How does laser tattoo removal work? Is it really safe?

How does laser tattoo removal work?

Pascal Tourain - Tattoo Art FestI know, I know, the tattoo of ‘I love you Kevin’ seemed a great idea at the time. Sure, you had a hard time convincing you new boyfriend, Brian, that Kevin is your dead pet cat’s name. Now that Kevin is but a faded blot in the memory, it’s definitely the right time to get rid of that tattoo. Well, you’re in luck because modern technology can help.

Laser tattoo removal is the number one way to get rid of an unwanted tattoo. Very simply, it works by blasting the ink particles in the skin, undoing the tattooist’s fine work. The process is far from perfect but it’s a darned sight better than anything that has come before.

Your tattooist performed their art using an electrically powered ‘pen’ that injects ink into the upmost 2 millimetres of the skin. The tattoo machine has an ink-loaded needle that jabs up and down (a bit like a sewing machine) between 60 and 150 times a second. Each time it pierces the skin, a tiny bit of ink is deposited. Of course, the skin doesn’t take too kindly to being stabbed thousands of times with microscopic blobs of ink and so the immune system does its best to get rid of it. The ink that has been injected into the dermis of the skin (the second layer down) gets attacked by the body’s white blood cells. Treating it like an invader, they do their best to gobble it up and take it away. Over the ensuing hours and days, a ‘scar’ forms within the dermis, engulfing the large ink particles that are too big to be gotten rid of by the white blood cells. And there the ink will normally stay forevermore.

Tattoo removal lasers get rid of a tattoo by breaking down the large ink particles into smaller ones, giving the body’s immune system a chance to finally get rid of it. Lasers do this by giving pulses of light powerful enough to penetrate the top layers of skin. The colour of the laser light is tuned to give maximum energy to the colour of the tattoo ink – ‘opposite’ colours are chosen. Red ink absorbs green light; green ink absorbs red light, and black ink absorbs all colours of light. The more colours a tattoo has, the more challenging it is to remove.

Scarring is possible, although there are few serious risks associated with laser tattoo removal. It is widely seen as a pretty safe procedure and there is also no evidence that skin cancer is more likely. Plus, the end result will probably be good enough to replace the word ‘Kevin’ with ‘Brian’.

Or maybe not.

Answer by Dr Stu

Question from Jessica via Facebook.

Image source: °]° on Flikcr

Article by Stuart Farrimond

February 27, 2014

Doctor Stu is editor of Guru Magazine. He originally trained as a medical doctor before deciding to branch out into lecturing, writing, editing and science communication. He drinks far too much coffee, eats lots of ice cream and has a bizarre love of keeping fit.
You can check out Doctor Stu’s blog at or his poncy personal website Here's his .

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One thought on “How does laser tattoo removal work? Is it really safe?”

  1. Actually, it depends on the type of Laser is being used. There are many Sophisticated laser has been used to deliver great results. Ultra laser and YAG laser is class of Lasers for outstanding performance to remove variety of tattoos

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