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Good Question: How Does Tattoo Removal Work?

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(credit: CBS) John Lauritsen
John Lauritsen is a reporter from Montevideo, Minn. He joined WCCO-...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – That tattoo you wanted forever in your 20s might not seem like the best decision by your 30s.

While relationships and jobs change, ink doesn’t.

While getting a tattoo is still popular and still big business, Americans will spend more than $75 million on tattoo removal this year.

It used to be that tattoo removal also meant removing part of your skin.

That’s not the case anymore.

Joe Downing is a certified laser specialist at Northeast Tattoo and Laser Tattoo Removal. He’s helped erase many bad decisions or lost bets.

“It’s a process,” he said. “It takes time.”

But no blood is shed. The secret is a special laser that senses tattoo ink in the skin.

“The molecules of tattoo ink are so big that the cells that are in charge of removing our skin can’t physically move them around,” Downing said.

It’s like trying to move a boulder, which is why tattoos are permanent. And Downing’s laser doesn’t actually remove the tattoo, it simply breaks down the ink molecules inside.

“And these big chunks of color are being exploded into small pieces,” he said. “So the laser is the hammer that swings into the boulder.”

The ink is broken down into small enough pieces that the cells in the skin can remove them. The ink doesn’t go away on the spot, rather it fades away over weeks, even months.

“In most cases, it does fade to the point where you can’t even see it anymore,” Downing said. “The idea is that we get as much clearance as we possibly can in as few sessions as possible.”

Downing said the hardest part is predicting how long it will take for a tattoo to completely go away, because everybody’s body works differently.

The average price to have a tattoo removed at Northeast Tattoo and Laser Tattoo Removal is anywhere from $60 to $125 per session.

Each session takes about 20 minutes.

Downing said blue and green are the hardest colors to remove.

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