Guide to Laser Tattoo Removal

Here is a very informative article that dermatologist Dr. Brian E. Dubow wrote for SkinTour on laser tattoo removal.  As with all of our content, Dr. Dubow has no financial ties to any cosmetic companies and offers his own independent views on the issues in this article.

Laser Tattoo Removal Introduction:

There are a lot of reasons for wanting to remove a tattoo – it no longer holds sentimental value, it is keeping you from getting a job, you made an impulsive decision, etc. No matter what your reason is for wanting to get rid of your tattoo, laser tattoo removal is the most effective way to remove it.

With all of the advances in laser systems it is easier than ever to remove your unwanted tattoo. An experienced laser tattoo removal physician will be able to safely remove your unwanted body art with minimal side effects.

How does tattoo removal work?

Lasers emit a pulse of light energy that passes through the top layers of the skin and is selectively absorbed by the tattoo ink. This energy quickly heats up and breaks down the tattoo ink into tiny fragments, which are then absorbed and cleared away by your immune system. Laser treatments safely and effectively remove the tattoo without damaging the surrounding skin.

The tattoo removal laser used will depend upon the color and location of the tattoo. Different types of lasers are able to target different colors. An experienced dermatologist will know which laser for tattoo removal is best for your unique tattoo. For example, one laser will be able to target black and green tattoos, while another laser would treat red, yellow and blue tattoos.

Typically, 3-10 tattoo laser removal treatments are required to remove a tattoo. The amount of treatments you need depends on the size of the tattoo, the color, the location, what type of ink was used, your skin color and your skin’s ability to heal. Most doctors recommend having treatments every 4-6 weeks for optimal tattoo removal results.

What types of tattoos can be removed?

With all of the advances in laser technology, it is possible to remove any tattoo, regardless of the color and location. Different lasers are able to remove different colored tattoos safely and effectively.

Tattoo Removal Frequently Asked Questions

How many laser tattoo treatments will I need to completely remove my tattoo?

In most cases it takes 3-10 treatment sessions to remove tattoo as much as possible. Generally, laser removal treatments will be scheduled 4-6 weeks apart. It is not guaranteed that your tattoo will be completely erased, but if you see an experienced laser dermatologist, he/she will get rid of as much of your tattoo as possible. The number of treatments also depends on the color and location of your tattoo. For example, black or dark green tattoos are the easiest to remove and will require fewer sessions than a tattoo that is another color or a mixture of many colors.

Can I remove only part of my tattoo?

Yes. Lasers are very accurate and can treat small targeted areas so you may remove only a portion of your tattoo, if desired.

Are certain types of tattoos easier to remove than others?

Yes. Certain colors respond much better to laser treatments than others. Black, red, green and dark blue are the easiest and fastest colors to remove. Alternatively, purple, brown, light orange and light blue can be more difficult to remove and may require more treatment sessions. These non-traditional ink colors may occasionally turn darker with laser treatment so your Doctor should recommend a test spot before a full treatment is performed.

The depth of the tattoo and the type of ink used are additional factors that determine how easy or difficult it will be to remove your tattoo. Finally, your skin tone and healing characteristics play a role in your laser tattoo removal results.  In general, it is easier to remove tattoos from patients with lighter skin tones.

Does the length of time I have had my tattoo affect the results of removing it?

Yes. Older tattoos are easier to remove than new tattoos. The ink in older tattoos is generally easier for the laser energy to break apart than fresh ink.

Will I have scars from my laser tattoo removal?

If an expert laser dermatologist treats you, you should not be left with any scars after your laser tattoo removal treatments. However, scarring is possible with any medical procedure. It is important to find an experienced laser doctor to decrease your risk of tattoo removal scars.

Does laser tattoo removal hurt?

To minimize your discomfort during laser tattoo removal treatments, your doctor will utilize a topical or injectable anesthetic. Patients should be completely numb in the treatment area during the laser session and not feel any pain. Many patients report mild irritation or itching after the removal of tattoo. This can last for 1-3 days following the laser treatment.  Your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic and cortisone cream to relieve your discomfort.

What is recovery like after laser tattoo removal?

Laser tattoo removal recovery is minimal. You might experience some discomfort around the treatment site, but it should not inhibit you from going about your daily activities. If you are in the sun, you need to keep the treatment area covered to prevent sunburn so that the skin can heal properly. Your doctor will most likely provide you with tattoo removal aftercare instructions.

Are there any laser tattoo removal side effects?

The side effects of tattoo removal by laser are minimal. You might experience some redness, swelling and minor blistering around the treated area. These side effects are temporary and your skin should heal completely within one to two weeks.

How much does laser tattoo removal cost?

The cost of tattoo removal varies from patient to patient and depends on the size, color and location of the tattoo. It is difficult to give a good estimate of the laser tattoo removal price because everyone’s tattoo is different. However, in general it will cost $200-$300 per treatment to remove a small, black tattoo, and up to $500 per treatment to remove a large, colorful tattoo.

Laser Tattoo Removal Before and After Pictures

Pictures courtesy of Dr. Dubow


If you are considering laser tattoo removal, please find a dermatologist who has experience with lasers. If you live in the Los Angeles area, feel free to contact Dr. Dubow at  An expert laser tattoo removal dermatologist will provide you with the best treatment because they have a thorough understanding of what type of laser should be used based on the color and location of your tattoo.

Brian E. Dubow, M.D.
Diplomate American Board of Dermatology
Goldman Dubow Dermatology Group
Cedars-Sinai East Medical Tower
8631 W. Third Street, Suite 635E
Los Angeles, CA

Next, read Dr. Irwin’s Guide to Fraxel Dual.