How It's Done:
The first step is a thorough consultation with your doctor. He or she will complete a detailed history and physical examination to ensure there are no underlying medical conditions that would preclude your having the procedure. Your tattoo will also be physically assessed to determine whether you are a good candidate for the procedure.
On the day of the procedure, the area will be numbed. Although some patients may choose not to have any anesthetic, most do. Usually, this involves the application of a topical anesthetic approximately 30 minutes prior to the start of the procedure. Sometimes an injectable local anesthetic is used instead of or in addition to the numbing cream, although this is not preferred because it can cause or worsen swelling and/or bleeding. In rare instances, an oral sedative may be given.
Patients often say that the sensation of being treated is similar to being snapped with a rubber band.
Protective eyewear should be worn during the procedure. A test spot might be performed to determine the best laser settings based on skin type and the tattoo itself.
The actual procedure involves the targeted application of the laser to the treatment area. In some cases, the entire tattoo will be treated. In the case of a large or multi-colored tattoo, it is possible that only part of the tattoo will be treated in a session. Treatment with the laser generally lasts only 30 to 60 seconds.
After the area is treated with the laser, a loose dressing may be applied over a thin layer of aloe and hydrocortisone-based healing balm to facilitate healing and protect the area from bacteria and trauma. Your doctor will provide post-op instructions on how to care for the treated skin, which may involve more than what's listed above.
Interview with Will Kirby, DO, FACOS, Los Angeles, CA; conducted on November 19, 2008
Laser Treatment of Tattoos, Eric F. Bernstein, Clinics in Dermatology, Volume 24, Issue 1, January-February 2006, Pages 43-55