Tattoo removal is most commonly performed using lasers that break down the ink in the tattoo. The broken-down ink is then absorbed by the body, mimicking the natural fading that time or sun exposure would create. All tattoo pigments have specific light absorption spectra. A tattoo laser must be capable of emitting adequate energy within the given absorption spectrum of the pigment to provide an effective treatment. Certain tattoo pigments, such as yellows, greens and fluorescent inks are more challenging to treat than darker blacks and blues, because they have absorption spectra that fall outside or on the edge of the emission spectra available in the tattoo removal laser.
Widely considered the gold standard treatment modality to remove a tattoo, laser tattoo removal requires repeat visits. The newer Q-switched lasers are said by the to result in scarring only rarely and are usually used only after a topical anesthetic has been applied. Areas with
thin skin will be more likely to scar than thicker-skinned areas. There are several types of Q-switched lasers, and each is effective at removing a different range of the color spectrum . Lasers developed after 2006 provide multiple wavelengths and can successfully treat a much broader range of tattoo pigments than previous Q-switched lasers.
The amount of energy (flounce/joules/jcm2) is determined prior to each treatment as well as the spot size and treatment speed (Hz/hertz). To mitigate pain the preferred method is simply to cool the area during treatment with a medical-grade chiller/cooler and to use a topical anesthetic. During the treatment process the laser beam passes harmlessly through the skin, targeting only the ink resting in a liquid state within. While it is possible to see immediate results, in most cases the fading occurs gradually over the 7–8 week healing period between treatments.