What methods are used for tattoo removal?

Before the 1980s, when lasers became popular for tattoo removal, tattoo removal involved the use of often-painful, often scar-inducing surgeries including:

  • Dermabrasion, where the surface and middle layers of the skin are "sanded."
  • Cryosurgery, where the area of skin is frozen prior to the tattoo removal.
  • Excision, where a surgeon removes the tattoo with a scalpel then closes the wound with stitches. In some cases, with large tattoos, skin grafts from other parts of the body were necessary.

Although these procedures are still used in some cases, lasers have become the standard treatment for tattoo removal. They offer a bloodless, low risk, effective alternative and have minimal side effects. Each procedure is performed on an outpatient basis - although sometimes several visits are required. Patients sometimes need topical or local anesthesia.

When researchers developed lasers that emitted light in short flashes called pulses, doctors started to use them for medical purposes. These lasers can effectively remove tattoos with a fairly low risk of scarring. The type of laser used to remove a specific tattoo depends on the tattoo's pigment colors. (For example, yellow and green are the hardest colors to remove; where blue and black are easiest.)The three lasers developed specifically for tattoo removal use a technique known as Q-switching. This refers to the laser's short, high-energy pulses.

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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.