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Tattoo removal lasers are powerful devices designed to specifically break apart tattoo ink that was meant to be permanent. While they are both safe and effective in most cases, when used improperly, you can be at risk for unwanted side effects, including scarring.
If you are having or thinking of having laser tattoo removal, be aware of the possibility of side effects. Choose your laser facility and practitioner carefully to minimize the chances of scarring and make sure you’re treated by someone who is highly experienced. Doing your homework up front to find an experienced practice will limit the risk of scarring.
Scarring that can happen after laser tattoo removal generally falls into one of three categories: hypopigmentation (lightening of the skin), hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin), or textural changes in the skin. Let’s talk a bit more about each of these and why they can happen.
Hypopigmentation after laser tattoo removal is somewhat common – and usually temporary. Remember, the laser works by delivering light energy to the pigment in the tattoo, and often, it is the same wavelength of light that is used to remove excess melanin in the skin. You may see a slight lightening of your natural skin tone where your tattoo was previously and this change often returns to your normal skin color after healing. However, it can be a more permanent change if you’re not taking care of your treated skin with proper sunscreen protection, having your treatments done too close together (without proper healing) or having treatments that are too aggressive (laser energy settings that are too high with bleeding during treatment).
Hyperpigmentation or darkening can also be a common, but is a temporary phenomenon, and is common with darker skin types. Even if your laser practitioner follows all the proper settings and precautions, it can still happen. The best way to avoid this unwanted side effect is to make sure that your laser practitioner is using a tattoo removal device that is right for your skin type (color).
Textural changes in the skin can happen with laser tattoo removal treatments that are done too aggressively. This may include energy settings that are too high for your skin and/or not allowing enough time to properly heal between treatments. Yes, we get it…you want your tattoo gone yesterday, but is it really worth the risk of trading a scar for your tattoo? We’ve seen scars from tattoo removal that look much worse than the original tattoo.
To minimize the risk of improper healing after your laser tattoo removal treatment, follow your practitioners post care guidelines carefully. Make sure you protect your treated skin and tattoo from the sun and keep the area well moisturized while healing.
Finally, make sure that your practitioner is licensed and credentialed to treat you with the device that they are proposing to use for your treatment. As common as laser tattoo removal is, you would be surprised to learn how little training some practices offer prior performing the treatments. Ask lots of questions and be your own advocate. When you do, your chances of having any unwanted side effect or scarring after laser tattoo treatment will be reduced dramatically.