for your body to accomplish all this. In general, the bigger, denser, and lighter your tattoo, the more treatments it will take. The smaller, thinner, and darker it is, the fewer treatments you will need. Ironically, the better the tattoo’s quality, the more treatments you will need, too. Of course, that also means that if you got stuck with a tattoo from a poor artist using inferior inks, it’s easier to get rid of it.
How Does the Color of the Tattoo Influence the Number of Sessions?
Black tattoos are the easiest to remove. The black ink easily absorbs light of all wavelengths, so it takes very little calibration for them to be effective and the ink breaks up very quickly. If you have a tattoo with many different colors in it, we’ll have to fine-tune the calibration for each separate color. This means the process will take a bit longer.
Does My Skin Color Matter?
The good news is that we can treat any skin color with our advanced, state-of-the-art lasers. The not-as-good news is that your skin color relative to the tattoo color can affect how long the process takes. The greater the contrast between the color of your skin and the color of the tattoo, the faster and easier the process will be. If there’s not much contrast in color, we have to go more slowly and take extra sessions to avoid causing any skin discoloration.
How Does My Health Affect the Process?
The younger your skin, the more resilient it is. Mature skin simply doesn’t repair as quickly, and as we age, our immune systems also slow down. The younger you are when you have tattoo removal, all other things being equal, the faster your immune system will be able to deal with the fragmented ink particles.
You’ll have the best results if you get treatment when you are feeling well and avoid getting treatment if you’re fighting an illness or infection. You can also speed the process along by eating well, avoiding too much alcohol, not smoking, and engaging in regular but not excessive exercise. All these things will boost your immune system and help it work most efficiently.
Does It Matter When I Get Each Session?
You will get the best results when you are consistent in your treatments. If you get your treatments too close together, you’ll actually over-treat the tattoo, which can cause side effects you don’t want. On the flip side, if you don’t show up for your appointments consistently, you won’t see the results you want as quickly as possible and may end up frustrated.
What If I Have a Pre-Existing Health Condition?
There aren’t many pre-existing conditions that can keep you from getting treatments, but there are a few skin conditions that can interfere. If you have eczema or rosacea in the treatment area, though, we can help craft a plan that will work for you. If you have a compromised immune system, laser tattoo removal might not be the best choice for you, but come talk to us about your options.
Am I a Good Candidate?
Most people who want to remove a tattoo are good candidates for the laser removal method. Your first step is to meet with us for a consultation. We’ll take a look at the tattoo itself and get a thorough medical history from you. We’ll ask about any medications you’re taking and any skin treatments you’re having.
If you have photosensitivity or if you’re taking a medication that causes photosensitivity as a side-effect, we will work with you to see if we can pause your medications for a while. Our primary concerns are your safety and helping you meet your goals. Don’t assume that you can’t get treatment, though: come and ask us! The great news is that the vast majority of people who want to remove a tattoo are fine candidates for this treatment.
Get Rid of That Tattoo
If you’re tired of living with a tattoo, for whatever reason, come talk to us. Our laser removal process is fast and efficient and has minimal downtime. Contact us at Old Town MedSpa in Chicago, IL today to learn more or get started.