FDA clearance means this method for removing tattoos complies with agency requirements for safety and effectiveness, according to FDA dermatologist Markham Luke, M.D. Other methods include dermabrasion -- actually "sanding" away the top layer of skin, and excision -- cutting away the area of the tattoo and then sewing the skin back together.
There are also do-it-yourself tattoo removal ointments and creams that you can buy online. "FDA has not approved them, and is not aware of any clinical evidence that they work," says Luke. In addition, Luke says tattoo removal ointments and creams may cause unexpected reactions, such as rashes, burning, scarring, or changes in skin pigmentation in the process.
How does it work?
With laser removal, pulses of high-intensity laser energy pass through the epidermis and are selectively absorbed by the tattoo pigment. The laser breaks the pigment into smaller particles, which may be metabolized or excreted by the body, or transported to and stored in lymph nodes or other tissues, Kosoglu explains.
The type of laser used to remove a tattoo depends on the tattoo's pigment colors. Because every color of ink absorbs different wavelengths of light, multi-colored tattoos may require the use of multiple lasers. Lighter colors such as green, red, and yellow are the hardest colors to remove, while blue and black are the easiest.
Does it hurt?
"That depends on a person’s pain threshold," Kosoglu says. Some people compare the sensation of laser removal to being spattered with drops of hot bacon grease or snapping a thin rubber band against the skin. A trained dermatologist will be able to adjust the treatment to the patient’s comfort level.
Generally speaking, just one laser treatment won't do the trick. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the procedure requires multiple treatments (typically six to 10) depending on a tattoo's size and colors, and requires a few weeks of healing time between procedures. Some side effects may include pinpoint bleeding, redness, or soreness, none of which should last for long.