Tattoos are as unique and complex as the individuals they are on, so it is no surprise that the removal process varies from person to person and from tattoo to tattoo.
There are numerous factors that can speed up or slow down the removal process. Common questions we hear are “why is my laser tattoo removal not fading?” and “how does tattoo removal work?”. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons you may not be seeing results as fast as you had anticipated.
The type of laser used to treat your tattoo can impact your removal process. There are many brands of lasers but only two important categories of lasers as it relates to tattoo removal: nanosecond and picosecond.
Nano second technology depends on photo-thermal energy, or heat to break up ink molecules while picosecond technology depends on photo-acoustic energy, which is like a shockwave. The more heat a device relies on the greater the risk of complications such scarring and depigmentation. In some instances, the scar tissue resulting from the use of heat-based lasers can encapsulate the ink causing removal to become more difficult.
Who’s operating the laser can have just as much of an effect on the removal process as the laser being used. Depending on where you live, there may be strict regulations or no regulations on who can operate a laser.
Ideally, you want a laser technician who is highly skilled, well trained, and knows a lot about skin and tattoos. Beware of clinics offering multiple laser services. Even dermatology clinics that offer removal may not have the experience needed simply because removal is one of many services they provide and not something they specialize in. If the laser technician doesn’t have experience treating a wide variety of tattoos and skin types, they may be delivering ineffective treatments or overly aggressive treatments which can cause burns that result in dyspigmentation (lightening and darkening of the skin) or scarring. Either can drastically slow your removal down.
While it might not be the main reason laser tattoo removal is not fading your tattoo, inappropriate aftercare can slow the process down overall due to increased recovery time and potential complications. How you care for your tattoo after treatment can set you up for success or slow your removal process.
After a laser tattoo removal session, it’s best to keep the area clean, cool, and dry. Avoid vigorous activities and submerging it in water for the first 24-72 hours. If you happen to get any blisters, don’t pick or scratch.
Most importantly keep the tattoo out of the sun. Tattoo removal and sun exposure do not mix. Mineral sunscreens reapplied every 90 minutes, KT tape, and bandages can save you from permanent dyspigmentation or having to push out your next treatment. Diligently following the aftercare recommended by your laser specialist is going to help ensure a smoother, faster process. Not doing so can slow it down.
If you’re coming in for treatments sooner than every 6-12 weeks, that may be slowing your progress down. While it sounds counterintuitive, more treatments with less time in between does not necessarily mean better or faster results. Your body, particularly your lymphatic and circulatory systems are doing most of the work removing your tattoo.
When you initially get a tattoo, your body immediately recognizes it as a foreign substance and wants to eliminate the ink particles. Unfortunately for your body, those ink particles are too big to be digested; this is what makes your tattoo “permanent”. That’s where the laser comes in. The laser breaks those ink particles into tiny digestible pieces and your body can continue to digest ink particles for weeks, months, and sometimes even years after a laser treatment.
Plenty of time between treatments ensures that your body can process and eliminate most of the particles broken down by the laser and maximizes the effectiveness of each treatment. By giving your body ample time to do its work, you may be speeding up your removal process and minimizing the possibility of any complications healing.
Where your tattoo is located on your body also affects how quickly your tattoo fades. Your body is doing most of the work removing your tattoo and it needs your circulatory system to get the job done. Because your circulation is weakest in your extremities, tattoos on hands, wrists, feet, and ankles can take a little longer to remove than tattoos closer to your heart.
So, don’t be alarmed at that stubborn tattoo on your ring finger. It is natural for it to take a little longer, just as natural as having cold hands from low blood circulation in the area.
When asking “How long does it take a tattoo to fade?” ink composition can be one of the biggest factors and the most mysterious. There are countless inks and pigments on the market. While many of them require that you are a licensed tattooer to purchase them, none of them are FDA regulated.
This means we have absolutely no idea what the ink is made of. Some are organic and some are synthetic; organic inks are often composed of plant-based materials, while synthetic inks are often composed of heavy metals and sometimes even plastics. Synthetic inks are typically a little more stubborn and require more treatments and more patience.
How quickly your tattoo fades is partially determined by the colors present in your tattoo. All black tattoos are typically removed faster than multi-colored tattoos. This is due to how different colors absorb different wavelengths of light.
The 1064 wavelength is used to treat all colors of ink but is most absorbed by black ink, making it the easiest color to remove. The 1064 is also the least absorbed by your skin, making it the safest wavelength for all skin types. Warmer tones such as reds, oranges, and yellows can be treated with the 1064 wavelength but are more effectively targeted with a 532 wavelength. Cooler tones like blues, greens, and purples can also be treated with the 1064 wavelength but are more effectively targeted with a wavelength in the 700’s like the 730 or the 755. The wavelengths for warm and cool colored inks are great at targeting tattoo pigments and are also more likely to be absorbed by the skin, so they are not suitable for all skin types.
And then there’s white ink. Sometimes white ink fades and blends in with the skin. Other times the particular metals found within white ink can cause oxidation when treated with a laser. Oxidation can cause the white ink to change in color and can take more sessions to target and remove. Long story short, if your tattoo contains more than just black ink, be prepared for a slightly longer process.
Tattooing is an art with varying compositions and styles. With that nuance of style comes varying degrees of ink saturation and density, which are going to impact how quickly your tattoo fades.
For example, black and gray realism is going to be less dense and less saturated than a tribal design or black out sleeve and line work is going to be denser and deeper in the skin than shading. When a tattoo is denser and more saturated, it means that there are more ink particles deposited into the skin. The more ink particles deposited into the skin means more work for the laser and your body and most likely will require more treatments and more time.
There are a variety of reasons your tattoo itself could be stubborn. When and how it was applied can play a big role in why your tattoo removal isn’t fading.
While the laser is breaking down the ink, your body is handling most of the removal process. Because your body is doing a majority of the work, your overall health is going to affect the removal process enormously. Age, underlying health conditions, hydration, activity level and other lifestyle choices play a role in how quickly your tattoo is removed. The more birthdays you’ve had, the longer it may take your tattoo to fade due to the fact that your immune system typically weakens with age.
Chronic dehydration and lack of physical activity will also cause your tattoo to be a bit more stubborn, as it negatively impacts your circulation. Any medical conditions that affect your immune system or circulation will typically slow the tattoo removal process. If you’re worried about how fast your tattoo is fading, taking steps to become physically healthier can help.
Because there are many factors that affect tattoo removal, it’s impossible to estimate the exact number of treatments needed for full removal but for a professionally applied tattoo, we’re roughly averaging 10-12 treatments. With each treatment spaced out 6-12 weeks, that’s around a two year process.
While it is a process, there are some things that you can do to help it along. Since your body is doing most of the work, anything you can do to be overall healthier is going to speed up the process. Participating in physical activity, staying hydrated, and avoiding smoking will improve circulation and boost your immune system, which ultimately speeds up the removal process. Strictly following the aftercare provided by your laser technician and avoiding sun exposure will ensure optimal healing and keep your treatments on track.
For more info, visit our article How Long Does It Take to Remove a Tattoo?
Immediately after your first treatment, you should notice a white frost over the tattoo. While your tattoo may look different, the frosting is only temporary and subsides after about 5 to 15 minutes. Then your tattoo goes back to looking pretty similar to when you came in. Frosting is only the ink releasing gas bubbles as it is being shattered, not your tattoo fading in real time. The desired fading does not come until the weeks and months following treatment, as your body eliminates the ink particles.
If your tattoo is predominantly shading, you may notice a difference after one treatment. However, if your tattoo is heavily saturated, or mostly line work, you may see no difference at all after one treatment. It may take many treatments before you’re noticing a difference. Don’t be discouraged! It is a process but it is a worthwhile one.
Making tattoo removal progress can be a lengthy process that requires patience. If you’re not seeing results immediately don’t be alarmed. It is normal for it to take many treatments to notice a difference in the tattoo. It may be time to talk with your laser specialist if you’re reaching treatment numbers in the double digits and you’re seeing no difference in your tattoo. It can be hard to gauge how much progress you have made between treatments because the changes are gradual each day. Often reviewing your treatment photos with your technician will reveal just how much your tattoo has changed. If your tattoo is truly not fading your technician can advise you on next steps.
Tattoo removal is an incredibly layered process with many factors affecting the outcome. Luckily, there are steps you can take to positively impact how fast your tattoo fades. While this gives you some agency, patience is still an important part of your removal journey.
With 108 locations in the United States, Canada, and Australia, Removery has completed over 660,000 treatments. Removery understands that removing a tattoo is a lengthy process and approaches it with both patience and tenacity. If your removal has plateaued or you’re just beginning your journey, we would love to get you in for a consultation with one of our removal experts.
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We’re on a mission to give you the most straightforward, easy and efficient laser tattoo removal experience. Your estimate will be entirely bespoke to your tattoo; the size, the colours, the ink. It won’t take long and afterwards you’ll have a plan to finally get rid of your unwanted tattoo and get back to being you.