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Laser tattoo removal is a scary process if you’ve never been through it and the question of whether the process causes scarring is often a primary concern. Our expert laser technicians have seen a lot in our years of operating Bare Tattoo Removal in the South Loop of Chicago and Munster, Indiana. In this post, we’ll discuss scarring and additional risks to the skin to help you make an informed decision.

Scarring is a Risk with Laser Tattoo Removal

Scarring is absolutely a risk with laser tattoo removal, albeit a small risk. The laser delivers light and heat to the tattoo, causing ink pigment to shatter and fade away. Click here for more on how tattoo removal works. Because there is heat, there is a risk of blistering, which, in rare occasions, causes scarring.

By far, the vast majority of our clients do not experience any side effects besides mild itching. Less than 1% of Bare Tattoo Removal patients will experience any degree of scarring. The risk of scarring from laser tattoo removal is minimal when:

  1. Using a modern, advanced laser designed for tattoo removal (a Q-switched Nd:YAG laser). Older, outdated lasers are more prone to causing side effects like scarring.
  2. The laser is properly maintained and calibrated
  3. The laser is operated by an experienced technician who knows which settings are appropriate for the patient and safe and can adjust them based on an individual’s reactions to test shots

How Bad Can the Scarring be with Laser Tattoo Removal?

The Bare Tattoo Removal team in Chicago, Illinois and Munster, Indiana rarely sees scarring. More commonly, when we do see it, it’s from clients who have been elsewhere and then came to see us.

When scarring does occur, it is typically mild and often only seen in bright light. It is also sometimes limited to below the surface of the skin so is evident when touching the skin but not by looking at the skin.

Typical tattoo removal treatment protocol is to gradually increase the laser energy over subsequent treatments. As the tattoo fades, the skin absorbs less energy so it becomes safer to use higher levels of energy over time. Also, everyone has their own tolerance level so it’s best to start at a baseline and work up from there. Because this is the treatment protocol, when scarring does occur, it is typically seen it in very early stages and is mild. From there, Bare Tattoo Removal’s certified laser technicians can either lower the energy or suspend treatment.

Also, don’t worry, the sensation during laser tattoo removal treatment is not especially painful (feels like a rubber band snapping) and it won’t get significantly more painful with higher energy levels. Read more on how tattoo removal feels here.

Are Some People More At-Risk for Scarring with Laser Tattoo Removal than Others?

Yes. In addition to the factors listed above, the tattoo removal patient may be at higher or lower risk depending on a number of variables. Higher-risk individuals have:

  1. Darker skin tone (African, Fitzpatrick scale 5 or 6)
  2. A history of scarring, particularly keloid scar history
  3. Very dark, dense tattoo ink or colorful tattoo inks
  4. People taking certain medications that make them sensitive to light

What Causes Scarring from Laser Tattoo Removal?

There are a number of reasons that scarring from laser tattoo removal can happen. In addition to the risk factors listed above, proper aftercare is important. While this is not an exhaustive list nor should it be construed as medical advice, it is important to:

  1. Apply antibiotic ointment
  2. Avoid picking at scabs
  3. Keep the tattoo out of the sunlight

Are there Risks of Other Side Effects from Laser Tattoo Removal Besides Scarring?

Laser tattoo removal does have a host of other risks besides scarring, all of which are rare. This list is not complete but other side effects from tattoo removal can be:

  1. Pigmentation changes (lightening or darkening of the skin) – this is usually mild and temporary but can be permanent
  2. Incomplete removal – this is common. Depending on a host of factors, achieving 80-90% fading is common. Getting the last traces of tattoo ink to disappear is more difficult and less common although 100% removal is possible. If scar tissue does build up, it can also prevent the laser light from penetrating the skin so limits the ability to fully remove a tattoo.
  3. Infection – this has never happened with a Bare Tattoo Removal patient but it is a risk if there is an open wound.
  4. Allergic reaction – this is rare but more common with some red inks. Typically the reaction can cause excessive itching and redness or bumps. A good rule of thumb is that if you had an allergic reaction when the tattoo went on, you’re likely to have one when getting it removed.

This article Published by the National Institute of Health discusses complications with tattoos and tattoo removal in more detail.

While scarring from laser tattoo removal is a risk, and should be considered prior to undergoing treatment, it is rare. Most people are overly-concerned about scarring. We hope this helps. If you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our experts – Bare Tattoo Removal laser technicians are happy to help, even if you’re not from Chicago or Munster!