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No, you’re not allergic to laser tattoo removal. While that is often the first thought of someone who gets hives after tattoo removal, we promise that’s not the case. We know that some patients develop red, itchy, raised and swollen looking skin immediately after laser treatment of their tattoo. Why? No one is quite sure, but it is a frequently reported adverse reaction to treatment.
Here’s what we think may be going on. If you’ve read about laser tattoo removal, you understand the laser works to break up the tattoo ink particles into much smaller pieces that can be removed and cleared by your body’s immune system. It’s been proposed that your immune system has a bit of a panic attack over the sudden, large amount of these ink particles that are created all at once during the treatment.
This immediate influx of foreign material in the skin triggers the redness, swelling and firmness that you see and feel. It also creates a sensation of mild pain and itching in the treated area. And while all of this is temporary and lasts only minutes to hours after treatment, we know that it can be uncomfortable.
There are ways to help limit this reaction and at best, avoid it all together. First, take some Benadryl about an hour before your laser treatment. This helps stabilize some of the immune cells in the skin that release the chemical signals responsible for the “hive-like” reaction. If you don’t have Benadryl, any antihistamine medication will help. If this works, remember to use this medication before every treatment.
Second, apply a hydrocortisone cream to the affected area. This steroid medicine also helps to calm down the immune cells in the skin. Again, this method only works when you apply it directly after treatment.
Lastly, ask your laser practitioner if you can use cold air or an ice pack immediately following treatment. The cold constricts your skin’s blood vessels which slows down your body’s blood flow and hence, the number of immune cells that can migrate to the treated area. And a cooling sensation can be a welcome thing after laser tattoo removal—with or without a hive-like reaction! It just feels good!
If you’ve tried these things and continue to have problems, sometimes it’s necessary to divide your laser tattoo treatment into separate sessions (usually two) to help lessen your skin’s reaction to the laser. While this takes more time and is inconvenient, it is an option that works for some as a last resort.
Hive-like reactions can happen after laser tattoo removal. Make sure your laser practitioner is aware if you’re having problems so he or she can take steps to help you correct it!