It sounds like something from the Dark Ages: As little as 20 years ago, one of the best ways to remove a tattoo called for the actual destruction of the skin. Your first option was salabrasion, a technique that used an abrasive tool to, quite literally, scrap the tattoo off the skin. (Ouch!) Your second, dermabrasion, wasn't much better: a rotary device was used to sand the tattoo away. Neither were all that effective — and they both hurt like hell
and left scars.
Thankfully, we now have less barbaric means of removing dubious ink — all thanks to lasers. But as anyone who has searched “tattoo removal” online knows, there is an overwhelming number of treatment options, machines, and practitioners who promise to delete your ink in a flash. Suffice it to say, it’s hard to know where to start.
We talked to
, MD, a board certified plastic surgeon and laser specialist in New Jersey and New York City for a roadmap and definitive directions. Get everything you want to know about professional tattoo removal, ahead. Andrew Miller
Understand Your Options
There are a ton of tattoo removal devices on the market, but they’re not all created equal. Miller suggests sticking with the big three, all Q-switched lasers (a type of laser), when looking to stamp out a tattoo: Nd:YAG lasers, ruby lasers, and the PicoSure laser.
All three options work the same way to eliminate ink. That is, after a burst of energy pops the pigment in skin, your body's natural cells carry it out of the body.
Prepare for Pain
Anyone who has watched
or Eva Longoria snaps of their own tattoo removal sessions knows that the process isn’t exactly a picnic. Miller says the sensation that patients feel is akin to having a rubber band repeatedly snap on your skin. And there’s no part of the body that experiences this sensation more or less strongly, he says. “It hurts everywhere. If it doesn't hurt isn’t not doing anything,” he says — kinda like getting a tattoo itself. But derms and cosmetic surgeons do have a little something in the arsenal to take the edge off, if needed: good ol' numbing cream. Khloe Kardashian’s More
Manage Your Expectations
Miller stresses that results are not always guaranteed, no matter how experienced your practitioner may be, how many sessions you try (this completely relies upon your ink, so your best guess is after a consultation, but around 10 isn't unusual),
or what laser you use. “Nobody can guarantee that it’s going to go away, but most people are happy because it either goes away or comes close to going away. Have reasonable expectations and it will be ok,” he assures.
Ink color isn’t the only thing that can trip up total removal.
published in the American Medical Association’s Archives of Dermatology reports that smoking can reduce the chance of successfully removing a tattoo by nearly 70%, after 10 treatment sessions. (Just one more reason to finally quit.) Research More
Find a Pro
Just ask the Internet: In some cases, a
one day course will certify someone to remove a tattoo. (You probably have apples in your fruit bowl that are older!) Just as you wouldn’t trust a tattoo artist who's been in the game for only a day or two, you shouldn’t trust a tattoo removal practitioner unless they have real, lengthy experience, Miller says. “Look for a well established plastic surgeon or dermatologist with a lot of experience,” he advises. “Ask the office: ‘How many tattoo removals have you done?” and ‘How many years have you been doing this?’”
Then, once those questions are satisfactorily answered, ask some more: Find out exactly what type of laser will be used. There are other machines aside from Q-switched lasers whose makers claim to remove tattoos — and being treated with them carries more risk.
Moral of the story: Look for someone with a ton of experience, manage your expectations, and always ask what kind of laser they'll be using. Final remarks from our pro? “Make
sure you’re going to a place that uses Q-switched Lasers: Nd:YAG laser, PicoSure, or ruby lasers,” Miller says. “Be proactive and ask exactly what it is!” More
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