Will Laser Hair Removal Harm Your Tattoos?

Laser hair removal offers many benefits to the hirsute. It provides a permanent end to shaving (and the cost of razors and other shaving accessories) while saving time and energy. Even if shaving only takes you a few minutes per day, those few minutes can add up to hundreds of hours over a lifetime.

But if you have tattoos on your arms, legs, bikini line, or face, you may wonder whether laser hair removal in these areas is even an option. After all, tattoo removal also relies on lasers; will removing your hair follicles destroy your tattoo as well? Learn more about how laser hair removal works and when it may be an option for tattooed individuals. 

How Does Laser Hair Removal Work?

Laser hair removal works by searing the hair follicle, essentially cauterizing it so that it can no longer produce hair. This is why laser hair removal often takes several sessions to achieve permanent results; while a single session can be enough to cause hair to fall out (or eventually grow back baby-fine instead of wiry), most hair follicles must be exposed to the laser's heat on multiple occasions to truly give up the ghost. 

The good news is, once these follicles have been cauterized, they won't regenerate, giving you a lifetime of low-maintenance, stubble-free skin. But this also means that, before pursuing laser hair removal, you should be absolutely certain you're ready to get rid of that hair for life.  

Will Hair-Removal Lasers Also Remove Tattoos? 

The lasers designed to remove hair are similar, but not identical, to the lasers designed to remove tattoos. For tattoo removal, the laser targets the subcutaneous layer of skin, where the ink has penetrated. As the skin cell walls are breached by the laser's heat, the ink essentially "bleeds" outside the cells, where it can later be absorbed (and excreted) by the body. Like laser hair removal, laser tattoo removal usually requires multiple sessions to achieve results. 

But as to whether a hair-removal laser will also remove your tattoos, the answer is, "it depends." Because each ink color requires a different laser frequency for tattoo removal to be successful, it's possible that the hair-removal laser that will be used simply isn't the correct frequency to affect your tattoos. On the other hand, if a bit of color fading is unavoidable, you may be able to have your tattoo touched up after your hair removal procedure is complete. 

If you're committed to hair removal and keeping your tattoos, your dermatologist should be able to work with you to find a laser that will achieve both those desires.