Is Laser Tattoo Removal Possible for Dark Skin?

I am a very dark-skinned black woman interested in laser tattoo removal. From what I've read it seems questionable as to whether or not I am a candidate because of how dark my complexion is.

I don't develop keloids, have a few small (<1/2") hypertrophic scars that have smoothed over the years, and have never scarred from a burn. I have two tattoos that I am interested in removing (pictured is the larger of the two; approx. 4 x 4" on my right upper back).

Can anyone weigh in as to whether or not laser removal is possible, how many sessions would be required and expense?

Doctor Answers 7

Laser Tattoo Removal on Darker Skin

It is definitely effective and safe on darker skin types as long as a Q-Switched Nd: YAG laser is used. The safest tattoo color to remove is black. The Q-Switched Nd:YAG is safe because the wavelength is 1064nm, which is longer and therefore bypasses the melanin (pigment) within the epidermis as compared to other Q-Switched lasers. When colors like red or green are targeted for removal, there is a possibility of permanently lightening the skin in the area. This hypopigmentation can occur as these colors need a different wavelength to specifically be targeted and can affect the skin later on. On average you will need 6-8 sessions. Each session would start from $150.

Toronto Plastic Surgeon
4.0 out of 5 stars 5 reviews

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Laser Tattoo Removal for Dark Skin

Tattoo removal in skin of color is certainly possible. Typically the Q-Switch Nd-Yag or Picosure lasers can target pigment in tattoo’d skin while protecting the surrounding, non-tattoo’d tissue. Black tattoos are still the most amenable to therapy. In our office, a tattoo of this size would cost about $500/session, however, multiple sessions would be required for complete removal. How many, you ask? I’d conservatively estimate 8-10.

Your hypertrophic scar history raises a bit of concern for me – I’d recommend a “test” spot first, free of charge, to gauge your response and make sure we’re on the same page in terms of expectations.

Bobby Buka, MD
New York Dermatologist
5.0 out of 5 stars 7 reviews

Q-Switched Lasers Remove Tattoos from Dark Skin

Yours is a great question because we hear all the time that the use of lasers on dark skin is full of risks and complications. While true in inexperienced hands, lasers such as the Q-Switched lasers, which are the tattoo lasers, have shown to be safe in darker skin types and can be used to remove tattoos such as what you have and are describing.

As far as number of sessions, we tell patients the usual is 5-10 and the cost varies – but based on what you show, it would range from $200-300 per session.

Michael Gold, MD
Nashville Dermatologic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 10 reviews

Laser Tattoo Removal for Dark Skin

Yes between 6-10 sessions depends in the office that it’s being done. The price change should be $3000.

Jhonny Salomon, MD
Miami Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 38 reviews

Laser Tattoo Removal for Dark Skin Types

Laser tattoo removal for dark skin types requires a Q-switched 1064nm Nd:Yag laser, which is the safest laser for tattoo removal in patients with darker skin types.  Other tattoo removal lasers (such as a 532nm and 755nm laser) can target the melanin (pigmented cells) of the skin, which can result in scarring and pigment changes on the skin.  The Q-switched 1064nm Nd:Yag laser does not have the same risk of scarring as other lasers used for tattoo removal, though it is important to visit a dermatologist with extensive experience removing tattoos on darker skinned patients.

Eric Schweiger, MD
New York Dermatologic Surgeon
3.5 out of 5 stars 11 reviews

Safe laser tattoo removal in dark skin

Laser tattoo removal is definitely safe and effective on darker skin types, as long as the Q-switched Nd:YAG laser is used. The safest tattoo color to treat is black (as depicted in your photo). The Q-switched Nd:YAG laser is safe because the wavelength of this laser (1064 nanometers) is longer than that of the Q-switched Ruby (694 nm) and Alexandrite (755 nm) lasers. The longer wavelength of the Nd:YAG laser has relatively little effect on melanin pigment within the epidermis. The other two lasers are safe on lighter skin types but carry a risk of pigmentary change in darker skin.

Only Q-switched lasers can remove tattoos without causing scarring. In my book "Understanding Cosmetic Laser Surgery" (University Press of Mississippi, 2004) there is an extensive discussion of Q-switched lasers used to remove tattoos.

Tattoo removal with the Q-switched laser requires several treatments (six or more for a professional tattoo). Black color tattoos can generally be 100% removed. The fee depends largely on the size of the tattoo; for the tattoo pictured the fee would likely be $300-400 per treatment.

Robert C. Langdon, MD
Guilford Dermatologic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 20 reviews

Tatto Removal for Dark Skin

Tattoo removal is possible for all skin types.  It is important to consult a dermatologist with the correct laser for your type of skin.  The Tri-Vantage safely and effectively treats tattoos of all colors with all skin types.  

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.