Tattoo Removal Information

What happens during a Laser Tattoo Removal Treatment?

Your first discussion with the Laser Practitioner should clearly set out your expectations. This should be matched by the recommended treatments and your practitioner will tell you whether the treatment can achieve the results you require.

A medical history will be taken to make sure that there are no reasons why you shouldn’t have this form of treatment. You would also be asked to read detailed information and sign a consent form at this time which means that you have understood the potential benefits and risks associated with the light procedure recommended.

Photographs may also be taken by the practitioner for a "before and after" comparison at a later date.

Depending on the area of skin where the tattoo is located and the type of laser to be used, treatment technique will be individually tailored for you, and a “patch test” will be recommended where the laser system is fired on a small area of the tattoo to see how the skin and the pigment responds prior to a full treatment session.

This procedure generally requires no special preparation beforehand, although you should have had no exposure to UV light (sun or sun-bed) for 4 weeks before any treatment.

An anaesthetic cream may be applied 30 minutes or so before treatment to help numb the skin; and you will be required to wear eye protectors. You may also be offered a cold air device to help cool the skin and avoid any discomfort.

You will experience a stinging sensation, often described as like an elastic band flicking sharply against the skin, when the laser is delivered to the treated area.

The entire procedure can last from 5 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the tattoo to be treated.

What are the risks and potential complications from Laser Tattoo Removal?

Due to the depth of treatment required to remove tattoo inks, the treatment is generally considered to be slightly painful, although this will vary from person to person due to different tolerances to pain. A stinging or burning sensation will be noticed during the procedure, and the area treated may feel hot for a short time after treatment. Your practitioner can advise on ways to alleviate any discomfort  during treatment with topical anaesthetics or cooling devices.

During treatment, most patients will experience small white dots which appear on the skin for several minutes after each firing of the laser – this is only water, vaporised by the heated tattoo pigment, and fades within a few minutes. After the treatment, minor bleeding may occur, with skin redness, swelling plus some blistering appearing over the treated area. The treated area may also feel very tender to the touch. This will fade over a few days. Once any blistering, crusting or scabs have resolved, the area of skin over the tattoo will look shiny for a number of weeks. It is vital that the skin is well looked after immediately after treatment. The treatment site should be considered as a minor burn and should not be picked at, and blisters should not be popped. There is a risk of infection if the area is not properly looked after.  Once the skin has returned to normal, generally after 4 – 6 weeks, then repeat treatments can be performed.

Post-treatment risks or side effects include:


Hyperpigmentation – patches of darkened skin, especially on people with darker skin-types. This condition usually resolves on its own, although skin products are available to help even out disrupted skin tones

Hypopigmentation - patches of pale skin colouring or loss of natural skin colour. As the laser treatment can also target the natural skin pigment colour or melanin in your skin as well as the colour of the tattoo inks, this can leave the treated area with a somewhat ‘bleached’ look following treatment. This will usually recover to some extent but it can take months and even years to do so. In some cases, the skin where the tattoo was treated may never match exactly with the surrounding area. This risk is increased with darker skin colours and the number of treatment sessions required to successfully remove the tattoo pigments.

Scarring - as these lasers do not heat up the surrounding tissue to a great degree, the risk of scarring following tattoo removal is considered to be very low. In the rare cases where scarring may occur, this is generally due to either a history of scarring (some people scar very easily) or poor treatment site healing, generally caused by the patient picking at scabs. Scarring risks can be alleviated by the use of a silicon scar-reduction gel.

How long will it take to recover from Laser Tattoo Removal?

Most patients will be able to return to work immediately following this type of procedure, although the area will be sore and tender and may be covered by a dressing for up to a week. If you are working in dirty or unhygienic conditions, extra care must be taken, especially where tattoos are on the hands.

What should you do after Laser Tattoo Removal?

It is very important that you follow the advice of your practitioner carefully after any laser treatment for tattoo removal to help make the procedure as successful as possible and to reduce the risk of complications.

Post-treatment advice may include:

  • Redressing any bandages as recommended by your practitioner.
  • Not picking at any scabs or crusting that appears on the skin of the treated area, as this can increase the potential for scarring.
  • Not scrubbing the area when showering or bathing.
  • Not exposing the area treated to the sun without a sunscreen for at least 4 weeks to reduce the risk of disturbing pigmentation in that area. A high factor sun block should be used daily to protect the skin.
  • Staying out of public swimming pools while the treatment site is fresh.
  • Contacting your practitioner immediately if you notice any signs of infection.

As a general rule – once scabs and blisters are dry, the area is safe from infection. If scabs and blisters are still wet or glistening the risk of infection is high.

When post-treatment advice is followed, the risks of infection are very low. In case of any infection, intervention is usually the prescription of a topical anti-biotic cream.

Summary of advice for Laser Tattoo Removal

The development of lasers has allowed practitioners to remove the varying different types and colours of tattoo pigments with increasing safely and effectively.

More young people are currently getting tattoos than ever before and may ultimately regret that decision 10, 20 or 30 years down the line. Research suggests that 70% of people with tattoos eventually regret having had it done.

Although current results can be very good, they vary both with the skill of the operator and type of machine used.

There are still some problems and tattoos which have been treated - even using the most up-to-date technology may often not disappear completely, especially for some colours, although they are usually much less obvious than before treatment and many people are satisfied with this result.

Because of the variety of different types of tattoos (e.g. amateur, professional, semi-permanent, micropigmentation etc.) that can be treated with laser machines, we cannot stress strongly enough how important it is to find a practitioner experienced in treating a wide range of tattoos.

It is important to check the type of laser that a clinic is using for tattoo removal, as these should always be Q-Switched, with the commonest being Q-Switched Ruby and Q-Switched ND:Yag lasers. Be very wary of any clinic offering laser tattoo removal using an Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) machine.