Does laser tattoo removal hurt and what can I expect?

Both getting tattoos and having them taken off can be uncomfortable. Yes, it hurts. The impact of the energy from the laser's pulse of light has been described as the same feeling you get when hot specks of bacon grease hit your skin - or being snapped by a rubber band. (Compare these descriptions to how it felt to get the tattoo in the first place. Black pigment absorbs all laser wavelengths, therefore, it's the easiest to remove. Other colors, like green, selectively absorb laser light. These colors can only be treated by selected lasers.

When preparing for a laser procedure, doctors recommend - if you have to use a pain reliever - that you use only non-aspirin products, like Tylenol, prior to the procedure. Aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents, like ibuprofen, can produce bruising after laser treatment.

Further pre-treatment steps might include applying a prescription anesthetic cream two hours before the procedure. The cream will be wiped off just before laser surgery begins. Some patients say they don't need the anesthetic. Others prefer a local anesthetic injected into the tattoo before laser therapy. Pinpoint bleeding sometimes can be associated with the procedure.

To remove the tattoo, the laser's light pulses are directed onto the tattoo to break up the pigment. Over the next few weeks, the body's scavenger cells will remove pigment residues.

The procedure only takes minutes but more than one treatment is usually needed to remove an entire tattoo. Three-week intervals between sessions are required so the pigment residue will be absorbed by the body.

After treatment, the doctor will apply an antibacterial ointment and a dressing to the area. The area should be kept clean and applied with ointment as directed by your doctor. Showers or baths the day after treatment are OK, but the treatment area should not be scrubbed. The skin might feel sunburned for a day or two and the treated area might remain red for a few weeks. The area might also form a scab. After healing, the site will gradually fade.

Side effects of laser procedures are few but may include hyperpigmentation, an abundance of color at the treatment site. Other side effect include possible hypopigmentation, where the treated area lacks normal skin color. Also look out for possible infection of the site, lack of complete tattoo removal and a 5 percent chance of scarring.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.