Why is 8 weeks the magic number for laser tattoo removal?

I have recently consulted some patients who have come from other laser offices where they have been treated with a tattoo removal laser every month.  They hope to continue with that same interval frequency with me.  However, that frequency is too soon between treatments to allow for the body to remove the shattered ink.  Consequently, I decline to treat them before 8 weeks.

A study published in 2012 in JAMA looked at treatment intervals and resulting number of treatments required to remove tattoos.  The findings suggested that waiting longer intervals between treatments (8 weeks or more) resulted in fewer treatments needed. They also discovered that smokers had a harder time getting rid of their ink.  So, tattoo removal is another good reason to quit smoking (along with reducing cancer risk, better immune system, etc.).  Understanding the physiology and not being treated with the laser quite as often, you’ll save money because you’ll require fewer treatment sessions.

Also, some of the other consults have shown up with fresh ink they already regret.  You need to wait at least 8 weeks for the skin to heal and the ink below the surface to dry.  By analogy, think of your new tattoo as a newly laid down concrete sidewalk that you put in the wrong place.  You want it removed but you wouldn’t take a jackhammer to break it up until after it has dried, would you?  Of course not.  The jackhammer would just slosh around in the wet concrete.  It would be much easier to wait until the sidewalk dries and then shatter the concrete to remove it. Same goes for your new tattoo. 

I know when you come to see me for a consult, you wanted the tattoo gone yesterday. But do yourself a favor; be patient and do the right thing.

Thanks for reading.

Questions?  Give me a call. 618-236-7555

Breastfeeding not compatible with laser tattoo removal

I've done several consults lately for women who are currently breastfeeding their babies. They have asked if breastfeeding and laser tattoo removal are compatible. As an OB physician, my answer is "no".

When you consider the process of the removal of the ink from shattering the ink with the laser and then allowing the body's natural defense cells, the macrophages, to gobble up the particulate and send it through the lymphatic system and then into the blood stream to ultimately be excreted through the kidneys, why would you want to risk the ink particles getting into your breast milk?

No one will ever conduct a study of how much gets into breast milk and if it causes the baby problems because that would be an unethical research project and who would volunteer and potentially put their baby at risk? Pumping and dumping does not even work as it does in the case of medications because once the ink is shattered, the body continually works to dispose of it over the next several weeks. Having practiced obstetrics and being a mother myself, I know breastfeeding moms are a cautious group when it comes to medications and exposure to chemicals. Why take the risk? Wait until you wean your baby, and then come to get your tattoo removed by laser.

Incidentally, the same argument goes for pregnancy. We don't know for sure if that ink is going to get across the placenta to the unborn child. Please err on the side of caution for both pregnancy and breastfeeding.