If you’re just starting laser removal, you’re probably wondering how long recovery will take between sessions. We explain how long tattoo removal healing takes and what to expect after laser tattoo removal, so you can go in fully informed.
The removal session itself takes only a few minutes. Depending on the exact size of the tattoo, removal typically takes just one to five minutes—the amount of time it would take to cover the tattoo with a highlighter, explains Cooper Ferreira, a licensed RN and Removery technician.
Though the treatment is lightning-fast, the tattoo removal recovery process takes a bit longer. You will undergo this recovery process after each removal session.
To understand the tattoo removal recovery process, you need to understand what is happening during a tattoo removal session. In a nutshell, the laser gently breaks down the ink so it can naturally be flushed out of the body.
“This is a process that utilizes your immune system to remove ink in a safe way,” says Cooper. Your body already wants to remove the ink particles in your skin, which are deposited into small pockets in the dermis layer of skin when you get a tattoo. In fact, your immune system has been trying to do that since you first got the tattoo. “When you get a tattoo, your body is actively trying to remove it. It’s a foreign body in the skin that shouldn’t be there,” says Cooper. However, the ink particles are about 100 to 200 nanometers—far too big for your immune system to process prior to laser treatment.
The laser directs energy to those ink particles so they shatter and break apart into smaller pieces, allowing your body’s immune system to target and eliminate them. “Your white blood cells are able to engulf those smaller ink particles, whereas before, the ink particles were too big for them to engulf,” Cooper explains. The white blood cells then carry the ink particles into the body’s lymphatic system. Most is then expelled through the digestive system, although some can also come out in sweat or urine.
Removery uses the PicoWay laser—the gold standard for laser removal—to remove tattoos. This laser has a photoacoustic effect that gently targets the ink using sound energy rather than heat. Its incredibly short pulses last for one trillionth of a second, making the process of tattoo removal extremely gentle compared to any other type of removal treatment.
Laser technicians are highly skilled at using the appropriate wavelengths to target only the tattoo ink. When treated by a skilled technician at a reputable facility, you won’t have to worry about damage to the surrounding tissue. In the process used, called selective photothermolysis, the laser’s energy is attracted only to the ink particles rather than the surrounding tissue.
Here’s what you should expect during the stages of tattoo removal.
Redness, swelling, slight blistering, a little itching, and raised areas are extremely common and should be expected after treatment. The skin will feel tender and sensitive at first. It should take a maximum of two weeks for all of these responses to treatment to subside.
Fifteen minutes after removal, the area will be very red, swollen, and sometimes a little itchy. It will stay like that for a week or so. “I always tell clients when I treat them, don’t be alarmed at how red it gets; that’s totally normal,” says Cooper. “But by the day after treatment, it won’t be painful.” Even after the treatment, clients are usually feeling just fine. You can tell that they’ve undergone laser treatment, but it’s not going to hinder them from going about their daily lives.
You may also notice a “frosting” effect immediately after laser removal, which gives the tattooed skin a chalky appearance. This completely normal effect just signifies the release of carbon dioxide from the skin. This temporary reaction usually only lasts for a few minutes to half an hour after laser removal. If it takes longer than that, contact your removal specialist, but that’s very unlikely to happen.
During the first day of recovery, your body is still responding to the laser treatment, so the appearance of the area can change. For instance, you may notice swelling increasing. Again, these effects are totally normal, but you should still discuss any concerns with your laser technician so you’ll have peace of mind.
After the laser has done its work, the body will continue to carry away and digest the ink throughout the first week. Your skin will begin to heal during this stage of tattoo removal. Still, it will likely continue to look red and swollen through much of the first week, which is absolutely normal. The body carries away a significant portion of the affected ink—the ink that the laser has broken down during that treatment session—during this time, even though you probably won’t immediately see a difference. In each week that follows (until about week six to eight), the body will continue to carry away some ink, but the amount will decrease incrementally each week until your next laser session.
How long between tattoo removal sessions should you wait? Certain people need more time to heal, based on factors like their immune health. Your technician will determine how treatments should be spaced out for optimal results. Removery generally advises having six to eight weeks of downtime between treatments. During this period, your body will continue digesting the ink while the skin also heals from the treatment.
Skin fatigue is an issue that clients occasionally experience, meaning the skin is taking longer than six weeks to heal completely. The body’s ability to efficiently remove the ink also declines with skin fatigue. Skin fatigue can happen from not giving the skin adequate time to heal between sessions, or from using improper settings on the laser. Removery’s technicians carefully assess how many weeks each client’s skin needs to recover from each treatment completely.
The health of your immune system plays a major role in how efficiently the body can digest and eliminate the ink particles that the laser breaks down. Thus, your overall health can affect the timeline of your recovery process.
These before and after photos show tattoos prior to removal as well as after healing in different stages of the removal process.
If the client is picking at blisters or scratching the area, that could potentially prolong the laser tattoo removal healing process by not allowing the skin to heal completely. This can also cause infection or permanent scarring. Simply leave the area alone and allow the body to heal naturally.
Also drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking, which can prolong the time removal takes because it hinders the immune system.
Serious adverse reactions during laser tattoo removal healing are extremely rare. If you’re following your technician’s advice, you’re unlikely to run into any complications from laser removal. Here, we’ll discuss several relatively common responses that should not cause alarm.
The three main types of adverse reactions are redness, swelling, and blisters. Let’s explain what causes each of them, what it looks like, and whether there is cause for concern.
After a treatment, you’ll see redness, formally called purpura, in the area treated by laser removal. It lasts for a week to two weeks at most. The redness is caused by capillaries leaking into the skin, which helps with the body’s immune response triggered by the removal session. This should not cause alarm, as the increased blood flow helps to flush out the affected ink.
Most clients experience swelling directly after the removal session and throughout part or all of the first week after treatment. This should not cause concern. However, if you have any questions about your body’s response to the treatment, you can always call your technician. In nearly all cases, the specialist simply puts the client’s mind at ease, assuring them that the swelling is totally normal.
Every so often, Removery clients experience blistering during tattoo removal healing. Removery can help them drain anything larger than the size of a dime.
Infection is rare, but you should know the signs to look for just in case. Tattoo removal infection signs include a rash, chills, and discharge from the treated area. Tell your removal technician if you experience any of these symptoms.
Although blisters happen on occasion and swelling is completely normal, significant adverse reactions are extremely rare. You’re very unlikely to have a response that requires any follow-up attention. Allergic reactions can happen every great once in a while, but they’re rare and not severe. Cooper has never seen a client have to seek out medical care.
Though side effects of removal are not generally serious, tell your technician about any reactions you experience. Removery’s technicians strive to stay in close communication with clients throughout the laser tattoo removal healing process.
To avoid any extreme reactions like longer-term discoloration patches or scarring during tattoo removal healing, first choose a reputable facility. Make sure they specialize in laser removal and use top-of-the-line equipment.
Then follow your specialist’s simple tattoo removal aftercare instructions exactly. The most important thing is to leave the treated area alone so you don’t cause unnecessary irritation, and don’t expose it to the sun. “All we’re asking is, basically don’t touch it,” Cooper emphasizes. “Don’t do anything to it. Let your body remove the tattoo.” That will ensure you avoid any permanent damage and speed up your recovery time.
Avoiding the sun will help ensure your skin doesn’t experience any pigmentation changes. “You can tan the rest of your body; just cover that area,” he says. Use a good sunscreen or completely shield that area.
Keep the area clean and dry for the first day. Don’t cover or wrap it, and apply a thin layer of hydrocortisone cream once a day for the first five days. You may be able to shower as normal; just check with your technician first. Don’t submerge the area in water, though.
Follow their aftercare guidelines fully, just as you would follow a doctor’s instructions after a medical procedure, and you’ll achieve the best outcome possible.
“Listen to your laser specialist’s aftercare guidelines, because they are the expert on tattoo removal,” says Cooper. Following their instructions will give you the quickest, safest, and most efficient removal process possible. “These people are unbelievably trained to a super high standard. We are the experts in this niche industry,” he affirms.
Our technicians are highly trained and experienced, so you won’t need to worry about anything but following their simple instructions. Book a consultation with Removery today to start your removal journey!
Cooper Ferreira has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, and prior to becoming an accomplished laser technician, he worked as an ICU pediatric nurse. Because so many people have tattoo regret, he is passionate about normalizing the tattoo removal process. He now works as a regional manager for Removery.
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.