Tattooing is an ancient art form dating back as far as the Stone Age (12,000 BC). Egyptian mummies from 4000 BC show evidence of attempts at tattoo removal.
Times changes, your tastes change, and your life changes. You change your clothes; you change your hairstyle — so why shouldn’t you be able to eliminate unwanted tattoos? Or fade them to prepare the area for a different tattoo.
Thanks to the Candela ATV laser, you (usually) don’t have to live with an unwanted tattoo for the rest of your life. Dr. Kevin Smith is helping people of all ages fade and eliminate tattoos that, for a variety of reasons, they no longer want on their bodies. “This laser will allow us to safely help patients look and feel better.”
As one patient said: “I loved my tattoo when I got it, but I’m at a point in my life now where I no longer care to have it.” Candela ATV laser treatment can be an excellent choice for this patient.
There are three general types of tattoos:
- Decorative tattoos are tattoos placed on the skin as a decoration. These are the most common type of tattoo. Some are homemade with needle and India ink; others are professionally applied with a tattoo gun using one or more colors of tattoo ink. Professional tattoos are deeper, contain more ink, and usually need extra treatments.
- Cosmetic tattoos are also known as micro- pigmentation or permanent cosmetics. This type of tattoo is used as permanent eyeliner, lip liner, lipstick, and other permanent cosmetic purposes. This type of tattoo is also used to cover skin pigment disorders, scars and other blemishes.
- Traumatic Tattoos are foreign substances, such as dirt, that are embedded in the skin through an accidental injury.
Common reasons for laser treatment of tattoos include:
- Career concerns
- A change in personal taste or lifestyle
- As skin ages, tattoos tend to fade and deform. A tattoo that once was shown with pride may lose its attractiveness and, in some cases, even become an embarrassment.
- Poor placement
- Color change of the tattoo ink
- Outdated artwork
- Desire to lighten a tattoo so that it can be replaced with new tattoo artwork
- Negative feelings you might have as a result of getting a tattoo
- Effects the tattoo could have on your relationship with others, including friends, parents, teachers, and employers (Certain jobs are not available to people who have visible body art.
“Doctors all over are seeing an increasing interest in having tattoos removed now that it’s becoming known that patients are getting good results with very little pain,” says Dr. Susan Goodlerner, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Harbor UCLA Medical Center.
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The fees for laser treatment of tattoos start at $175 per treatment for a tattoo that is an inch or less, and increases depending on the size, location and complexity of the tattoo. Dr. Smith can give you a price quote after he has examined your tattoo.
Depending on the size of the tattoo, treatments usually range from 15 to 45 minutes.
The Candela ATV laser sends precise pulses of high energy light into the skin, vaporizing some tattoo inks and fragmenting other tattoo inks into thousands of tiny particles which are then safely eliminated from your skin.
The high power of the Candela ATV allows large diameter, deeply penetrating laser beams to be used, and will help to speed up the resolution of your unwanted tattoo.
If the area to be treated has a fresh sun tan or has been treated with self-tanning lotion, it is best to wait a couple of weeks for the tan to fade before having treatment, because the tan will absorb and waste some of the laser energy intended for the pigmented lesion. A fresh sun tan (or color from a recent application of self-tanning lotion) could also absorb enough laser energy to increase the risk of skin irritation or blistering.
Skin care after laser treatment of tattoos is quite similar to skin care after having a tattoo. Gentle cleansing of the skin and application of an antibiotic ointment such as Polysporin ointment will help tattoos heal quickly after treatment. Watch for unusual redness, pain, or swelling which might be a sign of infection, and please call us right away if you think an infection is developing. Avoid picking or irritating the skin after treatment.
For the first half-hour after laser treatment the tattoo looks pale or white, and may swell slightly. The tattoo may feel hot (like a sunburn) for a while after laser treatment, and it will probably be red and swollen for the rest of the day. There may be pinpoint bleeding for a few hours in areas where there was a lot of pigment.
The area may remain reddened for two to four weeks, and there may be some flaking or peeling during this time. Sometimes skin or a scab the same color as the tattoo peels off after 5-7 days. This is a normal process as the body works to eliminate the tattoo dyes. Very dark, or large professional tattoos, will remain tender and swollen for a few days.
There may be some lightening or darkening of the skin for several months after laser treatment. Protect the treated area from sun exposure until the skin is completely healed and the skin color has returned to normal.
Your tattoo usually fades over 4-6 weeks. The degree of fading will be easier to see when you compare your tattoo with pre-treatment photographs.
When Dr. Smith examines your tattoo, he will be able to give you an estimate of the number of treatments, which will be necessary to fade or remove the tattoo. Because there is a great deal of variability in the kinds, mixtures and quantities of ink used in tattoos, and because there is some variability in people’s natural ability to clear away tattoo pigment after laser treatment, it is not possible to “promise” you that a certain result will happen after a fixed number of treatments. Dr. Smith will explain what is likely to happen, but he cannot precisely predict or guarantee what will happen in any particular case. Dr. Smith will show you photos illustrating the range of results, from fading through to complete disappearance of the tattoo.
Some lightly pigmented, black or dark blue, homemade tattoos like the one above can be removed in one treatment. Amateur tattoos (which usually have a small amount of superficial ink) often clear after two to six treatments. A few amateur tattoos have very deeply placed ink, and this very deep ink can require more treatments.
New tattoos usually need extra treatments because they have more ink than old tattoos. Older tattoos have less ink because as a tattoo ages, the body absorbs some of the ink.
Factors which influence laser tattoo treatment success include the kind and color of inks used, the ability of the patient’s immune system to clear away pigment after it has been treated, and location of the tattoo. Multicolored professional tattoos, especially on the lower legs, tend to respond slowly to laser treatments, and quite a few multicolored tattoos will need 10 or more treatment sessions for satisfactory fading or complete removal.
Dark (blue/black) inks and red inks usually fade the best. Oranges and purples often respond well. Dark inks usually respond quicker than bright colored inks because dark colors absorb laser energy better. Light colors such as light green, yellow and turquoise can be difficult to remove. Sometimes chemicals like iron oxide or titanium dioxide are added to tattoo ink to brighten the tattoo – but these chemicals make it much more difficult to remove the tattoo. Fluorescent “Day Glow” pigments are almost impossible to remove. Some tattoos are now made with dark tar-based ink or “laser resistant ink” and these tattoos (which fortunately are quite rare) can only be removed by cutting them out.
New tattoos usually need a larger number of treatments because they have a higher concentration of ink than old ones. Older tattoos have a lower concentration of ink because as a tattoo ages, the body absorbs some of the ink.
Tattoos on the face and trunk often respond faster to laser treatment than tattoos on the ankles.
A professional tattoo like the one shown below (which usually has more ink, deeper ink, and multiple colors) might fade considerably after three to six treatments, but it generally takes between six and ten laser treatments to either completely remove a professional tattoo or to fade the tattoo so that it is barely visible (called a “ghost”). Sometimes complete removal is not possible, or you may find that almost-complete fading of the tattoo is satisfactory.
Quick fading or removal can sometimes be accomplished on black tattoos by using low powered treatments every week or two.
In general, however, it is best to wait at least 6 weeks between treatments. Sometimes it is possible to fade or remove the tattoo with a smaller number of treatments if you are willing to wait 8-12 weeks between treatments, so that your body has a longer opportunity to clear away pigment after laser treatment. You should think of the fading and eventual elimination of your tattoo as a project which you might work on from time to time over the next year or two.
In many cases the tattoo can be made to disappear or fade to the point where you are the only person who can find a trace of it, because you know where to look.
Some people choose to over-tattoo (use “cover-art”) to hide an undesirable tattoo. This is especially common when the original tattoo contains the name of a former lover. If you have one tattoo on top of an older tattoo, extra laser treatments will probably be needed because there is likely to be a large amount of ink (ink from the new cover-up tattoo plus ink from the old tattoo).
Many tattoo artists encourage customers to have several laser treatments to lighten an existing tattoo before covering it with a new one. This will greatly reduce any chance that the old tattoo will be visible through the new tattoo. We welcome advice from your tattoo artist about the desired degree of lightening, and about the exact elements in the old tattoo which should be lightened or eliminated. You should wait a month or two after your final laser treatment before having a new tattoo placed in the treated area.
Dr. Smith is an expert in the comfortable administration of local anesthesia, and will do his best to make sure that your tattoo is as numb as possible before laser treatment. After treatment, the anesthetic will wear off after an hour or two, and then your tattoo will be somewhat like a sunburn: usually not painful, except if it is rubbed or if you bump it or roll over on it while you are sleeping.
Usually the tattoo will be somewhat swollen right after treatment, and may look discolored, faded or bruised. This usually goes down over several days to a week, depending on the size, color and location of the tattoo.
In most cases, the laser treatment leads to satisfactory fading or complete removal of the tattoo without significant side effects. Serious side effects are very unusual.
The most common problem with tattoo treatment is incomplete fading or removal of the tattoo. This is mainly an issue with complicated multicolored tattoos. Not all tattoo inks respond and rarely certain colors can get worse. Heavy professional tattoos in particular may not completely fade. Significant and sometimes irreversible darkening of tattoo ink may occur, where the pigment is impossible to remove. This is mostly a problem with flesh-colored, red, tan, and white inks, and a small test area can be done to detect this problem.
Although true scarring is very unlikely there can be some mild change in the texture of the skin (perhaps 1-2% of cases). Sometimes there is pre-existing texture change in the skin caused by the tattooing process itself. Please tell us if you have a tendency toward forming unusual scars.
There can also be some loss of natural tanning ability in the treated area, which usually improves with time. You can reduce the chance of irregular tanning by protecting the tattooed area from sun exposure. Hypopigmentation (lightening of the skin) or hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin) are quite infrequent, and are almost always temporary. Dr. Smith’s Candela ATV laser is the safest in the world for dark skin colors. African, Asian and Mediterranean people can have their tattoos safely treated without changing the surrounding skin color.
Allergic reactions can occur after treatment, especially if you are already having an allergic reaction (redness and itching) in your tattoo. Allergic reactions are rare, and can usually be treated with Benadryl™. Allergic reactions are usually caused by metallic dyes, which contain mercury, manganese, chromium, cobalt, or cadmium. In contrast to drugs and cosmetics, tattoo pigments have never been controlled or regulated in any way, and the exact composition of a given tattoo pigment is often kept a “trade secret” by the manufacturer. In most cases, neither the tattoo artist nor the tattooed patient has adequate information about the composition of the tattoo pigment.
You should be mentally and emotionally stable when having any cosmetic procedure. This will help you to deal with the healing period after each treatment, and give you the patience and persistence to get through the complete series of treatments, which will be spread over many months.
After any kind of surgery or cosmetic treatment some patients experience a lull or down period where they become depressed or feel unattractive while healing. This is normal, but fortunately these feelings are quite uncommon and usually resolve after a few days or weeks. It is important to be patient and remain positive as this promotes better healing and relaxation. It is best not to pass judgment on your progress until the healing process has completed.
- Are physically healthy
- Are psychologically stable
- Do not smoke (non-smokers usually heal a bit faster)
- Want to improve their appearance
- Are willing to commit a substantial amount of time to the process
- Do not have fluorescent colors in their tattoo
- Are well informed about laser treatment of tattoos
- Have realistic expectations about the outcome
Laser treatment of tattoos is not covered by insurance, but it is often covered by the “Health Spending Accounts” which some companies offer. Tattoo removal may be a tax deductible expense for performers, dancers and actors, or a tax deductible medical expense in the case of traumatic tattoos [for example, from body piercings or from falling on things like asphalt roads].
If you no longer want your tattoo, now is the time to take advantage of this new breakthrough in laser technology. There has never been a better time than right now to make that change in your life. At the Niagara Falls Dermatology and Skin Care Centre, we can help. Thanks to specialized laser technology, we can safely fade your tattoos so there is little or no trace left.
Start working with Dr. Smith and “Undo Your Tattoo!”
Our staff can take the time to discuss your wishes and options, and answer your questions. No referral is required.
Niagara Falls Dermatology & Skin Care Centre Limited
Kevin Smith, MD, FRCPC Dermatologist
Licensed and inspected by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario
Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada
Board Certified in the United States by the American Board of Dermatology
Suite 201, 6453 Morrison Street, Niagara Falls, Ontario
Please call us at 905-356-7744 if you have any questions, and to arrange for a prompt, confidential consultation and treatment. No referral is needed.