Tattoo Removal for Dark Skinned Clients
Why do I need to share my skin type and ethnicity with my laser technician?
A client seeking laser tattoo removal will be asked about their skin color, sensitivity to sun, and ethnicity. These are all important factors when deciding which laser, wavelength and technique to use for tattoo removal. The goal for all clients is the removal of an unwanted tattoo without pigment changes. Clients with medium to dark skin color have an increased risk of scarring, hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation.
The Fitzpatrick Scale is a tool used to determine a skin type for all clients. Clients are scored on a scale of 1-6. #1 on the scale is reserved for those clients with very pale skin that is sensitive to the sun, always burns, and never tans. #2 means a client has a fair complexion and also burns easily when exposed to the sun and rarely tans. A #3 skin type has a beige tint to it, does burns with sun exposure but is capable of tanning. #4 is a person with an olive complexion or light brown tones; sunburns are rare for this individual and they tan regularly. A #5 skin tone is dark brown, and darkens with sun exposure. While #6 is assigned to a dark skinned individual with a large amount of melanin.
Tattoo removal lasers are designed to be attracted to chromophores. Ink is a chromophore along with pigment/melanin, thus the laser cannot always distinguish between ink pigment in a tattoo and skin pigment/melanin. A client with a skin score of 4-6 can expect more sessions than a client with a skin score ranging from 1-3 because the amount of energy used in a session must be conservative when a technician is lasering pigmented clients.
To simplify it, if you wear a dark shirt on a sunny day you feel hotter than if you would have chosen a white shirt. Heat is absorbed faster by the dark shirt and the heat spreads faster over the surface of the shirt. Likewise, melanin (like the dark shirt) will absorb heat faster and spread faster over the skin surface, this quick absorption of heat and laser energy by the skin means darker skin is more prone to complications.
The conservative approach means not using a laser for too long or on to high of a setting when treating dark skin. Prevention of skin issues is the best approach. It is a longer process for clients with dark skin, but it is also the best approach. Tattoo removal is not an emergency and rushing the removal by being over aggressive with the laser will increase the likelihood of developing scars and pigment changes.
Developing hypopigmentation, or loss of color in most cases will not be permanent. The melanocytes that lay deeper in the skin will work hard to restore the skin's natural color. However, a very small percentage of cases of hypopigmentation are more permanent, and leave behind a light-colored outline of the original tattoo, almost like a ghost of tattoos past.
But wait! There is some good news.
Uninked technicians know how to determine which wavelength will enable them to treat clients with a variety of skin types and ink colors without damaging the surrounding pigment. If we are unsure of how your skin will react to a specific wavelength, we will laser a tiny free test spot to see how your skin reacts before lasering your entire tattoo. Our experience based, but conservative approach to tattoo removal has helped us to remove countless tattoos from darker skinned clients without scarring, or causing undesired skin changes.