Various techniques have been employed over the years to remove these type of body art, including tattooing over the piece with skin-coloured pigment, surgical excision (cutting off the tattooed area) and laser removal, but in general, experts agree that laser removal is currently the most successful way to remove tattoos.

Laser removal

Laser tattoo removal is commonly carried out via the Q-switched laser or the newer Picolaser. These lasers send out energy in one strong pulse to shatter the ink inside your skin but there is a slight difference between the two.

“Instead of relying on heat, Picosecond lasers deliver the energy so rapidly, like in trillionths of a second, that the tiny pigment particles in the tattoo ink vibrate and shatter without burning surrounding tissue. This not only results in higher efficacy, but is a safer type of treatment as there is reduced damage to normal skin structures,” Dr Kwan Yuan Dong of S Aesthetics Clinic.

Numbing cream is applied to the area beforehand and treatment typically involves a hot and stingy sensation. The skin may bleed, blister and swell, so applying an antibacterial ointment, changing the wound dressing regularly and avoiding sun and outdoor activities after is crucial.

This process is repeated over multiple sessions, usually in six to eight-week intervals, until you’re happy with the extent to which the tattoo has faded.

The risks

According to Dr Kwan, the risks of ill-effects is higher with Q-switched laser.

“They include scarring, the development of permanent white spots in the area treated and darkening of skin in the surrounding area,” he says. He adds that while the risk of this happening is lower with Picolasers, it is not zero, and that it is important that you resist any urge to pick at the area until it heals.

Also, the older a tattoo, the easier it is to remove, but the ease of removal also depends on the colours. Dark colours such as black, dark blue, green and brown are easy to remove while colourful pieces are more challenging as they typically require treatment with different lasers and wavelengths. And closer the colour is to your skin, the more difficult it becomes to have it removed.