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Thinking of having a tattoo removed?

Maybe the design no longer appeals to you in quite the same way. Or the tattoo artist made a mistake and couldn’t fix it to your satisfaction.

Whatever your reasons, feelings of tattoo regret may lead you to consider laser tattoo removal, the gold standard for getting rid of unwanted ink.

When you get a tattoo, a small mechanical needle deposits pigment beneath the surface layer of your skin (epidermis) to the next layer down (dermis).

Laser tattoo removal works because lasers can pass through the epidermis and break down the pigment so your body can either absorb or excrete it.

Laser removal offers the most effective option for removing tattoos. That said, the process does require some recovery time. It also comes with a few potential side effects, including blisters, swelling, and skin discoloration.

Blistering after laser tattoo removal is fairly common, especially for people with darker skin. You also have a higher chance of developing blisters if you don’t follow your dermatologist’s aftercare advice.

Read on to learn more about blisters after tattoo removal and how to help them heal.

Yes, post-tattoo removal blisters do happen.

In the past, laser tattoo removal typically used Q-switched lasers, which experts considered the safest for this procedure. These lasers use very short pulse durations that fragment the tattoo particles.

The more recently developed picosecond lasers have an even shorter pulse duration. They can target the tattoo pigment more directly, so they affect less of the skin surrounding the tattoo. Since picosecond lasers are both more effective and require less treatment time, they’ve become a standard for tattoo removal.

During the laser tattoo removal process, the laser emits rapid, high-powered pulses of light that heat up the pigment particles, causing them to break apart. That heat can result in blisters, especially when high intensity lasers are used.

That’s because blisters form as your body’s reaction to friction or burns on the skin. They create a protective layer over the injured skin to help it heal.

While you may not be able to completely prevent blisters after laser tattoo removal, getting the procedure done by a board certified dermatologist can help lower your chances of getting blisters or experiencing other complications.

Tattoo removal blisters usually develop within a few hours after a laser therapy session. Depending on factors like the color, age, and design of your tattoo, removal may take anywhere from 4 to 15 sessions.

The blisters generally last a week or two, and you might also notice some crusting and scabbing on the treated area.

Always make sure to follow your dermatologist’s aftercare instructions. Taking good care of your skin after getting a tattoo removed may not only help prevent the formation of blisters, but also help your skin heal faster.

Your dermatologist can offer more guidance on caring for post-tattoo removal blisters.

Aftercare instructions for blistered skin will generally involve the following guidelines:

  • Avoid popping the blisters, since this can increase the risk of infection.
  • Keep the bandage on your skin for a full 24 hours, or whatever length of time your dermatologist specified.
  • When you remove the initial covering, gently wash the area with a mild soap and water, then gently pat dry and apply a thin layer of the antibacterial ointment provided.
  • You’ll want to apply this ointment 3 to 4 times a day.
  • Continue to apply ointment and cover your skin with a bandage until the blisters have healed.

A few other general tips to help you through the healing process after laser tattoo removal:

  • Avoid soaking in water until your skin has healed. This includes baths, swimming, and hot tubs.
  • Keep the treated part of your body elevated to help with swelling.
  • Apply cold compresses as needed for 24 hours after tattoo removal to help with any discomfort.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, as needed.
  • Avoid picking at your blisters or scabs.
  • Avoid shaving the area until it has fully healed.
  • Avoid applying lotions, makeup, and other skin care products for at least 48 hours after laser tattoo removal, or until your blisters have completely healed.
  • If your skin begins to itch, avoid scratching it. Ask your dermatologist or another healthcare professional for advice on what type of cream to apply and when.
  • Once you take the bandage off, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen to the treated area before going outdoors.

Lasers can cause a range of possible complications in addition to pain and blistering.

Keep in mind, too, that more colorful and detailed tattoos may involve a higher chance of side effects after laser removal.

Potential short-term side effects of tattoo removal include:

  • pain
  • skin discoloration
  • pinpoint bleeding
  • swelling
  • crusting
  • a reaction similar to hives

If you don’t experience blistering, your skin may heal as soon as 5 days after the procedure, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Blisters after tattoo removal will take about a week or two to fully heal.

Once the dead skin cells slough off, the skin underneath may appear pale pink, whitish, and different from your typical skin tone. This color change is only temporary. The skin should fully heal within about 4 weeks.

Following any aftercare instructions you receive will help promote faster healing and reduce your risk of infection and other complications.

You could also experience a delayed reaction, or side effects that take longer to develop, after laser tattoo removal. For instance, you could notice:

FYI

If you have darker skin, you may have a higher chance of experiencing hypopigmentation, or lightened skin, after laser tattoo removal.


You may want to bring this up with the professional removing the tattoo beforehand. You might also consider working with a professional who has experience performing laser tattoo removal on darker skin.

Lasers that penetrate the dermis more deeply can help lower your risk of both hypopigmentation and skin damage.

While it’s not unusual to experience some side effects after laser tattoo removal, you’ll want to pay attention to specific signs that warrant closer attention from a healthcare professional.

It’s a good idea to connect with your care team if your skin doesn’t heal after 2 weeks, or if you notice any of the following:

  • worsening pain, swelling, or irritation
  • a large blister (bulla)
  • streaks spreading from the treated area
  • skin that feels hot or tender to the touch
  • oozing or pus
  • fever or chills
  • a general sense of unwellness

Blistering is a fairly common side effect of laser tattoo removal, but these blisters will usually heal within 2 weeks.

Following your aftercare instructions and resisting the urge to pop or pick at any blisters you develop can lead to faster healing and lower your risk of complications.


Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.