Tattoo Ink Darkening in Response to Laser Treatment

Why don’t some tattoos respond to laser treatment?  Unfortunately, not even the best laser on the planet, the PicoSure, can remove all tattoos.  The primary reason for this is that the ink, or one of its components, usually a metal or metal derivative, responds negatively or not at all.  For example, white inks contain large amounts of titanium dioxide which is a highly reflective white metal oxide.  Titanium dioxide has an extremely high refractive index which is why it is used in the majority of sunscreens.  Additionally, because of its pure white coloration, titanium dioxide is also used as an additive in many cosmetic and food pigments.  Regrettably, when a tattoo pigment of titanium dioxide is struck with a laser beam it may cause laser-induced reduction of the metallic compounds resulting in a permanent darkening of the ink.  And it’s not just white ink that’s affected because white titanium pigment is added to numerous colors in order to lighten them or increase their brilliance.  In other words, almost any pigment has the potential to turn darker when treated with any laser, including the PicoSure laser. Interestingly, other metals have also been found in tattoo inks, including mercury, iron oxide and chromium.  In summary, not all tattoos can be removed with laser treatment and those that can may require numerous treatments due to the resilience of some inks, especially those containing metals.


Please call Brendan @  512-327-5337

12 thoughts on “Tattoo Ink Darkening in Response to Laser Treatment

  1. hello i just read your article and i would love to know have you ever failed or stop to remove tattoo because metal or metal derivative in ink. also how often it happens?
    i’m waiting for my first treatment and start worry about i could happen to me i hope i just getting paranoid

    thank you

    1. Hi Mia, Thanks for your comment and question regarding metallic ink pigments. Metals increase the durability of pigments and are often added to increase lightfastness and prevent ink breakdown. You asked how often metals actually prevent a removal and in my particular practice the answer is once. A patient had a very large yellow and orange tattoo on his upper arm that reacted to the PicoSure laser by changing to light grey in color. I performed a test spot which revealed further darkening and at that point the patient and I decided we should halt treatments. Why? Well for very little money he could have the grey touched back up with yellow and orange and his tattoo would be as good as new. However, if we continued with PicoSure laser treatments, the rest of the ink would have converted to grey. This may have proven difficult, though not impossible, to remove. So you see, the question is different for each patient. He could have very well said “Let’s keep going. I’m dedicated to removing this.” If you want to email me a pic of your tattoo I may be able to give you my clinical impression and put your mind at ease. Thanks, Brendan Leigh, RN, MS

  2. Hello, Have you ever treated a patient that had darkening of ink when removing eyebrow tattoo? And if so, how would you help with the darkening?

    1. Hi Caitlyn, Thanks for your question. If an ink looks as though it may darken I perform a test spot. I’ve had test spots turn dark indicating that the ink oxidized or changed in response to the laser. These test spots are small and virtually unnoticeable. They will usually fade away on their own because although they darkened, they were also vaporized in to particles so small they could be absorbed by the body. When an ink turns dark it should just be treated as a dark ink with standard laser protocols. Thanks, Brendan

  3. Hey! I had my second picoway laser session to remove my cosmetic eyebrow tattoo. At the first one the black color has gone but it turned to a kind of red, probably caused by the oxidation. I had the second one and now the color didn’t fade as the first session. My question is if is it really possible to remove it after the oxidation? Thanks

    1. Hi Luciana, The red residual you see is the ink that was mixed with your dark ink to create a particular shade. I see that quite often. What you need now is the 532nm wavelength, which is specifically for targeting red and yellow. Shouldn’t take more than one treatment. Thanks and best of luck! Brendan

  4. Hello! I had Microblading done on my brows and a few touch-ups over the years. Unfortunately, the last time i did it my brows turned a redish salmon color. It’s been almost a year since the last touch-up session and I now want it completely gone. I attempted for pico lazer, the doctor had to do a test, the test spot darkened to black at first and now it’s kind of fading / scabbing. It’s been almost 4 months since the lazer treatment was done. I wanna know if it will ever fade? And if I can have saline removal on my brows incl. the tested spot? I would love to fade my brows completely!

    1. Hi Brandi, Thanks for your question. Without a picture it’s hard to give an opinion but I remove reddish eyebrow tattoos successfully. I wonder if your test spot was with a 755nm or 532nm wavelength? That would make a lot of difference. Your eyebrows can most likely be removed completely with the first and only PicoSure – but not some PicoSure knock off. I’d advise against saline as it rarely can achieve significant removal and I’ve often seen it scar clients who have tried it. Thanks, Brendan

  5. Hi! I have my lip liner tattoo removal in a week. It would be 4 weeks since I had my lip tattoo that I regret, but I’m scared that it will oxidise with Picosure. What should I do? Also if i did a spot test, after how much will I know excatly that it will darken or not?
    And if it did oxidise, with more sessions can it be removed? Waiting your response 🙂

    1. Hi Alexandra, Thanks for your question. Lip liner has a high risk of oxidizing and turning black – I’ve seen documented cases with photos and it’s terrible. Unfortunately there’s not much that can be done other than to try to remove it like a black tattoo with repeated treatments. Because of this, a test spot is a must. The test spot should be evaluated in two weeks. Additionally, if your lip liner is red I wonder if you’re using the 532 or 755 wavelengths? Just a thought, you might want to wait six months to see if your tattoo fades on its own – many do. Best of luck to you with the removal. Please let me know how it works out so that others may benefit from your experience. Thanks, Brendan

  6. I’m so glad that this comment box is up to date and responsive. I had microblading done in 2017, and upon laser treatments, the ink turned bright yellow and is so far totally unresponsive. I was being treated by a physician who specializes in lasers in Florida. I checked so many safety data sheets alongside toxicology studies of several different inks that have had this issue of yellowing. So far, I’ve learned that my pigment utilized (Phibrows) had high levels of chromium, although it was not in the SDS. Other very popular brands of ink (Tina Davies is a US brand and very commonly used) also had this yellowing reaction. All of these brands use both inorganic and organic compounds in their formulations, but all deny the presence of heavy metals. I have a blog online about my removal experience, and have been contacted by at least 20 different people worldwide stuck with the exact same yellow issue. We are so exhausted. I am both researching and praying on a daily basis that someday, this yellow can be removed safely, without disfiguring scars.

    1. Hi Natalie,
      Your ink was mixed with cadmium sulfate, a yellow heavy metal. It can be safely removed with the PicoSure 532nm wavelength. Please call the office to schedule an appointment. Thanks, Brendan

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