Tattoo Removal: Now You See It… - Making unwanted ink disappear

February, 2018

Girl meets boy. Girl marries boy. Girl gets tattoo of boy’s name. Boy hooks up with “friend from work.” It’s not exactly a storybook ending, but thanks to laser tattoo removal, what was once written in ink can now be modified. However, like getting a tattoo, removing a tattoo is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Here we explore what to expect and consider with laser tattoo removal.

The Procedure & Recovery

How does laser tattoo removal work? A laser rapidly produces short pulses of intense light that penetrate the outer layers of skin, targeting and breaking down tattoo ink. The body’s immune system then gradually and naturally flushes the fragments of ink, causing the tattoo to fade.

Depending on the size of the tattoo, each treatment takes 15 to 45 minutes, which is significantly shorter than the time getting a tattoo takes. However, removal may take two to fifteen treatments, and treatments should be four to eight weeks apart to allow time for the ink to fade and the body to heal.

Water blisters, swelling, and pinpoint bleeding are common side effects. As the treated area heals, you can also expect irritation, redness and scabs.

The Pain Factor

With over 60 percent of his body covered in colourful ink, Ben Alway, owner of Second Skin Tattoo Removal, not only has nine years of experience removing tattoos, he’s also had tattoos removed. He warns his clients that the millisecond bursts of energy from the laser feel like a rubber band repeatedly snapping sunburnt skin.

“It’s more painful than getting a tattoo, but the pain is short-term and not unbearable,” he says. Alway estimates that nine out of ten clients handle themselves well and return after their first treatment, but he admits, “I don’t receive many Christmas cards.”

The majority of tattoo removal providers suggest numbing techniques to reduce pain: a topical anesthetic cream before treatment, a chilling machine that blows cold air onto the skin during treatment and ice packs after treatment.

Terese Waddell, laser technician and instructor at EIE MediSpa Esthetics & Laser Centre, explains that tattoo removal is considerably more painful than most other laser procedures, such as laser hair removal, which do not penetrate the skin. She describes laser tattoo removal as “a form of controlled wounding.” You should properly care for the wound with ointment, such as Polysporin for burns, and dressing. You also want to avoid sun exposure without 30+ SPF sun block, rubbing and scratching, and swimming pools and hot tubs until the wound is healed.

Number of Treatments

The number of treatments required depends on your immune system, Fitzpatrick skin type (a type of classification for predicting your skin’s response to untraviolet light), any pre-existing scarring, and the tattoo’s age, depth, location and colour. It also depends on your goal: full removal or a cover-up. Some people simply outgrown their choices or seek tattoo removal for personal or religious reasons. But often, those seeking removal aren’t averse to tattoos but to their specific tattoo. Laser tattoo removal can be strategically used to fade existing art and make cover-ups easier, but it takes time. That said, remember this: “

Too many people go in for a tattoo thinking ‘I can always get it removed’,” says Alway. “I’m not an eraser.”

Let’s Talk Money

The cost of laser tattoo removal depends on the provider, the size of tattoo, and the number of treatments. On average, each treatment can range between $50 and $500. Many insurance carriers consider laser tattoo removal cosmetic and will not help cover the cost unless removal is medically necessary.

The Risks

Common risks of laser tattoo removal are hyperpigmentation (darkening) or hypo­pigmentation (lightening) of the skin. These are often temporary, lasting six to twelve months after treatment. Other rare but potential risks include scarring, infection, burns, textural changes of the skin, and temporary, hive-like bumps resulting from an allergic reaction to the wavelength of the laser. If you had an allergic reaction to the ink going into your skin, you will likely have an allergic reaction to the ink coming back out of your skin.

Setting the Stage

You don’t have to live with unwanted ink. You can minimize the risks of laser tattoo removal by reading online reviews and seeking a consultation before booking an appointment.

Look for a reputable facility. Laser tattoo removal is provided at a variety of facilities, including at some plastic surgeon and dermatologist offices. Second Skin Tattoo Removal shares a building with a tattoo business. EIE MediSpa & Laser Training Centre specializes in esthetics. No matter which you choose, like any other business in Canada, the facility must meet Health Canada standards for hygiene and sterilization as dictated on the government website. It must also meet your personal standards.

Seek proper equipment. Waddell compares lasers with cars. She says,

“there are several makes and models. However, they are not created equal.”

Q-switch technology uses highly peaked pulses that are measured in nanoseconds. These lasers are typically used for the removal of tattoos.

Find a skilled technician. Currently in Canada, anyone with access to the equipment can legally perform laser tattoo removal. That doesn’t mean you should let just anyone remove your tattoo.

“To get a machine, which is more than $100,000 new, requires money not education or experience,” warns Waddell. “Some providers have purchased used machines online and offer services after only reading the manual or having only a few hours of training.”

Various laser training certificate and diploma programs are available. For example, students at EIE MediSpa & Laser Training Centre must be a certified esthetician or have one-year medical background before enrolling in the two-week Certified Clinical Laser Technician (CCLT) course. The course involves successful completion of theory, practical and consultation exams.

And lastly, once you have made your decision, fill out the questionnaire and medical form honestly…  and, yes, there should be a questionnaire and medical form! The more the technician knows about your unique tattoo, the more successful the removal process will be. t8n


Who’s Getting What Removed?

What are some of the most common tattoos seen under the laser?

  • wedding rings
  • names
  • artist erors [sic]
  • cartoon characters


How Tricky Would Your Tattoo Removal Be?

The following are all factors in tattoo removal:

Skin tone—lighter skin has a higher success rate for ink removal.

Ink colour—black ink absorbs all laser wavelengths and is easier to remove, while white ink often contains a metal that may not completely remove.

Age of tattoo—older tattoos take fewer treatments to remove.

Number of colours—different colours require different lasers, which may mean more treatments.

Depth of tattoo & tattoo layering
—the more ink saturated in one location, the longer it will take to remove.

Location of tattoo—the further the tattoo is from the heart, the poorer the circulation and more difficult to remove.


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