Laser Tattoo Removal

Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a healthcare professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.

Portland is a great city for tattoos. You can go almost anywhere in this city and see beautiful tattoos. What’s more, people here are friendly and love to talk about their tattoos. It is not a stretch to say that Portland has some of the most technically-advanced and creative tattoo artists anywhere.

Over the last six years I have so enjoyed meeting some of the top tattoo artists and learning about the biz. My entry point was starting a tattoo removal clinic. Some people think the tattoo removal business is an adversary to the tattoo industry. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Most of my referrals come from tattoo artists. There are many reasons people want tattoo removal. I think the most common is that people who love tattoos started getting them early in life. As they progressed, the quality of their tattoos improved. Then some of the early tattoos don’t look so good next to the high-quality art out there now. The good news is that lasers can fade the hard lines and dark spots so that the tattoo artist can do a spectacular cover-up.

What you need to know: First, don’t waste your money on tattoo fading creams or potions. If any of them worked, the owner would be world famous and the laser tattoo industry would be out of business.  Medical lasers today are safe and effective. The most important factor is the training and experience of the operator. Go to clinics who have good equipment and who specialize in tattoo removal.

How laser tattoo removal works:  When an artist injects ink into the dermis (deep) layer of the skin, it becomes trapped in molecules that are too large for the body to eliminate. This makes the ink permanent.  Laser tattoo removal works by using a specific wavelength of light that will pass harmlessly through the skin and be absorbed by the color of the ink.

When the color of the ink, called a chromophore, absorbs the light energy it breaks the ink up into tiny pieces. These pieces are then eliminated through the lymphatic system that your body uses to eliminate bodily waste.  The pulse coming from the laser is so quick it lasts only a few millionths of a second. This allows the ink to be super-heated while protecting the surrounding skin.

Different colors of ink require different lasers. Black ink absorbs all wavelengths of light and is the easiest to remove. Red will absorb its opposite so it needs to be treated with a green laser. Green ink must be treated with a red laser.

How many treatments? The answer depends on many things including what result the client is looking for. Obviously complete removal will take more treatments than just fading a tattoo for a cover-up. Other factors include: the health of the client, color of the ink, how old the ink is, the quality of the ink, how far the tattoo is from the heart and how much ink the artists used. Some tattoos literally come out in only two sessions while others can take as many as fifteen sessions.

Another common question we get is, “Does it hurt?”  Yes. Tattoos hurt and so does tattoo removal. Both are dealing with the layer of skin with nerve endings, but don’t be afraid.

First, tattoo removal is very quick. A one inch by inch area can usually be treated in only a few seconds. Larger tattoos with more colors take longer but it is a hundred times faster than getting a tattoo.  There are topicals, anesthetics and patches that can greatly reduce the pain. Most people find the pain very tolerable and do not require anesthetic medication.

There is so much to know about laser tattoo removal. For answers to all your questions, go to our Frequently Asked Question page at or call.

Steven Donaldson, M.A., Certified Laser Technician, Aethetician


Laser Tattoo Removal

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