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  • Writer's pictureZak Lockhead

Why isn’t my tattoo removal working?

Updated: Apr 1, 2022

Have you decided to get rid of that awful tattoo you have and the results arnt quite what you expected? Or maybe you are a laser technician and you are fed up of getting average results? To help, I have compiled my list of why your tattoo removal probably isn’t working

1. Time left between treatment sessions

It may sound strange, but the longer you wait between tattoo removal treatment sessions, the better the results you will get. This is because when you have laser tattoo removal, the tattoo ink that is located in your skin is broken down into smaller pieces of ink. Because the ink is now in smaller pieces, it can be removed by the Lymphatic system (a system that runs next to your veins) in your body. The Lymphatic system gradually removes these smaller ink particles over the weeks/months following laser tattoo removal, thus the tattoo gradually fades over time. I recommend leaving gaps of around 4-6 weeks during the first few tattoo removal sessions and then when the tattoo has been significantly faded, leaving a longer gap such as 10 weeks.

Tattoo removal treatment time
Example of time to leave between each tattoo removal session

2. The machine

Not all Laser tattoo removal devices are created equal and believe me when I say there are quite a few bad ones out there. If you are a client, always make sure you are going to a reputable Laser technician. If you are a laser technician, make sure that you are buying a good device! I always recommend a Q-switch ND:YAG, which is currently the best device available and is the gold standard for tattoo removal. Q-Switch ND:YAG devices are also much safer due to their extremely short pulse widths! During my Ph.D. I worked at medical facilities throughout the United Kingdom and I used this knowledge to build the DL1, DL2 and DL3 Tattoo removal laser devices I currently offer.

Q-switch ND:YAG Laser
Q-switch ND:YAG Lasers we currently offer

3. Maintenance of the machine

The Laser tattoo removal device is a machine, and it must be treated like one. You must regularly service and have it assessed to make sure it is functioning at its optimal and safest capacity! Think of your machine like a car, you wouldn’t use it without regular maintenance and service. I recommend having your device serviced at least once a year for optimal results. It is also vital that you are remembering to change the water of the machine at regular intervals to avoid complications such as burning.

4. Tattoo location and age

The location and age of a tattoo makes a huge difference to the results you will get. Tattoos located on the torso and also tattoos on the neck have a greater blood supply and lymph node supply (part of the Lymphatic system). This means that the body is more efficient at removing broken down ink in these areas. On the opposite end, tattoos found more distally from the body (especially the fingers) are extremely hard tattoos to remove. As you can see in the below picture, this tattoo located on the thumb is still very visible following Laser tattoo removal. Tattoos on the legs may also be more difficult to remove (however in my own experience this generally hasn’t been the case).

Thumb Laser Tattoo removal
Laser Tattoo removal on the fingers will often yield mediocre results

Older tattoos are generally easier to remove. This is because UV exposure has gradually faded the tattoo and also the body has naturally removed some of this ink. As a result, the ink can be broken down easier by the laser tattoo removal device. As you can see in the below picture, this old tattoo was removed in just 5 sessions.

Fully removed tattoo laser tattoo removal
The results of Laser tattoo removal in an older tattoo

5. Lifestyle

The healthier the body, the more efficient it functions! Because the body gradually removes tattoo pigment following tattoo removal, a healthier body will be more efficient in removing broken down ink. A balanced diet and regular exercise can make tattoo removal much more efficient. Smoking has also been shown to play a huge role in the efficiency of Laser tattoo removal. A study conducted in 2012 demonstrated that the chance of achieving full removal after 10 treatment sessions was decreased by 69.7% in smokers when compared to non-smokers. For anyone interested in this study I have attached the title as an image below.

Smoking and Laser tattoo removal
Smoking and Laser tattoo removal

6. The colour of a tattoo

This is a big one! Black and even red tattoos are easier to remove than coloured tattoos! Clinical studies have shown coloured tattoos are approximately 79.5% more difficult to remove than black and red tattoos. Now don’t worry, coloured tattoos can also be removed, however may take more time. Advancements in technology has also allowed us to develop machines that emit pulses in the picosecond range which can remove green tattoos (once thought almost impossible to be removed) in as little as 1 session in clinical studies (See photo below). I offer a Picosecond Q-switch ND:YAG on my website that has been shown to be highly effective in removing coloured tattoos.

Coloured tattoo Laser tattoo removal
Coloured tattoo Laser tattoo removal

7. UV exposure

The sun fades tattoos, so you would think that increased UV exposure would be better for tattoo removal. Actually, in this case UV/sun exposure is a bad thing! This is because UV exposure stimulates melanin and makes the skin darker. Tattoo removal is more difficult in darker skin and can also lead to complications such as hypopigmentation. My advice is stay out of the sun and off sunbeds for 2 weeks before and after your Laser tattoo removal session. If this is not possible, use a sun cream with at least SPF 50.

The sun and laser tattoo removal
The sun and laser tattoo removal

8. Depth of tattoo ink

Ink is suspended in the dermis following tattooing, and the further in the dermis the ink is placed, the harder and more sessions it can take to remove. As a result, amateur tattoos are much easier to remove as they are normally much more superficial compared to professionally done tattoos which are usually located deep in the dermis.

Tattoo ink in skin
As you can see, the ink is more superficial in the amateur tattoo (A) when compared to the professional tattoo (B)

9. Amount of tattoo ink

Cover ups are much more difficult to remove than non-cover ups simply due to a greater amount of ink. Cover ups can still be removed, just be aware it may take a few more sessions.

Fully removed Tattoo Laser tattoo removal
As you can see from the picture, the swallows were a cover-up and have been fully removed following Laser tattoo removal.

10. Size of tattoo

Now the title is misleading, as the size of a tattoo actually does not matter. However, some laser technicians make the mistake of trying to laser remove big tattoos in one session. This is wrong because the body removes broken down ink, and if you do too much laser tattoo removal in one session there is too muh In this instance, I recommend always splitting big tattoos into 2 or 3 sections.

11. Type of tattoo ink

Last but not least, the type of tattoo ink can have a major effect on your results. Sometimes you might do everything perfectly and still get less than favourable results. This may be due to the type of tattoo ink. Some tattoo inks (especially older ones) contains many compounds, with the ink often held together by chemical bonds that quite simply are more difficult to break down! In this case there is nothing to done apart from just continuing with treatment.

Laser tattoo removal and type of ink
Laser tattoo removal and type of ink

As always, thank you for reading! Remember, I offer a free consultation that can answer all of your laser and IPL needs.

Dr Lockhead


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