A Gun in a Knife Fight: How Laser Tattoo Removal Works


There are any number of reasons why you may not want your tattoo anymore. Maybe it brings up painful memories; perhaps it was a drunken mistake best left in the past. Regardless, when you are ready to turn over a new leaf, you have a couple viable options. One is to simply cover it up, either with clothing or more ink. The other is to have it removed with a laser.

Though laser tattoo removal has been around for a few decades, it’s only in the past 10 years or so that it’s become a truly effective treatment option. While getting your ink removed this way may seem like magic, laser removal is a scientific process that works with your body to eliminate the tattoo.

Essentially, the laser instigates a fight within your body. Let us explain.

The Life Cycle of Your Tattoo

When you first get your tattoo, the colors are dark and vibrant. However, the longer you have your tattoo, the more faded it gets. You may have experienced this, but never really knew why. Well, you can thank (or blame) your immune system for this phenomenon. As you are being tattooed, large blots of ink are injected into your skin. However, some smaller particles are injected as well.

White blood cells take notice of these “invaders,” and attack them. They first take these smaller particles to the liver, where they are processed and eliminated. Then, they continue to go after the larger particles, slowly eating away at them. However, because these larger particles dwarf the white blood cells, it takes much more time to break them down.

It’s almost like you eating an elephant. Even if they break down some of the ink, the white blood cells can’t latch onto all of them. That’s why, even decades after getting inked, the tattoo will still be visible, but much more faded.

They Bring a Knife, You Bring a Gun

Eventually, your white blood cells get to the point that they can’t really carry away more ink, because the particles are too big. However, when you get a laser involved, it’s like bringing a machine gun to a knife fight. The laser breaks down the ink into much smaller “bites” for the white blood cells to carry off.

During this process, the laser penetrates the skin and gets directly to the ink with very high heat and intensity. Because the burst of light is so short, it doesn’t burn the skin. However, it heats up a very specific section of ink, heating it up while keeping the surrounding area cool. This causes the ink to “crack,” and breaks it down into smaller pieces.

Depending on the size and location of the tattoo, it can take many sessions to completely break it down. In addition, your laser tattoo removal specialist will use different lasers for different colors and jobs. Though dark pigments are much easier to target with the lasers, advances in the latest technology means nearly any tattoo can potentially be removed.

Laser tattoo removal can be a tricky process that takes time and dedication to complete. If you are considering this step, your best option is to talk to an experienced tattoo removal specialist to see if this option will work for you, and what the process will be for your unique ink.