A common question that gets asked is “is it possible to get laser hair removal over a tattoo?” In short, no—it is not advised to get laser hair removal over a tattoo. If a patient is having laser hair removal and have a tattoo in the area being treated, the practitioner performing the treatment will have to laser around the tattoo.
Why Can’t One Get Laser Hair Removal Over a Tattoo?
The short answer is: it’s not safe. But there’s a longer explanation, too.
The way laser hair removal works is the laser’s energy is attracted to pigment. The pigment in one’s hair and hair follicles attracts and absorbs the laser’s energy to impede its ability to make more hair. This is great for laser hair removal but not so great in the presence of tattoos. Tattoos are nothing but pigment, so the laser would be attracted to the ink in the tattooed skin.
Regardless of the type of laser being used for laser hair removal—whether an Alexandrite, YAG, etc.—if these lasers hit the ink in a tattoo, the skin would be very reactive. In fact, the process would be very painful, and the resulting wound would blister and possibly distort the tattoo once it healed.
But Doesn’t Tattoo Removal Involve a Laser?
The lasers used for hair removal and tattoo removal are very different. Tattoo removal lasers are Q-switch devices that deliver energy much faster so that the laser hits the pigment causing it to fragment. In contrast, the laser used for hair removal is meant to deliver energy to be absorbed by the hair follicle, which in turn depletes its ability to produce more hair. For this reason, if a tattoo was to make contact with a hair removal laser the pigment would absorb the energy and would not be able to cool quickly enough, thus causing a blister and possible damage to the tattoo and skin.
Again, it is not safe to do laser hair removal over a tattoo. Always consult a trained and experienced practitioner who knows to avoid tattoos when administering laser hair removal treatment.