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Want to get rid of your tattoo? Here's everything you need to know about tattoo removal.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been victimised by a tattoo you no longer love?

Sometimes, you get to a point in your life when the tattoo you got in your teens or twenties (or in Bali) no longer suits you. People change and grow, and that’s perfectly OK.

The process of getting a tattoo removed comes with a lot of options and SO MANY QUESTIONS.

Does laser tattoo removal work? Is it safe? Does laser tattoo removal hurt? How much will the tattoo removal cost set me back?

To find out absolutely everything you need to know about laser tattoo removal, we asked Dr Peter Horvath of The Cosmedic Room to answer all your burning (pun intended) questions.

Types of tattoo removal lasers.

The Q Switch laser.

The Q Switch laser has been around for approximately 20 years, but it wasn’t invented for tattoo removal.

“The Q Switch laser is a thermal laser, meaning it uses heat to do whatever it does. It’s a medical laser, it’s used for hair removal, if you’ve got diabetic eye disease, to rupture kidney stones – it’s effective at doing what it’s meant to be used for,” Dr Horvath explained.

Because this laser wasn’t designed for tattoo removal, there are side effects that make it not the best choice for removing a tattoo.

“If you’re using a Q Switch laser on your skin, it’s going to burn your skin. It’s also very painful because the skin is being burnt, and this can also cause scarring.”

The Picosure tattoo removal laser.

The other type of laser commonly used for laser tattoo removal is a Picosure tattoo removal laser.

“The Picosure laser is a photo-acoustic or photo-mechanical laser, in other way, it doesn’t use heat to remove tattoo pigment. The way it works is that the tattoo pigment particles absorb the laser’s energy, become unstable at a molecular level and are blown apart into tiny pieces,” Dr Horvath said.

“Your own immune cells come along and pick up those pieces, and then metabolise them.”

While the results can be slower to achieve, the Picosure laser won’t cause scarring and is less painful than the Q Switch laser.

Can everyone have laser tattoo removal?

Dr Horvath advised there are three types of people who either can’t have laser tattoo removal or will need to wait a period of time before doing so:

  • If you’ve been on Roaccutane, it’s recommended you wait six months after you’ve stopped taking the drug before undergoing laser treatment.
  • If you’ve ever had a gold compound for rheumatoid arthritis.
  • If you have SLE (systemic lupus).
laser-tattoo-removal-before-and-after
Laser tattoo 'before and after'. Image: Supplied/The Cosmetic Room.
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laser-tattoo-removal-before-and-after
Laser tattoo 'before and after'. Image: Supplied/The Cosmetic Room.
laser-tattoo-removal-before-and-after
Laser tattoo 'before and after'. Image: Supplied/The Cosmetic Room.
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Does tattoo removal hurt?

Short answer... yes.

Dr Horvath likens tattoo removal with the Q Switch laser to burning your finger on a hot pan- it hurts while it's happening, and for a great deal of time afterwards.

Tattoo removal with the Picosure laser hurts "an awful lot less", Dr Horvath said, but it's not a pain-free experience.

"It's unpleasant while it's happening, it feels like a rubber band flicking hard and fast against your skin while it's happening, but as soon as the laser isn't touching your skin, the discomfort will go away."

"Sometimes people need a break during the treatment, others use an anaesthetic cream which can work if you put it on thick enough about an hour-and-a-half before laser treatment."

As with most things, the degree of discomfort will also depend on your individual pain threshold. Specifically with tattoos, where the tattoo is being removed from on your body matters too - the front of the thigh or the middle of the back is unpleasant, but sensitive areas of skin like on the neck can hurt more than others.

How long will it take to remove a tattoo?

"This depends on your tattoo," Dr Horvath said.

"We do treatments six weeks apart as the body's immune cells take around six weeks to metabolise the tattoo pigment, but it depends on the type of tattoo you have, where on your body it is, and how heavily shaded it is.

"It's like sandpapering paint off wood, if it's applied thinly, it'll go quickly, if it's thick, it will take ages."

Dr Horvath said lightly shaded tattoos might go in one or two sessions, and tattoos on the lower legs and feet take longer than on the neck or arms. Heavily inked or coloured in tattoos will also take longer to remove.

Another factor that determines how quickly your tattoo will be removed is what level on the Picosure laser is used. Essentially, the higher the strength of the laser, the more chance you have of scarring or skin damage.

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"The Picosure laser has lots of settings. Tattoos will take longer to remove if you want the skin to be as close as it was before you had the tattoo, using a higher strength level can leave a red mark and that can take time to go away."

"Some colours take longer to remove too. If people have yellow in their tattoo, it's difficult to remove. Colours are more difficult to remove than a standard dark tattoo."

In short, give yourself at least a year to remove the tattoo if you want your skin to be in the best condition possible.

Tattoo removal cost.

How much laser tattoo removal costs can be determined in two ways: price per session, or a fixed price.

Because it's hard to tell with some tattoos how many sessions it will take to remove, paying as you go can become quite expensive.

Fixed pricing isn't available at all treatment clinics, however they generally work by giving you a quote and capping the cost, regardless of how many sessions it goes on to take.

The one thing you can guarantee about tattoo removal is it's generally far more expensive than the price of the initial tattoo.

Laser tattoo removal side effects and post-care.

Side effects with the Picosure laser are fairly minimal, but vary from person to person.

"I warn people about blisters, which aren't caused by burns, but when the microscopic blood vessels under the skin become permeable and leak," Dr Horvath said.

He suggested dressing the blisters, and gently popping with a sterile needle to let the fluid out. This is more common with darker tattoos, as they require a higher strength laser to be removed.

Blood vessels can also leak red blood cells, this will appear as a bruise. It can look startling, but will go away between seven to 10 days.

Dr Horvath also said caring for your skin during tattoo removal is much like caring for a fresh tattoo - "think of it as a graze, don't go swimming and don't go out in the sun."

Can you get a tattoo in the same spot you've had a tattoo removed?

This is one of the most common questions Dr Horvath is asked.

If you're looking to 'renovate', as he calls it, and get a new tattoo in the same place your old one was removed from, you can absolutely do so.

This is especially important for anyone who's had a shocking pair feather tattoo brows done.

There is hope for you.

Have you ever considered laser tattoo removal? How did you find the experience?

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