How Long Does Tattoo Removal Take?
Laser tattoo removal is a long process. Based on my 15 years of experience, the average time period to remove a professionally done (fully inked, not faded) black tattoo is 2 years. The average number of treatments is 8. A fully inked multicolored tattoo averages 3 years and 12 treatments. If you want your tattoo removed correctly, commit to a treatment with an experienced tattoo removal specialist.
How NOT to Remove a Tattoo
Contrary to all the advertising, fade creams don’t work. You may have seen pictures of chemical burns to the skin of a girl who tried one particular brand (see article). Trichloracetic acid is another method of removing tattoos that does not work. It will most likely leave you scarred. Surgical excision can be effective, but you may not be a candidate for the procedure, since it depends where the tattoo is located on your body.
The Best Treatment For Tattoo Removal
At this particular time, lasers are the most viable method of removing unwanted tattoos. When choosing a laser tattoo removal treatment, there are questions you need answered to help you identify a provider who will be able to perform in such a manner that your tattoo will be completely removed, without permanent damage to the underlying skin. I have seen laser tattoo removals done wrong. It isn’t pretty and can be painful.
Questions To Ask When Selecting a Technician
How long have you been doing laser tattoo removal? This can be a tricky question. Not how long has the facility been doing tattoo removal, but the technician you’re considering. If I had a basic black tattoo, no bigger than a credit card, I would want someone with 3-5 years of documented experience. If I had a large black tattoo, I would want someone with 7-10 years of experience. If I had a complex multicolored tattoo, I would want absolutely no less than 10 years of experience.
What is your training? Again, a tricky question. A Laser Technician can get their training from many places with different amounts of time to complete the training. It is critical to understand that while certifications and training are important, they cannot replace experience.
Example: One technician went to a yearlong program for comprehensive laser training. Another technician goes for two weeks. In my opinion neither one is better than the other at this point. They each should spend 2-3 years in an apprentice oversight program where they are overseen by a laser technician with at least 5 years, but preferably 10 years of experience to guide them through the intricacies of laser tattoo removal.
What was your background prior to laser tattoo removal? This is another important topic. The best possible scenario is that they have some type of medical background; Medical Assistant, EMT, or Nurse. Rarely will you find a physician performing the actual laser procedure. And to be honest, unless they have several years of experience as mentioned above, physicians are no more qualified than anyone else. Again, it is very important to not be impressed with certificates and professional credentials unless they are backed up with years of experience.
Stop and ask yourself, “Do I want someone who was previously a mechanic or electrician or car salesman removing my tattoo?” In my opinion, laser tattoo removal is as advanced a laser procedure as any out there. Making sure there will be a competent individual performing it should be a critical part of your decision.
Now for the Technical Questions
What type of laser or lasers are you using? The industry standard lasers for tattoo removal are the Q-switched YAG lasers. Four wavelengths are available. The most commonly found wavelengths are 1064NM and 532NM. Black ink absorbs all laser wavelengths, making it the easiest to treat. Other colors should be treated by lasers designed for that color.
It’s important to note, if 1064NM and 532NM are the only wavelengths available where you choose your treatment, you had better only have a black or red tattoo. While 1064 and 532 wavelengths will fade other colors, if you have blue, green or purple ink, make sure they have either a 755NM or a 694NM, which have absorption into these colors.
There is a Q-switched 650NM that some laser manufacturers produce. It is ineffective because it is not a true wavelength. It is actually a 1064NM laser being fired through a chemical dye which emits a 650NM beam. The beam is of such low energy it is all but inconsequential to the removal process.
High Quality laser manufacturers of Q-switched laser; Candela, Cynosure, Quanta are at the very top of Q-switched Lasers. I am not saying there aren’t other quality manufactured Q-switched lasers out there, but these three are among the very best. Another component to understand when evaluating lasers is overall energy. If a laser does not produce enough energy, you will most likely have an incomplete removal. 694/1064 should produce at least 20 Joules of energy. 532 should produce at least 10 Joules of energy. Beware of cheap table top lasers.
Cosmetic Laser Specialist
The Cosmetic Laser Center
Aaron Gabrielse NREMT-PR / Fellow-American Society for Lasers in Medicine and Surgery