Want to get rid of an old tattoo?
Here's what you need to know about laser tattoo removal, writes Katie Wright
MAYBE it's the name of an ex, inked when you were in the honeymoon phase of your relationship. Maybe it's a design you loved when you were a teenager but now you're not so keen, or you just didn't like how your tattoo turned out.
Whatever the reason, if you've got an unwanted tattoo, laser is the most common method used to zap it away.
"Whereas some other methods, such as tattoo removal creams, dermabrasion and surgery, may result in scarring and infection, laser tattoo removal is a safe and effective way of permanently removing a tattoo," says Dr Mark Hudson-Peacock, consultant dermatologist and dermatological and laser surgeon at The Canterbury Skin and Laser Clinic.
But, you may be wondering, isn't the laser method notoriously painful? And doesn't it take a long time? We asked experts to run down the key things to consider if you want to erase a regrettable tattoo...
HOW DOES LASER TATTOO REMOVAL WORK?
"The energy from the laser breaks down the ink from the tattoo into small fragments, which are eventually absorbed into the bloodstream and safely passed out of the body," Dr Hudson-Peacock explains, with black being the easiest pigment to remove, and results varying with coloured pigments.
"Green and yellow do not always respond that well in everyone. It depends on the type of pigment the tattoo artist has used, with some responding better to laser removal treatment than others."
Briony Garbett is CEO of NAAMA Studios, which has just launched an innovative removal technique which targets pigments of all colours. "The LightSense laser system is the only system in the world with a 800-nanometre wavelength laser, which is superior at removing coloured ink," says Garbett, "with no skin damage even on darker skin tones."
IS LASER TATTOO REMOVAL PAINFUL?
While everyone's pain threshold is different, Dr Hudson-Peacocks says: "Each laser pulse has been likened to that of an elastic band hitting the skin. Depending on the area targeted, local anaesthetic cream applied for up to one hour beforehand under cling-film, can take the edge off the treatment-associated discomfort."
Garbett says the LightSense system "operates at a rate that is 100 times faster than the traditional laser technology", which is why it's "relatively painless versus other, older technologies. Our skin-safe approach reduces chances of blistering, scarring or long-term damage," she adds - without the need for numbing cream. "We simply use cool air to alleviate any discomfort."
HOW LONG DOES IT USUALLY TAKE?
"Immediately after treatment, there may be swelling, bruising or crusting and scabbing, which can last up to two weeks. Some of the tattoo pigment is lost during the scabbing process," says Dr Hudson-Peacock, which is why treatments are usually scheduled at six to eight-week intervals.
How effective the treatment will be depends on whether the tattoo was done by an amateur or a professional, he continues: "Studies have shown that 85 per cent of amateur tattoos can be completely removed after just three treatment sessions.
"Professional tattoos take longer, with 70 per cent removed by six treatments. More treatment sessions in both tattoo types will result in further clearances and coloured tattoos can take many more sessions."
Garbett says that with the LightSense system, there's "less need for down time between sessions, which enables clients to come back for treatment every two to three weeks, versus the usual two to three months that other laser technology requires. A client can have a tattoo removed in months rather than years."
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER EACH LASER SESSION?
Just as with a freshly-inked tattoo, aftercare is important following a laser treatment session. "Our advice to patients is to limit physical activity on day one," says Dr Hudson-Peacock. "Avoid exercising and any activity that results in perspiring" - as well swimming, hot tubs, and using soap or perfumed products, and "definitely avoid picking or scratching the scab."
It may take up to two weeks for the treatment site to be fully healed, during which you should avoid sun exposure.
"Essentially, when the treated site is no longer swollen or tender and not oozing, then you are good to go," Hudson-Peacock says, adding it's important to remember to "use a high SPF (30 or 50), for at least six months following laser therapy."
WHAT ARE TYPICAL COSTS FOR DIFFERENT SIZES OF TATTOO?
You'll need to have an initial consultation and patch test before beginning laser treatment. Costs will depend, Dr Hudson-Peacock says, on "the number of treatment sessions needed to provide the desired outcome, as well as the size and complexity of each tattoo, typically varying from £80 per treatment for a small tattoo to several hundred for larger ones."
He recommends making sure there is "a doctor involved in supervising the treatment, not least because they are best placed to advise on any unexpected issues that might arise".
Single sessions at NAAMA Studios start from £159 for the removal of micro tattoos, or you can opt for a £2,379 flat rate that ensures the full removal of tattoos no matter how many sessions it takes.