Who can benefit from laser tattoo removal?

Because each tattoo is unique, removal methods must be designed for each individual. In the past, tattoos could be removed by several methods. However, in many cases, the scars were more unattractive than the tattoo itself.

Patients with previously treated tattoos – by treatment methods other than lasers – may also benefit from laser therapy. These tattoos may respond well to laser therapy as long as prior treatments did not cause a large amount of scarring.

What are the possible side effects?

There are minimal side effects to laser tattoo removal. However, you should consider the following factors in your decision:

  • The tattoo removal site is at risk for infection.
  • The pigment may not be completely removed. This is relatively common. Some colors of tattoo dye resist laser removal and some pigment is too deep to be reached with current lasers.
  • There is a slight chance that the treatment can leave a permanent scar.
  • The treated skin may either be paler than the surrounding skin (hypopigmentation) or darker than the surrounding skin (hyperpigmentation).
  • Cosmetic tattoos, such as lip liner, eyeliner, and eyebrows may darken following treatment with tattoo removal lasers. Further treatment of the darkened tattoos usually results in fading.

Is laser tattoo removal safe?

Thanks to newer technology, treatment of tattoos with laser systems has become much more effective with very little risk of scarring. Laser treatment is often safer than many traditional methods (excision, dermabrasion) because of its unique ability to selectively treat pigment involved in the tattoo. Excision cuts out the tattoos using a surgical knife (a scalpel). Dermabrasion uses tools to sand off the upper layers of skin. In many cases, certain colors may be better able to be removed than others. It is known that blue/black tattoos respond particularly well to laser treatment. The response of other colors is under investigation.

Remember, the information in this document is general. It does not replace the physician’s advice. For details about your specific case, please arrange a meeting with a physician experienced in the use of tattoo lasers.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/20/2015.

References

  • American Academy of Dermatology, “New and improved laser and light treatments take aim at cellulite, fat, tattoos, wrinkles, and sagging skin.” News release issued Mar. 21, 2014. Accessed 4/20/2015.
  • American Academy of Dermatology, “Lasers lighting the way for enhanced treatment of melasma and tattoo removal.” News release issued Feb. 7, 2012. Accessed 4/20/2015.
  • American Academy of Dermatology Tattoo removal: Lasers outshine other methods Accessed 4/20/2015.
  • Adatto M. Laser Tattoo Removal: Benefits and Caveats. Medical Laser Application 2004; 19(4): 175-185.
  • Bernstein, EF. Laser treatment of tattoos. Clinics in Dermatology 2006; 24(1):43-55.
  • Laumann A. Body art. In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, Katz SI et al, editors. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 7th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Medical; 2008:Chap 100.

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