April 6, 2022 11:38

Does laser tattoo removal hurt?

Tattoo clearing

Tattoo removal has always been considered a painful treatment that damages skin.

The first lasers developed in the 1960s were so painful that they required general anaesthetic. But thanks to modern innovations in laser technology, the process no longer needs to hurt. Let’s discuss what tattoo removal feels like and how different treatment methods impact the skin.

What does tattoo removal feel like?

The experience of pain varies hugely from person to person. What some may describe as stinging or tingling others may describe as burning or jabbing. While some will feel a stabbing, sharp sensation, others may experience it as a deep ache or cramping. This is due to the complex interactions taking place between your nerves and your brain.

Therefore, much like the feeling of getting a tattoo varies by person, laser tattoo removal varies too. Generally, higher energy lasers like Q-switch and Pico feel different to more advanced techniques such as the LightSense laser system, which is exclusive to NAAMA. Here’s how they commonly feel like without pain relief:

High energy laser tattoo removal (Q-switch, Pico)

A lot of people describe high energy laser treatment as akin to a very tight rubber band being repeatedly snapped against the skin, creating a stinging sensation. Some people find the treatment more extreme, with reports that the skin feels like it is burning or being tasered. It isn’t surprising that clinics use numbing creams or a more intense pain relief in the form of lidocaine with epinephrine injections.

The pain that occurs after the treatment is described as a tight, severe sunburn and the treated area can feel itchy and raw. Some are left with damage to the skin, with bullae (fluid filled blisters) being commonplace and unpleasant.

Low energy tattoo removal (LightSense laser system)

NAAMA's patented LightSense laser system uses very low energy and those who have undergone treatment, without any pain relief, have likened it having a blunt fork pressed into the skin until it’s a little unpleasant. Others say it feels like a more tender part of the skin is being scratched hard to the point of being uncomfortable.

Is tattoo removal painful?

As outlined, what one person finds mildly unpleasant, another will find unbearably painful and everyone has their own pain threshold. Whilst the pain of laser tattoo removal differs between people, there are some factors which influence the level of pain you’ll experience.

Methods of tattoo removal

More dated methods of tattoo removal like Tissue Expanderin, Cryogenics and Salabrasion have largely been relinquished because of their ineffectiveness and because they are very painful. The earlier forms of laser tattoo removal like the CO2 laser are still used, although less widely, and require general anaesthetic due to the level of pain caused.

Generally, older laser methods such as Q-switch and Pico use higher amounts of energy which results in more heat being trapped in the skin, which induces pain. More recent technology such as LightSense laser system uses much less energy and doesn’t damage skin, therefore causing only mild discomfort.

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Our low-energy laser significantly reduces any chance of blistering, scarring or lasting damage, which means less downtime between treatments and fast tattoo removal results.

Pain management techniques

There’s lots you can do to manage pain throughout the laser tattoo removal process. You can take paracetamol half an hour before your session, relieving pain during your treatments. Before taking any medication, including OTC pain relief, always check with a doctor.

You can also request a local anaesthetic numbing cream, or, since they’re available over the counter, bring your own with you. However, we don’t recommend them at NAAMA because they prevent the laser from penetrating the skin, making treatments less effective.

Most reputable clinics, including NAAMA, use a Zimmer Cryo system or similar. The Zimmer Cryo is an advanced piece of equipment that applies very cool air (-30 degrees Celsius) to the area being treated to relieve pain and speed up the recovery of the skin. It works by relaxing the muscles, reducing swelling and numbing the area. After a 20-minute session, most people don’t even know they’ve had treatment, whereas others might find the area to be a little tender or red for a short while.

Make sure you speak with your consultant during your session about any concerns or if you need a break. And remember, with lower energy technology, the discomfort will only last as long as the treatment. You’ll feel fine afterwards because your skin won’t be left damaged.

The location and size of your ink

Just as having a tattoo applied on certain parts of the body is more painful than others, removing it can also differ. People find treatments on the inner arm, inner thigh, ankle, spine and back of the neck to be the most painful areas, due to the skin being thinner in these places.

Will tattoo removal leave a scar or blisters?

Possibly. The amount of damage to your skin is mainly dependent on the technology being used, your skin type, and the tattoo removal aftercare programme you follow.

Q-switch lasers work by repeatedly transferring energy to the ink molecules, typically pulsing at just over one nanosecond (one billionth of a second). The particles heat up extremely rapidly, expanding as they do, and eventually break apart. This causes heat to get trapped within the skin, which can result in blistering. Often this blistering will heal but sometimes people suffer with some long-term damage like scarring.

Pico lasers produce slightly faster laser pulses. The faster the light energy is applied to the ink molecules, the more effectively it can be absorbed. Pico lasers create localised shockwaves in the skin which shatter tattoo ink (also called a photoacoustic effect), breaking the ink apart into small enough pieces to be cleared away by the immune system. This effect can still result in heat being trapped inside the skin, with a slightly lower likelihood of scars and long-term damage.

NAAMA's LightSense Laser System pairs ultra-low energy and ultra-fast pulses meaning ink molecules are broken apart before heat can escape into surrounding skin tissue, resulting in no lasting damage to the skin. Dr. Worsnop, consultant dermatologist comments: “That's the beauty of NAAMA - it’s extremely unlikely you’ll get any scarring.”

The NAAMA difference

NAAMA is widely regarded as the least painful tattoo removal option currently available. This is largely due to the fact that Naama's Lightsense laser system is ultra-low energy, so doesn't cause lots of damage to the skin. 100% of those who have been treated with NAAMA's Lightsense laser system say it’s less painful than getting a tattoo in the first place, and Dr Gintas, our tattoo removal expert comments “less pain, less side effects, you’re comfortable after the procedure with absolutely no damage to the surrounding skin.”

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