Does laser tattoo removal hurt & what should I do before treatment?
The short answer is yes, it does hurt. Most patients find laser treatment of tattoos uncomfortable but not unbearable. Forced refrigerated air and ice packs will be used during the treatment but if the discomfort becomes too severe, either a local anaesthetic cream or a local anaesthetic injected into the area may be used to manage pain. If a local anaesthetic cream is used, it must be applied liberally under an occlusive dressing one or two hours before tattoo removal treatment to produce maximum results.
You will be asked to list all medications and drugs you may be taking and to inform us if this changes during treatment. It is very important that you answer absolutely honestly because even herbal remedies like St John’s Wort may have a very serious effect on your photo-sensitivity. The use of non-prescription drugs such as cannabis/marijuana can lead to severe blistering and/or possible scarring. Naturally, anything you say to us is in complete confidence, but it’s vital that we know the whole truth.
You must insist on a 'test patch’ being carried out to establish whether your tattoo pigment contains iron oxide, titanium oxide or any other metallic element. If either of these oxides is present, the test patch will immediately go black and no attempt to remove the tattoo by laser treatment should be attempted. In such circumstances, the only alternative is surgical removal of the tattoo.
Research has shown that ladies’ pain thresholds are much reduced during menstruation and ladies are advised to bear that in mind when booking tattoo removal treatments.
The most common complication following laser tattoo removal is a reactive increase in skin pigment resulting in a darkening of the skin in the affected area. This increased pigmentation, which is more likely to happen to people who tan easily, only lasts a relatively short time (usually three or four months) before it disappears naturally.
Temporary or even permanent whitening of the skin can happen following laser treatment of tattoos but this is more common if very high energy levels are used, for instance with the Ruby laser. However, in most people, whitening of the skin is a short-lived and recovers naturally over a few weeks or months.
Some blistering is quite common and most patients will experience at least some small blisters during the course of a tattoo removal treatment. This is completely normal. In fact, if you do not see even a small blister during the course of treatment it probably means you are not being treated at high enough power levels and the course of treatment will last much longer and cost far more than it needs to.
Blistering does not usually have any harmful consequences as it is superficial but occasionally it can result in scarring. Although such scarring is rare it is nevertheless a risk that you must fully understand and accept before the removal treatment can commence.
We would however like to assure you that it is very unusual to develop any scarring at all following tattoo removal treatments with any of our high technology lasers. Indeed, all the Q Switched tattoo lasers operated by Royal Tunbridge Wells Skin & Laser Clinic are in contact with the skin for literally billionths of a second and work on a photo-acoustic principle rather than photo-thermal. This means that any heat produced is from the activity within the skin and not directly transferred by the laser.
Other Tattoo Removal Options
Q-Switched Laser: By far the best, most cost effective treatment available for the removal of tattoos. It rarely leaves a scar, is not too painful and falls within most budgets.
Surgical excision: Effective, but will leave a scar. However, this is sometimes the only option particularly if the tattoo contains iron or titanium oxide. We can refer you to a first class plastic surgeon but it will be expensive. This treatment is no longer available on the NHS.
Injection or over tattooing with acid: Horrendous, don’t go there! Seriously, keep the tattoo! This procedure will scar you and leave a mark much worse than the tattoo.