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William S. Ketcham, M.D.
Cathy M. Poole, FNP, DNCP
Crystal R. Thornton, FNP
Shelley K. Bunting, FNP
Lenore "Lee" Henry, LC, CMA
Serving Garner, Raleigh,
Cary, Smithfield, Clayton
and surrounding areas
919-772-3487
Serving Cary, Garner, Clayton and Fuquay-Varina
919-772-3487

Laser Tattoo Removal: The Importance of Considering All That's Involved

If you've grown to dislike a tattoo that you’ve been carrying around on your skin, it is possible to get it removed. The procedure can be uncomfortable, but the risk of adverse side effects is low. However, it's important to get the answers to several key questions before making a final decision.
Where to Go for Laser Tattoo Removal
For optimum safety, see a qualified dermatologist. Ask your primary care provider for a referral to a doctor who specializes in tattoo removal and has significant experience in the use of laser treatments and techniques.
Be sure to let the dermatologist know of any medical conditions, such as diabetes or autoimmune diseases, for which you are being treated before you undergo any tattoo removal procedures. These and other health problems can interfere with the healing process.
Whether Health Insurance Pays for Tattoo Removal Treatments
Generally, unless a doctor says the procedure is medically necessary, health insurance won't pay for tattoo removal. Insurers see it as an elective cosmetic procedure like a face lift, Botox treatment for wrinkles or hair plugs.
If a procedure is not an emergency or won't extend how long you live, it's likely that your health plan isn't going to cover the procedure. Therefore, before opting for tattoo removal, consider that in most cases you will need several treatments to remove a tattoo, resulting in mounting out-of-pocket costs.
How Laser Tattoo Removal Works
While having a tattoo removed may seem less complicated than getting a tattoo, depending on the nature of the tattoo, the process can be time-consuming and expensive. Lasers, which direct beams of intense light, target the tattoo to break up the ink particles in the skin. Different lasers are used to remove different colors of tattoo ink.
The heat the laser produces can cause a tingling sensation or burning pain. To minimize possible discomfort, some doctors administer a local anesthetic or apply a topical anesthetic prior to performing the procedure.
As the laser wand passes pulses of intense light through your skin, the tattoo pigment below absorbs wavelengths of laser light. Short laser pulses, which are delivered quickly, cause little scarring.
What Factors Influence the Number of Treatment Sessions
Several factors determine how many treatments it will take to remove a tattoo.
  • Size and color of the tattoo: One study showed that tattoos larger than 12 inches and those with colors such as yellow and white are harder to remove than darker pigment colors, which are more sensitive to laser energy than lighter colors.
  • How long you've had the tattoo: Older tattoos are usually easier to remove since the colors have faded over the years.
  • The depth of pigment: Tattoos that require more ink are harder to remove because there is more pigment deeper in the skin.
  • Color of your skin: Tattoo removal typically works better on people with lighter skin tones, as people with darker skin tones are more likely to suffer side effects such as scarring.
Tattoos that are all black are easier to remove than colored tattoos, which require different laser wavelengths for different pigment colors. Larger tattoos also require more laser treatments to remove them, although a tattoo should look more faded following each treatment.
What Are the Potential Risks and Complications
A key risk associated with laser tattoo removal is infection. Redness and swelling at the removal site may be signs of cellulitis—a bacterial skin infection. Other signs of infection that require contacting your doctor include fever, bleeding, severe pain and pus or a yellow-green discharge.
Red lines or streaks radiating from the area are signs that bacterial infection is spreading from the skin to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. Although the use of laser technologies to remove tattoos poses less chance of scarring, the skin where the tattoo was removed may be lighter or darker than the skin on the rest of your body.
For answers to these and other questions about the tattoo removal process, contact the skilled professionals at Azalea Skin Treatment Center who have experience in tattoo removal and other cosmetic dermatology services.