Does Laser Tattoo Removal Hurt?

Despite popular belief, tattoo removal is not excruciatingly painful for everyone. Whether tattoo removal will hurt or not depends on your own pain tolerance. For most people removing a tattoo is only as painful as getting a tattoo.

How Does Tattoo Removal Work?

Unlike getting a tattoo, tattoo removal does not involve a needle. Instead, most tattoo removal clinics use a Q-switch laser. Tattoo removal lasers produce pulses of light, which targets pigment colors in the skin. If you are thinking about getting a tattoo removed, it’s important to research credible tattoo removal specialists.

Some places may use older and outdated lasers, which can cause extremely painful sessions. All tattoo removal lasers heat up ink so ink pigments break up easier. However, older and outdated lasers sometimes heat ink to dangerous temperatures, injuring and scarring skin.

How Much Pain To Expect During Treatments

Most people say removing a tattoo feels like repeatedly snapping a rubber band against your skin. Before a session begins, the specialist should apply an anesthetic cream to the area, which helps make the process bearable. If the specialist is not planning to apply numbing cream before a session, then you should apply your own numbing cream before starting treatment.

How many treatments, and how long they last, will depend on the tattoo. Darker tattoos, newer tattoos, or intricately detailed and colorful tattoos are more difficult to remove. Fortunately, sessions become less painful each time, as there is less pigments to remove each session. One treatment session can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Pain typically only last for about 15 minutes after a session, as long as cooling or silicone gel is applied afterwards.

Possible Side Effects

Tattoo removal is a safe procedure, but side effects are still a possibility. Seeing a physician assistant, nurse, or non-board-certified physician for treatment can increase the risk of side effects. There are two main risks to be concerned about:

  1. Hyper or hypo-pigmentation– an over or under production of melanin.
  2. Scarring

Other possible side effects could include:

  • Infection- which can cause scarring
  • Blistering
  • Swelling
  • Redness and Irritation
  • Itching

What To Do After Treatment

While you may not experience extreme pain, expect discomfort around the area for at least a week. Some individuals compare after-session pain to a sunburn. Post-op instructions should always be followed carefully.

Stay Hydrated

According to Hooman Khorasani, staying hydrated after treatments is extremely important. Tattoo ink doesn’t just magically disappear. When the laser breaks up ink particles, your body disposes of it when it sweats or uses the bathroom.

Khorasani recommends drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water each day, for six weeks after a treatment. It may seem like a lot, but your body will be working hard to purge itself of ink particles. Staying hydrated can make a significant different on the success of tattoo removal.

Keep The Area Clean

Keeping the area clean after a treatment is key to prevent infection or scarring. Make sure to wash your hands before touching the affected area. Clean the area by gently washing it with an approved soap. Gently pat it dry afterwards. Avoid scratching, picking at scabs, or shaving the affected area. Do not pop any blisters.

Ice The Affected Area

If you experience irritation, you can apply a cool compress or an ice pack to the affected area. Make sure the compress is clean and only use it for ten minutes at a time. If possible, shower in cooler water and avoid hot tubs and hot baths completely. Pools should also be avoided until all blisters and scabs have completely healed.

If an ice pack does not bring down swelling, take an anti-inflammatory. However, avoid pain killers as they could cause bruising or bleeding.

Applying Creams

After a treatment, it’s recommended to avoid putting make-up, creams, or medications on the affected area for about 48 hours, unless otherwise directed. However, most tattoo removal specialists will prescribe a medicated cream that helps the healing process. Sometimes, you might be sent home with dressing.

For three months after a treatment session, apply sunscreen when you will be outside for long periods of time. Use a sunscreen with at least a spf of 25. However, make sure to gently clean the area once you are back inside. It’s recommended to avoid being out in the sun until all blisters and scabs have healed.

Tattoo Removal FAQs

Tattoo removal has a reputation for being extremely painful, but that is not an accurate assessment. Tattoo removal feels differently for every person.

Does Tattoo Removal Hurt?

Most people say removing a tattoo feels like a rubber band repeatedly snapping against your skin. However, that pain for tattoo removal shouldn’t be any worse than the pain you felt getting the tattoo. Getting a tattoo and removing it should cause around the same amount of pain.

If you need multiple sessions, they will be less painful each time. Earlier sessions hurt more because there is more ink to remove. You may feel discomfort for a week or so after treatment, but actual pain shouldn’t last for more than 15 minutes after a session.

Possible Tattoo Removal Side Effects

The two biggest side effects to worry about are Hyper/hypopigmentation—an over or under production of melanin—and scarring. You may experience some of the following side effects after treatment:

  • Redness
  • Itching or Burning
  • Blistering
  • Scabbing
  • Infection- a rare and more serious side effect that can lead to scarring.

What To Do After A Tattoo Removal Session

The success of tattoo removal is affected by your ability to take care of the affected area. Properly following post-op instructions significantly increases the success of the procedure. Some recommended post-op care includes:

  • Stay Hydrated
  • Avoid Hot Water and High-Water Pressure
  • Apply a cool compress, 10 minutes at a time, on swollen areas
  • Apply antibiotic cream
  • Keep the area clean


Kelsi Zimmerman, How Painful Is Removing A Tattoo? An Expert Breaks Down The Process,

Nicole Pajer, What Really Happens When You Get A Tattoo Removed,