The possibilities there are to get rid of an unwanted tattoo are sanding off your skin (yes, this is an option), surgical removal, using liquid nitrogen to freeze and burn off the tattoo, and laser tattoo removal, a better option to get rid of an image already painfully placed on whatever patch of skin you wanted it on.
But what actually happens when a tattoo gets lasered off?
Laser tattoo removal uses pulses of light at a very high concentration to break up the pigment of the tattoo, after which the body’s scavenger cells remove the pigment residues. Black pigment absorbs all laser wavelengths, and so it is the easiest to remove. Other colours selectively absorb laser light and can only be treated by selected lasers. Depending on how small or large the tattoo is, the number of treatments may increase or decrease (but stays within a range of 2-12 visits) and as you have to wait about a month between treatments, it could take up to a whole year to attempt to fully remove a tattoo. Quite the commitment—I can’t even commit to something as simple as going to the gym. In this video, you can see a tattoo removal testimony by Mark Wahlberg, who had between 33-34 treatments.
At the beginning of the procedure, the patient is required to wear protective eye-shields. The doctor will use a small hand piece, place it against the surface of the inked skin and it will shoot beams of laser light. Most patients compare the feeling of these beam shots to the splatter of hot grease, or the snapping of a rubber band against the skin. Smaller tattoos require fewer of these shots, while larger ones require more. After each treatment, the tattoo should become lighter and lighter depending on size, age and skin colour of the patient and the type of tattoo.
After the treatment, the area should be kept clean and an ointment should be applied periodically. Showers and baths are fine, but the area should not be scrubbed. Also, as the lasered patch is most likely to feel like a very bad sunburn, it’s probably nicer if you shower in water that is not too hot—I can remember from some summers that it can be quite painful to take a hot shower when your skin is a little tender.
Possible side effects of a laser treatment may be hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation, where the treated area increases or decreases in normal skin colour, meaning the colour of the skin becomes darker or lighter than it originally was. Other results may be infection, scarring, incomplete removal and a hole in your wallet the size of a mammoth.
The best way to know what happens during a tattoo removal session on a dermatological level, is to first take a look at this video. Here, the permanence of a tattoo is explained through a wittily drawn and narrated animation, and hopefully by learning how it is permanent, you will also be able to deduce how to reverse that state. As I see it, tattoos are permanent because even though the scavenger cells of your body attempt to break down the invading pigment, the cells remain in that place and so the pigment does not leave. With having beams of laser light breaking up the pigment, the scavenger cells are more capable of “digesting” the fragmented pigment.
All I can conclude now is that after knowing the pain of getting a tattoo, I sure as heck do not want to go through something that hurts even more. So please—pleaaase—think long and hard before you get that infinity sign, because unless you want to go through what some people describe as hell, that tattoo will indeed be there for infinity.
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Header image courtesy of luxe-laser.com.