The Number of Tattoo Removal Treatment Sessions Clients Need Varies Widely. What Are the Factors Involved?
As we’ve mentioned in a previous post, tattoo removal cost is a function of the size and number of tattoo removal treatment sessions required to remove it (or fade it, depending on your goals). The purpose of this post is to discuss, at length, the main factors that determine the number of tattoo removal treatment sessions clients need. While this list may not be exhaustive, it’s pretty close.
These appear roughly in order of significance, with the most significant being first. Note that there is a lack of scientific research in the field and much of this is largely based on our own experience removing tattoos in Chicago and work with other professionals around the country.
1) Amount of Ink / Ink Density & Depth
The amount of ink (or ink density) is easily the most significant factor impacting number of tattoo removal treatment sessions. The more pigment, the longer it takes for the laser to break it into smaller particles that your body can naturally processes away.
The age of the tattoo also plays a big factor because older tattoos tend to have less ink as they fade over time, primarily due to exposure to the sun. Naturally faded tattoos provide a jump-start to the removal process and reduce the overall number of tattoo removal treatment sessions. There is, however, some speculation that older tattoos are more “settled” in the skin, making them more difficult to remove.
Ink depth is often related to the quantity of ink so we’ve included it in this category. In general, the deeper the ink, the more pigment an artist will use. Shading, for example, which consists of less ink closer to the surface of the skin, is typically removed much quicker than areas in which the ink has been applied in larger amounts deeper in the skin. Such tattoos will require a higher number of tattoo removal treatment sessions.
Similarly, tattoo artists will often outline tattoos with dark line work and go back later to fill them in. The fill often comes off faster because there is less of it.
Ink density and depth are the biggest factors in tattoo removal and is the main reason tattoos fade unevenly during the removal process.
2) Tattoo Colors
It is counter-intuitive, but black ink is actually the easiest tattoo color to remove. It often requires the fewest number of tattoo removal treatment sessions to remove – although other colors such as red are also typically easy to remove too. Tattoo removal lasers target ink pigment, and the lasers “find” darker pigments easier than others. As luck would have it, black and red are also the most common tattoo colors.
Various wavelengths of light can target tattoo pigments more effectively because the colors they go after absorb the energy of that wavelength the best. For this reason, it’s best to make sure the laser you choose is designed not just for tattoo removal, but also for your specific color of tattoo.
3) Location On Body
Once tattoo pigment is targeted and shattered by the laser, the pigment is naturally processed away by the body. The circulatory (powered be the heart) and lymphatic systems (in the neck) are primarily responsible for the ink processing – so tattoos that are closest to these systems require a fewer number of tattoo removal treatment sessions. They also have a higher rate of success than those further from the heart and neck. As you would expect, the converse is true. Tattoos further away from these systems can be more stubborn.
4) Ink Type / Chemical Composition
In a field where peer-reviewed academic research is already sparse, the research regarding tattoo pigments, their chemical composition, and the impact it has on the resiliency of ink is almost non-existent.
Part of the reason for this is that tattoo inks have not been approved by the FDA (although they are conducting ongoing research) nor do they exercise regulatory authority over color additives. Published research on chemical compounds in inks and how easily they break down is limited.
The lack of research, combined with the fact that few people even ask what type of inks are being injected into their bodies, means that we usually don’t have any idea what is in the skin.
That said, it’s pretty clear based on the variation in fading rates from person to person that chemical composition of tattoo inks is a factor in determining the number of tattoo removal treatment sessions clients require. The higher quality of the ink, the more difficult it is to remove. This is partly evidenced by the fact that amateur tattoos tend to fade at a much faster rate than professional tattoos.
5) Skin Type
Tattoo removal lasers are designed to target pigment – whether that pigment is naturally occurring in the skin or whether it’s ink pigment. So, in order to minimize the risks associated with tattoo removal (primarily blistering, infection, hypo-pigmentation (loss of pigment in the skin), and scarring), laser technicians must use lower energy levels on darker skin types. Lower energy means less of an impact, which means that the average number of tattoo removal treatment sessions will increase. You can read more about the Fitzpatrick scale here.
6) Lifestyle Habits
This is perhaps the most surprising aspect impacting the number of tattoo removal treatment sessions you’ll need. It is also the most useful. They are the only things you can control to help expedite the process and minimize the cost.
Studies have shown that smoking can increase the number of treatment sessions needed. Moreover, this 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Dermatology found that the chance of achieving removal after 10 treatment sessions was decreased by 69.7% in smokers compared with nonsmokers. Yet another reason to stop smoking.
Drinking lots of water will help flush your system to process the ink and stay healthy. You’ll find Fiji stocked at our office to help encourage you to drink plenty of water.
Also, as mentioned earlier, circulation plays a significant role. All the more motivation to get your heart rate up through exercise.
Clients sometimes say they have a high pain threshold (despite the fact that most clients only experience mild discomfort during and after treatment). They’ll ask me to increase the laser energy as high as I can so they can get the fastest results and minimize the number of tattoo removal treatment sessions they’ll need. While there is some leeway in determining the energy settings and this feedback is helpful, turning up the power may have more of a negative effect than a positive effect.
There are a number of reasons why turning up the power too high is a bad idea. As it relates to a successful removal, higher energy increases the chances of blistering and scarring (and thus infection). These side effects often lead to some level of scarring. For cosmetic reasons, it’s obvious that scarring isn’t desirable – but there’s another problem with scarring as it relates to tattoo removal. Scar tissue can inhibit the laser from effectively targeting the pigment. The light simply can’t get past the scar tissue to the ink. Scar tissue will increase the number of tattoo removal treatments sessions required to achieve full fading.
Those are the main factors we use to estimate the number of sessions it will take to remove a tattoo. If you have any questions, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-The Bare Team