In life, mistakes happen. Sometimes, those mistakes come in the form of permanent tattoos, and whether the issue is aesthetic or emotional in nature, a bad tattoo can be a constant reminder of choices you wish you hadn’t made. In that situation, the best option to rid yourself of all that regret might be tattoo removal, but the removal process can be intimidating, as it’s such a big investment in multiple ways. You might have a sense of what you’ll be spending, monetarily speaking, but what is less clear is how much time you can expect to spend on tattoo removal. So, how long does it take to get a tattoo removed? The answer: it depends.
There are three keys to understanding how long getting rid of your specific tattoo will take. First, understand that there has to be quite a bit of time between your removal sessions. Dr. Benny Hau, Medical Director of Sculpt DTLA in Los Angeles, said, “It’s best to leave a six-to-eight week gap between treatments, to let the skin heal and for the immune system to do its job washing away the ink.” Second, the type of laser used—either one of the widely used Q-switched lasers or the newer, at times faster Picosecond option—and the method used (either the classic on-treatment method or the more expensive but quicker R20 multi-pass option) will affect the time it takes. The only thing left to know is how many removal treatments you’ll need, and while only a professional can tell you that exact number, understanding where your unwanted ink lies within the parameters of the Kirby-Desai Scale, the method the pros use, can give you a pretty clear idea.
Ray Fluken, Director of Rocky Mountain Laser College in Lakewood, CO, explained, “Where the tattoo is located on your body is a big factor. Tattoos on the neck, head, and trunk will be removed a lot faster than those on your extremities, because there is less of the lymphatic system running through your fingers and toes than there is in your trunk, and the lymphatic system is what actually takes the ink away.”
Scarring in the area affects timing, too
According to Dr. Hau, “It depends a lot on if there is any scarring in the tattoo from the initial ink placement,” as any ink that is underneath scar tissue is much more difficult for the laser to reach and attempt to remove, and will therefore invariably mean more sessions.
How much ink was used
“If there are sites where more ink has been added, more treatment sessions will likely be needed,” Dr. Vail Reese of Union Square Dermatology in San Francisco said, since more ink in a tattoo means more time spent in the removal process in an attempt to clear all of that ink in the skin. Increased amounts of inks in a tattoo can be from a cover-up, where one tattoo was layered over another, or simply because it is a professional one, where a machine is used and much more ink is put into the skin, as opposed to an amateur one.
The color of your piece, too
The hues of the tattoo can make things challenging, says Dr. Reese: “If the tattoo is a blue-black, pretty much any laser will be able to clear that. If it’s other pigments, say, reds, purples, blues, and oranges, then it can take longer, but the PICO is going to have an edge in clearing it with less sessions. It’s all about matching the wavelength of the laser matches the tattoo color.”
Skin type, as measured by the Fitzpatrick Scale, will affect the length of treatment. “It depends a lot on the skin type of the person,” Dr. Hau explained, as more melanin in the skin can mean a tougher time removing the ink and a higher tendency toward adverse effects.
Now for the big question, how long does it take to get a tattoo removed? Well, with all of those factors added together you can get a sense of if your tattoo removal might require more or less sessions.”We have seen tattoos go away in, say, two to three sessions or less, which is rare—think more like eight to 12 sessions,” says Fluken. “The other extreme I’ve seen is about 30 sessions.” Doing the math, that means if the average removal process is 10 sessions with two months between each one, you’re looking at a year and two months to remove the average tattoo, which is quite a bit of time. Of course, the best way to avoid this long, costly, painful process is to think long and hard about any tattoo you may want, but once you’re past that point and stuck with art you hate, it’s time to commit for the potentially rather long haul and get that tattoo removed, once and for all.
If you’re a commitment-phobe, consider Inkbox Tattoos, which look like permanent tattoos but only last for one to two weeks. You’ll have all the fun and beauty of a permanent piece with none of the potential for a costly and painful removal process when your taste and preferences evolve. Just a heads up, Inside Out is powered by the folks at inkbox. It’s all part of our shared mission to empower you to tell your unique story, be it for now or forever.