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Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

Smoking, Ink Color Affect Laser Tattoo Removal

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 21, 2012 -- Regret getting that Chinese character tattoo that turned out to be gibberish? Can't face turning 30 with the "Hello Kitty" tat you got on a whim a decade ago?

You're not alone.

Studies suggest that a third to half of people who get tattoos end up wanting them gone, and now laser technology makes it possible for those who can afford it. Maybe.

New research finds that the success of laser tattoo removal may depend on some surprising things, such as whether the unwanted ink is on the skin of a smoker.

Tattoo Removal Less Successful for Some

In one of the first studies to examine the issue, researchers in Italy identified key characteristics of successful tattoo removal.

They confirmed that large tattoos are harder to remove than small ones, and that yellow, blue, and green dyes are more resistant to removal than black and red ones.

Other characteristics associated with poorer results were less well-known, says study co-author and dermatologist Luigi Naldi, MD.

The study revealed that:

  • Smokers tended to have poorer results than non-smokers.
  • Older tattoos tended to be harder to remove than newer ones.
  • Tattoos on the feet and legs were harder to remove than those on other parts of the body.
  • Outcomes were better when laser sessions were spaced at least eight weeks apart.

"Some people want tattoos removed almost immediately after getting them and others want them removed years later when their lifestyles have changed," Naldi says.

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