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 12

Laser Tattoo Removal - Safe for Dark Skin?

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In our practice, we have successfully treated dark skinned individuals for tattoo removal without side effects like scarring or pigmentation problems.. In fact, some of our medical team and laser providers with dark skin can share their experience with you. It is important to find a skilled and experienced technician in a reputatble medical office using the right technology. Many lasers will absorb the pigmentation on the surface of the skin rather than the ink. It is very important to find a medical office with a lot of laser experience.

Raleigh-Durham Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 123 reviews

Tattoo removal for darker skin

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Yes tattoo removal can totally be done for darker skin types.  I use the Picosure and start as a safe setting to minimize risk of complications.  With each treatment, the intensity is increased as long as the patient has tolerated previous treatments well

David S. Rosenberg, MD
Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 11 reviews

Q-Switched Lasers Remove Tattoos from Dark Skin

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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
3.9 out of 5 stars 17 reviews

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Laser Tattoo Removal on Darker Skin

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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.

Mansour Bendago, FRCSC
Toronto Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 93 reviews

Laser Tattoo Removal for Dark Skin

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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

Laser Tattoo Removal for Dark Skin

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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

Laser Tattoo Removal for Dark Skin Types

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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

Laser tattoo removal is definitely possible for darker skin types.

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It is indeed possible to remove tattoos, even in darker skin types with lasers. In my practice, we deal predominantly only with darker skin types, and I am very happy with both the safety and the efficacy. I now use a Picoway, and this has added significantly to the safety factor - where there was some textural change likely with the earlier Q switched laser that we had, the pigment clearance with Picoway leaves hardly any scarring or textural change behind. 

With type V/VI   skin, our strategy has been to use lesser fluences and plan for treatments over longer intervals, even upto 3-4 months been sessions. I have performed Picoway laser tattoo removal even in patients with keloids/keloidal tendencies without any problem. 

The clearance, I feel, is very much dependant on the time interval as much as on the fluence used, so lesser number of sessions would be adequate, too. 

Good luck! 

PicoSure - Tattoo Removal

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Thank you for your question and photograph. Yes, there are chances for this tattoo to respond to laser treatments. In my office, I like to use Picosure laser which has a short pulse duration that exceeds photothermal action and results in an intense photomechanical impact. It works best on darker inks such as black and blue and on all types of skin. The number of sessions required to remove a tattoo can range from 6-10 sessions. I recommend you consult an expert in laser tattoo removal to determine the best treatment plan for you. All the best!

Hardik Soni, MD (not currently practicing)
Summit Emergency Medicine Physician

Laser Tattoo Removal is Possible for Dark Skin

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Yes, tattoo removal is possible on all skin types, from Fitzpatrick I-VI. However, we will not treat tan skin, as tan skin is more likely to have permanent side effects, including scarring and permanent pigment damage. Tanning, whether from direct sunlight, tanning beds, or self-tanner, must be avoided while receiving treatments.

David L. Robbins, MD, FACS
West Des Moines Plastic Surgeon

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.