Regular followers on my social media accounts will know I recently encountered my first client to have an extreme and unfortunate reaction to lasering.
Let’s be honest for a moment. Despite whatever precautions are taken, lasering the skin comes with risks. Whether that’s to remove a tattoo, banish unwanted hair or get rid of unsightly red veins etc nasty reactions can and do occur.
The main one we’d all love to avoid and never see is keloid scarring –
Unfortunately these can strike at any time, to anyone and for even the most minor of skin irritation/wound. They can occur when there’s no previous history…experts are unsure as to why.
If you have experienced a keloid scar before, lasering should be avoided. It’s a firm contraindication.
The baby brother to keloid scars is hypertrophic scarring but unlike keloid scars the overproduction of collagen does not extend beyond the wound boundary.
Other unwanted reactions involve allergic reactions to the fragmented ink. You’d think that, as you’ve had that tattoo for years, you can’t be allergic but you’d be wrong. Once lasered the ink becomes systemic (i.e no longer trapped in your skin but now moving within your immune system) and if you are allergic this can be dangerous. A local, small allergic response is probably ok (but check with your GP before undergoing further treatments) ;however, if you should see the typical ‘wheal and flare’ immune response this is potentially dangerous and immediate medical advice should be sought. Again, this would rule out laser treatments in the future. Fortunately I’ve not seen this as yet in any clients and I am told (though can’t confirm) that red ink is the most likely colour to provoke an allergic response. I think I’m right in saying (although stand to be corrected) that tattooists can sometimes see a localised allergic reaction to red ink in that the tattoo initially seems very lumpy.
Swelling can also be profound. I remember when I had my ¾ sleeve tattoo done and my elbow swelled up to the point I thought I might need to go to hospital. In the end, a bag of frozen peas strapped to it for a few hours finally took the heat out…but this can also happen post lasering. I think I’ve mentioned before that no full circumference anywhere on the body should be lasered in one session. Otherwise, as with any burn, the heat can’t dissipate properly/quickly and problems may ensue. The same with dressings. A laser wound should not be strapped up tight or the heat stays trapped in the wound/ surrounding tissue and consequently any swelling/discomfort will be far greater than without.
The main culprits for marking the skin after lasering are blisters, scabs and poor aftercare, sometimes leading to infection. Blisters are a normal response and care should be taken not to accidentally pick/pop them…they are formed to protect the skin underneath while healing so to remove too soon increases the risk of infection. Similarly scabs. Whilst some ‘pinprick’ bleeding is normal with lasering you can take steps to avoid bleeding as much as possible. These include –
Avoiding alcohol 48 hours either side of a treatment
Not taking NSAID painkillers such as ibuprofen or aspirin (paracetamol is ok)
Not taking fish oil supplements
Avoiding vigorous exercise post lasering
If you are taking any medication (including herbal) check to make sure it does not increase the risk of bleeding.
It’s also worth noting here that dark, dense tattoos will absorb the most laser energy so it’s possible that lasering a heavy, say, tribal tattoo could provoke a nasty response, even at low power levels.
Scabs should be left to fall off in their own time but if a couple seem to be taking forever you can try massaging a little Bio Oil into them to speed up the process.
A laser wound is no different really to any other kind of wound when looking after it to prevent infection. Keep it clean and let it heal at its own pace with little intervention from you. Opinion is divided as to whether a dry wound heals better/quicker than one that gets moist (and by that I include the application of numerous, supposedly beneficial creams and ointments). I can only go on my experience to date and I would say keeping it clean and then pretty much ignoring it (but keeping it dry as much as possible) does seem to give better/quicker results. Men are especially good at the ‘ignoring it’ bit.
The vast majority of people will experience very little by way of reaction to lasering other than the generally expected…it is comparable to a slight burn after all. Unfortunately a small % will not be so lucky. It’s estimated that 10-15% of people will see a keloid scar form at some point in their lives….even from chickenpox or acne. Being well informed prior to undergoing laser treatments will help you to navigate these risks.