How does laser tattoo removal work?

Remove colored tattoos without leaving any residue

What can take several hours to create is gone within seconds when removed. However, with the triple pain, as Karin S. from Munich reports, who holds a cooling pack on the spot where the dermatologist has set the laser.

One session alone is not enough. Several visits to the specialist are necessary to get a good result.

Katrin S. has a green and black star removed from her wrist. For this she comes specially from Munich to Kelkheim near Frankfurt to the "Hautmedizin Kelkheim" practice.

Here are the picosecond lasers "Enlighten" and "Picosure": Lasers that can not only remove mainly dark tattoos, but also remove colored tattoos almost completely without leaving any scars. The before and after pictures that Dr. Matthias Bonczkowitz, the treating dermatologist, shows it is amazing: After the treatment, the affected area looks as if a tattoo has never adorned the skin - even with large images.

Very short pulses destroy color particles more efficiently

"The 'Enlighten' laser has been on the market for two years and is only available in a few cities in Germany," reports Matthias Bonczkowitz. "The advantage is the very short impulse." These are picoseconds, which is a trillionth of a second. This very short energy pulse breaks up the color particles, which are then broken down by the body.

"With this method, fewer sessions are required than was previously the case with lasers that worked in the nanosecond range," says Bonczkowitz.

"Depending on the size, it can take a year until a tattoo is completely removed. For a tattoo on the rump, for example, you need eight to ten sessions," explains the dermatologist. "Between the sessions, you can count on a month's break until the treated area has completely healed." Side effects such as scarring or allergic reactions are rare, according to the doctor

The laser can not only remove tattoos, but also pigment disorders.

Tattoo removal by sanding was common in the past

Once upon a time, tattoos were removed by grinding the skin, or lactic acid was injected under the skin. Both are practically nonexistent today.

According to Bonczkowitz, around ten percent of those tattooed would like to have their tattoo removed. "The reasons are varied, sometimes the taste has changed, with others it is the professional situation, or life situations have changed, for example when the name of the ex-boyfriend should disappear from the upper arm," says the dermatologist.

Patient Karin S. got a tattoo when she was 18 years old. "That was fashion back then, and all my friends got tattoos. We got special conditions from our tattoo artist friend," says the actress, who also works as a model. Her job is also the reason why she has the tattoo removed.

The now 30-year-old first toyed with the idea of ​​getting her tattoo removed seven years ago. She had also considered whether a "cover-up" was an option, i.e. having another motif pierced over the tattoo, since in the past there was more scarring with lasers or not all colors could be removed.

"At the beginning I always concealed the tattooed area or covered it with make-up. But my wish was to restore my body to its original state," says Karin S.

She is asked a lot about having her tattoo removed and that this is now possible without leaving any residue and without scars. "Many seem resigned to their tattoos and are very interested when I tell them about laser removal."

"You have to endure pain"

"The removal is very painful," says the actress. "The laser penetrates the skin and causes the color molecules to burst," she explains the process. "An hour before the treatment, I apply an ointment to numb the skin, but otherwise there is no anesthetic, you have to endure the pain."

"A device that is reminiscent of a vacuum cleaner is a cooling fan that is held in place during the treatment. It should reduce the pain somewhat and protect the skin," adds Bonczkowitz.

"I learned a special breathing technique and in some cases, when it was very painful, I distracted myself by singing," says the model. "Removing the tattoo is stressful for the body. I also notice that my skin has become more sensitive."

After the treatment, Karin S. feels a burning sensation and pulsation in the lasered area, like a burn, she describes. The wound healed in two to three days - initially it took up to seven days. "I have to give my body a rest for about a week so that it can work and the color is broken down."

How toxic are broken paint particles in the body?

How dangerous the degradation of color is for the body cannot be said one hundred percent at the moment. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) first demonstrated in 2015 that toxic substances can arise.

Scientists have shown that the laser treatment of a tattoo pigment in an aqueous suspension produces substances in concentrations high enough to cause cell damage in the skin, according to the BfR press release.

Possible risks can vary depending on the size of the tattoo, pigment concentration, body part, radiation dose and the wavelength of the laser used. Scientific research is currently being carried out on this.

100 to 250 euros - per session

Karin S. has also given a lot of thought to the degradation of color in the body. "I talked to my family doctor about my concerns about heavy metal deposits, for example, and then I went to a homeopath who prescribed a herbal mixture so that the heavy metal, which is contained in some colors, is washed out of the body. I also try to to keep my system flowing so the body can metabolize faster. "

The price of tattoo removal is based on size and color. "It usually starts between 100 and 250 euros per session for a smaller tattoo," says Bonczkowitz. “It's expensive fun!” Nevertheless, the demand is high.

An internet search shows that the removal of tattoos now seems to be a good business area: If you enter "remove tattoos" in the search engine, it is noticeable that there are some "franchise companies" on the market. There the tattoos are removed by "laser therapists" without medical expertise.

The German Dermatological Laser Society (DDL) takes a clear position on this: "Laser treatments are medical interventions and may only be carried out by doctors with the appropriate qualifications.

The incorrect use of laser devices by laypeople or non-medical professionals has caused serious injuries to a large number of patients. The damage to the skin ranges from burns and scars to the spread of skin cancer. "

The causes of the incorrect treatment suggested inadequate training, a lack of diagnostic skills and exaggerated statements of success. Consistent specialist supervision as well as extensive experience in laser therapy and compliance with defined quality guidelines are required as prerequisites for safe laser treatments.

"Unfortunately, the legislature is not doing anything against this proliferation of laser therapists who lack any qualifications and who carry out the therapy without any legal basis," says Dr. Gerd Kautz, dermatologist and president of the DDL.