How Much Does Laser Tattoo Removal Hurt? (Pain Guide)

  • Written By Dan Hunter on August 12, 2019
    Last Updated: January 13, 2021

The beauty in tattoos is that they tell a story through body art. For many, tattoos are a way of expressing oneself and the options are endless in that regard. For others though, it seemed like a good idea at the time but now the regret has set in. You want to reverse the process, but you’re afraid of the tattoo removal pain that this could involve.

Let’s get into the details of laser tattoo removal, and what you can expect.


How Painful Is Laser Tattoo Removal?

Laser tattoo removal is generally painful. Where the tattoo is located plays a major role in how painful the removal will be. Luckily, pain is relative, and while many people agree that the procedure is particularly painful, others have stated that tattoo removal was no more painful than getting the tattoo in the first place.

Underneath our skin, there are receptor cells. These cells pick up signals through the skin and send them to the brain. Some areas, such as hands and feet, have more receptor cells than others, making them more sensitive.

The laser heats the ink particles—which are metals—to very high temperatures. The laser is then directed towards one particular spot. Because of the rapid speed, however, the skin tissue is not harmed. The energy from the laser forms a shockwave which sends vibrations through the skin. The vibrations will cause the skin to raise and become pale in color. This effect is normal and will only last a few seconds.

By choosing to get a tattoo in one of these sensitive areas, you can be sure it will hurt. The same goes for the removal of the said tattoo. If your tattoo is close to a bone or in a location where there’s less fat, it will be more sensitive as well.

What Does the Procedure Feel Like?

The feeling you experience with laser tattoo removal is different from person to person. Some people compare it to getting the tattoo in the first place. Others find it even more painful. This is an ongoing popular debate.

It has been compared to having a rubber band snapped against your skin at one location several times. Others say it’s like a bad sunburn that is being scratched repeatedly. Sounds uncomfortable? How about getting repeatedly stabbed with a needle at high speeds?

Laser Tattoo Removal Aftermath

The good thing is that the pain usually never outlasts the treatment, so you won’t have to go home in pain and totally uncomfortable.

It does sometimes cause minor bleeding in the treated area. You might also notice quite a lot of redness, swelling or maybe even blisters. All the side effects usually go away on their own within 24 hours after the treatment. If you experience any severe symptoms, you should get it checked by a professional.

In the weeks following treatment, you will most likely notice peeling or flaking of the skin. Scabs are also very normal—these are all part of the healing process and shouldn’t be cause for concern. Some scarring around the area can persist.

While the skin is healing, it is crucial to take care of it as advised by the physician. There should be no sun exposure or pool activities. The skin is considered to be sensitive and porous and the pool is a breeding ground for bacteria—especially a public pool. You do not want bacteria to reach your treated area, as this could lead to infection.

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.

Ways to Make Tattoo Removal Hurt Less

The procedure will be painful, and we can’t get around that fact. However, there are a few ways to reduce the pain and make it a little more comfortable. I recommend asking your chosen clinic for any of the following:

Numbing Cream

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.

The creams usually contain different concentrations of prilocaine, benzocaine, lidocaine, or tetracaine. These ingredients are all effective in numbing the skin.

Some creams are available over-the-counter, others are prescription only. 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.

One of the most effective over-the-counter numbing products currently on the market is a cream called Numb 520.

Cold Air Machines

You can find cold air machines in nearly all high-end laser clinics. These are among the most effective ways to lessen the pain of the laser. The machine blows cool air on the area being treated. This device can be used before, during and after the treatment.

Cold Compress

If something burns, it only makes sense to treat it with something cold. Ice packs or cold compressions are excellent for both before and after the treatment. The cold will soothe and numb the skin enough to make it a little less uncomfortable.

Lidocaine Injections

Lidocaine injections are a local anesthetic typically used by plastic surgeons. The injection works instantly, but you might need more than one, depending on the size of the tattoo. Not all clinics will offer injections, as it can only be given by a medical professional.

Summary

There is no way to avoid it—tattoo removal can, indeed, be painful. The laser treatment is often compared to the pain of receiving the original tattoo—whereas some say it’s worse.

Laser treatment will usually remove unwanted tattoos completely, although it will take several treatments and you will, unfortunately, experience some tattoo removal pain. However, a number of pain relief treatments may help ease the discomfort.