How Much Does Laser Tattoo Removal Hurt?

Generally, tattoo removal is painful, however, everyone’s pain tolerance is different and that’s reflected in the reports from people who have undergone laser removal. Some people claim to have experienced some discomfort from it, while some say the pain is comparable to the pain they endured when getting the tattoo in the first place. There may be some lingering pain or discomfort after the lasering. It’s been described as like a burn or a blister- not excruciating, but not exactly pleasant either.

Why Does Tattoo Removal Hurt?

Tattoo removal pain comes from the intense heat applied to the ink. The ink, containing metals, heats up during the procedure. Similar to the sensation of touching a hot surface like a steam iron or stove kettle, this heat causes discomfort during the removal process. The pain experienced during laser tattoo removal is caused by ink particles being shattered beneath your skin by the energy of the tattoo removal laser. The light emitted by the laser is absorbed by the ink particles as heat, causing them to burst. The Laser emits light in short bursts, the tissue around the ink has enough time to cool so the surrounding dermis is left unharmed and your skin undamaged.

Why does tattoo removal hurt?

Is Numbing Cream Used During Tattoo Removal Treatment?

Most clinics use some type of numbing cream to ease the discomfort. The cream is applied at least half an hour before the session. Although it will numb the skin a little, it won’t make the sensation disappear completely. Some creams are available over-the-counter, others are prescription only. The creams usually contain different concentrations of prilocaine, benzocaine, lidocaine, or tetracaine. These ingredients are all effective in numbing the skin. Clinics that use numbing creams may ask the patient to apply it at home before attending the appointment. This is due to the time it takes for the cream to work. Consult with the medical practitioner to find out which type numbing cream and the effectiveness.

How Does Tattoo Removal Work?

Tattoo removal requires using an ultra-short pulse laser. These lasers work by emitting extremely hot blasts in short, quick bursts to heat up and break apart the tattoo ink particles. They work at an extremely fast speed some as quickly as one trillionth of a second. The speed plays a significant role in how effective the removal process will be. Ink color matters because they absorb different wavelengths, therefore, the laser needs to be set to the right wavelength. Tattoos are permanent, as the ink is inserted deep into the skin by the needles, the body’s immune system thinks of it as an intruder. Similar to other injuries to the skin, white blood cells will spring into action to protect the body. The white blood cells will attempt to break down the ink, though very slowly. They will also carry small parts of it to the liver, where the ink will be processed and discharged. The tattoo ink particles, however, are too large for the small cells to handle, therefore they can’t remove it in its entirety. This is what makes tattoos permanent. Are those white blood cells attacking the ink particles? They’re still hard at work. Once the laser breaks the ink down into smaller pieces, the white blood cells seize them and carry them to the liver so they can be flushed out along with other foreign objects and toxins in your body.

Are Tattoos Equal when it Comes to Removal?

Tattoos are not created equally when it comes to removal, some tattoos are much easier to remove than others. It all comes down to a few factors, including the colors of the tattoo, the technique, and even the artist. Darker colors are the easiest and can usually be fully removed after a few treatments. Lighter shades of green and yellow tend to be more persistent. Brightly colored inks are also more difficult to get rid of. Tattoos done by amateur artists tend to be easier to remove. The ink they use is usually less dense, making it easier for the laser to break the particles. Older tattoos are also much quicker to remove because the white blood cells have been breaking the tattoo down for some time.

How to Prepare for Tattoo Removal

There are essential things you can do to prepare for your tattoo removal. Eat and hydrate before your appointment to avoid the risk of faintness. The body will be in some discomfort, do everything you can to feel strong. Quit smoking or at least cut back for the duration of your treatment.  Cigarettes slow your body’s health process and greatly increase your risk of complications that can lead to scarring and infection. Avoid sun exposure and constantly wear sunscreen. Tanned skin is prone to adverse reactions and permanent pigment changes. Keep the tattoo out of the sun at least four weeks before your laser tattoo removal session. Take Tylenol – DO NOT take aspirin or ibuprofen. Tylenol helps is pain discomfort.  Aspirin and Ibuprofen will cause you to bruise after the treatment. Avoid lotion, perfume, and makeup on the areas to be treated.  The area treated needs to be clean, clear, and shaven. Wear loose clothing, depending on where your tattoo is you want to be comfortable.  Since sessions feel like a sunburn or rubber band snapping against your skin, you will want to be comfortable in the area being treated. After each session, your skin will feel as if it has been sunburned – dressing accordingly can help you avoid discomfort later that day. Bring a list of questions for the medical provider you may have and after treatment including handling any pain or discomfort.

Are There Tattoo Removal Side Effects?

The most common side effects are redness, soreness, and sensitive skin. But you should discuss the potential for the following with your physician:

  • Blisters
  • Hyperpigmentation (dark patches of skin)
  • Hypopigmentation (light patches of skin)
  • Infection

Should I get Laser Tattoo Removal?

Before you decide to do a tattoo removal there are things to consider: You will need more than one treatment so this commitment that could take 6-10 session depending on your tattoo. It’s expensive – It will cost you multiple times the amount you paid for the tattoo. This is dependent on the color and size of the tattoo. Pick the right provider – make sure you choose a licensed medical provider who is experienced in tattoo removal. This is critical and picking the wrong person to do your laser treatment could result in infections or worst. It hurts – tattoo removal hurts because you are removing something that is permanent in the skin and it is a process that takes multiple sessions.

The Pros and Cons of Using Pain Relief During Laser Tattoo Removal

Numbing Cream

Many tattoo removal specialists will encourage the use of topical numbing cream. It is especially popular for larger tattoos and longer sessions because it can significantly help patients who have larger tattoos stand the pain long enough to complete a session. Although the numbing cream doesn’t affect the area where the tattoo ink rests, it can greatly reduce the sensation of the laser passing through the top layer of skin to take the edge off. You will still feel some discomfort, but it will come as less of a shock.

Cold Compress

Although using a cold compress is recommended to reduce inflammation and reduce pain following a laser tattoo removal procedure, if not used properly it can lead to serious complications. Never apply a cold compress directly to the skin affected by the tattoo removal laser. Wrap the affected area in sterile gauze before applying the ice pack to protect yourself from getting an infection.


Drugs including sedatives, alcohol, or painkillers are never recommended for dealing with laser tattoo removal treatments. Some substances can increase the intensity of the pain experienced during or after a treatment.

What to Expect after Tattoo Removal?

After treatment, the doctor will apply an antibacterial ointment and a dressing to the area. The area should be kept clean and applied with ointment as directed by your doctor. The skin might feel sunburned for a day or two and the treated area might remain red for a few weeks. The area might also form a scab. After healing, the site will gradually fade. The skin will generally take a month to heal after a session. Once healed, you can go on with another session to further remove your unwanted tattoo.