Recently we attended a talk on developments in Laser Tattoo Removal when we were introduced to the fairly unattractive concept of the ‘exploding tattoo’. One moment we’re looking at standard ‘before and after’ shots of successful tattoo removal, the next we’re looking at tattoo removal where the skin has blistered and burned, and the tattoo has ‘exploded’ on the skin.
If you have a cover-up tattoo and are thinking of laser tattoo removal you need to read on, and you need to remember!
As you probably know, laser tattoo removal works by sending very specific wavelengths of pulsed light that pass harmlessly through the top layer of skin to break up the ink particles underneath. The exact wavelengths, frequency and intensity is managed by the technician performing the removal and is based on several factors including ink colour, ink density, age of the tattoo etc.
With double tattoos there’s a lot more density of ink in the area, hence…more heat generated which increases the risk to general tissue in the area
So far so good. A reputable technician will assess your tattoo and choose the correct settings accordingly. In the vast majority of cases there should be no side-effects from your tattoo removal sessions.
But enter the cover-up tattoo. As the name suggests, a cover-up tattoo is where an existing tattoo is covered up with new ink – usually to hide or ‘cover-up’ an unwanted tattoo. The better the cover-up tattoo artist, the better the result and the less obvious it is to anyone that there’s an older tattoo hiding underneath.
But there-in lies the danger of the ‘exploding tattoo.’ A cover-up tattoo doubles the density of ink particles, but isn’t necessarily obvious to the tattoo removal technician that it’s the case. And because it isn’t obvious (and because they probably aren’t going to suddenly ask you ‘hey is there another tattoo hiding under there’) the incorrect settings can inadvertently be used.
In short the more density of colour there is in a target tattoo, the higher the absorption of light and in turn the more heat generated. With double tattoos there’s a lot more density of ink in the area, hence more uptake of light and more heat generated which increases the risk to general tissue in the area – giving rise to the possibility of burning, blistering and excessive scabbing and crusting of the skin – an ‘exploding tattoo’. The solution is for settings to be adjusted down initially to ensure minimal collateral damage in the case of cover-up tattoos.
And this was a highly trained, respected dermatologist telling us of cases of exploding tattoos he had witnessed just through not being aware that he was working on a cover-up tattoo at the time!
So what should you do?
If you’re thinking about a cover-up tattoo but haven’t yet taken the plunge, consider using tattoo removal to fade the existing tattoo before cover-up. Remember:
- Fading a tattoo is less expensive and take fewer sessions that full tattoo removal so cost shouldn’t be as much of a factor
- Your new cover-up tattoo will almost definitely look even better if you’ve faded the original tattoo. You also give yourself more options on what your new tattoo can look like, what colours can be used etc if there’s less emphasis on covering up an old tattoo, and more emphasis on a great new design
- By fading first, your reducing the final ink density on the skin, ensuring you never have to hear those words ‘exploding tattoo’
If you already have a cover-up tattoo or don’t want to fade first the message is simple – tell your technician if you ever get laser tattoo removal! Remember:
- Your technician probably won’t be able to tell you have a cover-up tattoo (especially if its good) – so it’s up to you to tell them.
- Even if they do notice, they may not be aware of the implications. Unless they have experience with cover-up tattoos they may not realise the importance of adjusting down the settings to compensate for the ink density. It’s your skin – make sure you tell them!
So there you have it. Seeing a few images of exploding tattoos is pretty average. Looking down at your arm and seeing one first-hand is a whole lot worse! But if you’re the proud owner of an awesome cover-up tattoo just keep this information filed in the back of your mind and you’re good to go.