Laser Tattoo Removal – Understanding Laser


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Wanting to rid off your old tattoos with laser treatment? Read on to learn more about it.


We tattooers know best when it comes to tattoo regret. We’ve seen and heard it all when it comes to people saying that they want to get their tattoos removed using the laser tattoo removal method. But how many of you actually understands how a laser tattoo removal works? Just because everyone is getting their tattoos removed with laser does not mean you have to follow suit — it is however always better for you to understand about how that method exactly works before considering going forward. Hence, in this article we will give you some heads-up towards the inner workings of a laser tattoo removal, explaining what laser is and how it plays a role in removing your tattoos.

What is Laser?

Let’s begin with the basics. The word laser, like the word scuba, is an acronym for the longer term Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Many types of lasers exist but most generally fall into the 2 broad categories of continuous wave and pulsed operation. Continuous wave lasers are simply an emitting beam with a constant output power, that is uninterrupted and has a constant wavelength. What we are interested in are pulsed power lasers, which work on peak pulse power with short duration. Q-switched lasers, the contemporary laser used for tattoo removals, are an example of pulsed power lasers.

What about Q-switched lasers?

The most common Q-switched lasers are Nd:YAG lasers, which stand for neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet — ouch my head hurts! Basically the YAG is the type of crystal that is used in the solid state laser, and the rare earth neodymium is doped into the crystal to improve its effect. The most common wavelengths used are the 532 nm and 1042 nm which emits a greenish light. Some other common Q-switched lasers used for tattoo removal are the Q-switched ruby and Q-switched alexandrite, which are described briefly in our Learning About the Methods of Tattoo Removal article.


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A tattoo removal in progress with a Q-switched Nd:YAG laser.


So how do lasers remove my tattoos?


Lasers are emitted towards the skin to break down the pigment of the tattoo ink within the dermis skin layer into smaller particles, which these broken down particles would then be removed naturally through the body’s lymphatic system. In other words, after breaking the tat ink into smaller pieces, your body’s natural immune system would then be able to pick up the signal and remove them away in time.

The use of Q-switched lasers allow just enough energy to break up the ink pigments without destroying and over-heating the nearby skin tissues. Analogous to a tattoo artist’s skills in inking a good tattoo, having good tattoo removal results also depends on the skill level of the dermatologist or laser tattoo removal operator.


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A laser tattoo removal technician seen removing a client’s lower back tattoo


Different lasers used for different ink?

Yes, that’s right. For each different color ink the tattoo has, a different wavelength of lasers are used to make sure the ink itself is absorbing the energy and not the surrounding skin tissues. Contrary to popular belief, black ink is the easiest ink to remove due to the high contrast of colors with the surrounding skin. Yellow and green ink are considered the harder ink to remove as they are more difficult to break up by lasers — however, with the ongoing laser removal technological progress, there are some lasers that can produce up to 4 different wavelengths and some clinics may have these laser machines with the correct wavelength to target those colors. You can always consult and confirm with your tattoo removal clinic on whether they have the appropriate lasers to do that.

The risks of using laser?

Although laser tattoo removals are considered a fairly safe way of getting your tattoos removed, there are still some inherent risks that we would like to mention. Below is a short list of some of the risks you should consider before going for a laser treatment for your tattoo.

  • There is a less than 5% chance of scarring, given that you perform proper after-care for each laser treatment session
  • There may be a risk of infection at the tattoo removal site
  • There may be a risk of Hypopigmentation, where a permanent skin lightening occurs at the area of treatment, or Hyperpigmentation, where the treated skin becomes darker than the surrounding skin.

We hope that you find this article useful for your understanding of how laser tattoo removal works. We hope you may also find this information handy in knowing how and what exactly laser does to the skin layer of your tattoo site, which may allow you to ask better and more specific questions when it comes to consulting with your laser tattoo removal technician.

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