Created on 20th September 2011
Jordan has recently covered her ‘Pete' tattoo up with a cross and Johnny Depp changed ‘Winona Forever' to ‘Wino Forever', but there is another way to deal with tattoos if you start to regret them. Jan Williams of the Frodsham Laser Clinic answers our questions on laser tattoo removal
How does laser tattoo removal work?
Most people know about laser hair removal but laser tattoo removal is a very different procedure. In laser hair removal we burn the hair in the follicle whereas in laser tattoo removal you're actually shattering the ink molecule so your immune system can attack it and then the body disposes of it naturally.
When you have a tattoo you don't have an allergic reaction because the ink molecules are too big - the immune system doesn't know what to do with them so ignores them. However, if we smash the molecules with the laser they are broken down to a size where the immune system can deal with them.
There are two different types of lasers used in tattoo removal. The Yag-1064 is used to remove blue and black inks then a Yag-564 is used to remove coloured inks. We remove the coloured inks first because the skin swells up as we use the laser on it and then we use the other laser as it doesn't cause the skin to swell as much.
How many treatments are required?
It depends on what the patient wants, from just a cover up or to have the tattoo completely faded out, but it would usually take from two to twelve treatments. Also depends on the ink used, the depth of tattoo, how old it is and the amount of layers of ink which has been tattooed.
Is any recovery time needed between treatment sessions?
The laser treatment will result in a blister and you have to leave the blister to heal. It also depends on how aggressively you are treating the tattoo. Different clinics have different rules on the gap between appointments. Our policy is that if you aren't treating too aggressively then you should leave a six week window between treatments which gives the skin plenty of time to heal.
However, if we're treating the tattoo very aggressively - as you get further along the treatment procedure you start to apply more power - you would leave a longer window of about 12 weeks.
Can any type of tattoo be treated successfully?
Any tattoo can be treated but red and green inks are harder to deal with. With a lot of tribal tattoos you can have three to four treatments and it looks like nothing is actually happening. It is but there are so many layers built up that you don't see a difference. You only start to see a difference after about four treatments.
Managing expectations is the hardest and most important part of tattoo removal. People can lose interest and they can also get angry if they think they are being ripped off if they don't see an immediate effect.
Is there anyone who can't be treated?
Dark-skinned people aren't suitable for tattoo removal. We evaluate people's skin on the Fitzpatrick Scale. Skin types are classified from one to six based on your skin, eye and hair colour. One to four is classed as white skin and four to six dark/ethnic skins. Anyone who is over a four should be very careful about having tattoos removed because it can cause pigmentation and the patient could be left with a big blotch.
Are there any side effects to the treatment?
It can look as if you're giving them a second degree burn which can upset some people so you have to explain the process clearly. If you were to cut the skin open there would be no thermal damage but the top layer can become inflamed and it can blister and be very sore.
It varies from patient to patient but you can end up with a huge blister, particularly if you have had a very colourful tattoo, but if you keep it dry and clean and not pick at the blister then it will harden and crust away and there will be no scar.
Is it a costly treatment?
It can seem a very expensive treatment especially if the tattoo only cost them £30 or £40 in the first place but the lasers and the training are very expensive. It can vary from £50 per treatment for a small fingernail-sized tattoo to £250 per treatment for half a sleeve.
Is this an increasingly popular treatment?
Very much so. Now it has been high fashion for the last ten years or so for women to have tattoos on their shoulders or ankles, say, then we are seeing more and more of them come through their doors as they start to regret them.
Sadly, we also see a lot of men asking for names to be removed if they've broken up with their wives and girlfriends.
Treatment: Laser tattoo removal
Price: from £50 upwards per treatment depending on the size of the tattoo to be treated
Anaesthetic type: Local
Hospital stay: Not required
Available from: Frodsham Laser Clinic Limited; clinics located in Cheshire, Prestwich and Merseyside Frodsham; see www.frodshamlaserclinic.co.uk for more details.
For more details on Cynosure lasers and your local practitioner, visit www.cynosureuk.com and click on ‘Clinic Locator' or telephone 01628 522252