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

30 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

      1. Hello, I had powder brows done almost 3 years ago and had been getting them removed with the Picosecond laser. They went from brown to a red and now I too am stuck with this god awful yellow color. I had 7 treatments with the picosecond and am now going to a different tattoo removal specialist who uses the Piqo4 laser. I have now had 2 sessions here and they are a little lighter than when I started but the yellow is still very much there. Can yellow be treated and fully removed by any laser? Very frustrating.

        1. Hi Kris, Thanks for your question. Your artist mixed yellow and red ink in with the darker base color, which is unfortunately quite common. The base ink came out quickly revealing red, which was probably made from cinnabar. Then the red came out next because it’s generally weaker then the yellow. Yellow ink is made from a very hard metal pigment called cadmium sulfide. The yellow can be removed with a 532nm wavelength but it can take several treatments or more due to the toughness of that particular metal. Best of luck. Thanks, Brendan

  7. Hi there, I had a tattoo with white highlights lasered and the highlights have oxidised to a grey/bluey colour. My laser technician does not have any experience with this happening. Is it still possible to remove the ink now that it has oxidised? Thank you

    1. Hi Katherine, Thanks for your email. When metallic ink (titanium, iron, cadmium, etc.) oxidizes it’s still possible to remove it. It can be treated as black/blue ink. The 1064 wavelength may have difficulty with the bluish coloration so you might want to seek out a 755nm alexandrite like PicoSure. Because it’s comprised of a heavy metal it will require more than one treatment to remove. Thanks, Brendan

  8. Hi, I’ve had my eyebrows lasered they were a browny orangy colour, now they have turned charcoal black. Please can you advise me can this be removed?

    1. Hi Amie, Thanks for your question. It sounds like your ink oxidized and turned black, which is a potential risk. Risks like that can be reduced by performing a test spot prior to treating the entire tattoo. Because your ink is now black, there’s no more risk in it turning darker. It can now be treated just like black ink and will probably take more than one session to remove. I recommend the PicoSure laser because it is photomechanical and does not use heat to destroy the ink. This is important when treating eyebrows because a q-switched photothermal laser could destroy hair follicles and reduce your eyebrow hair even further. Thanks, Brendan

      1. Are u sure that if lines that are oxidated from white highlights to dark grey/blue it is still possible to remove them? Right now I have a half sleeve because the white turned into dark. I got laser treatments with the Pico.

        1. Hi Chris, Thanks for your question. Although each tattoo ink and person is different, there’s no reason to believe that the ink can’t come out. It’s changed color but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to remove. Your practitioner might try a couple different settings and perform several test spots to determine the best course of action. Please let me know how it goes. Thanks, Brendan

  9. I have white ink mixed in with the colours so it can’t be avoided during treatment. During the first session with picosure there was no darkening but are different wavelengths or types of laser more likely to cause oxidisation of white ink or is it more to do with what the ink is made of. For example if next time I went to a clinic with a different laser would that laser be more likely to accidentally turn the ink grey oh the picosure didn’t

    1. Hi Saff, Thanks for your question. All white inks are different but your point about what the ink is made of is valid. If it were going to oxidize it probably would regardless of the laser or wavelength used. I feel that since it did not oxidize with PicoSure it probably won’t in the future. Additionally, when ink does oxidize it doesn’t become invincible – meaning grey ink can be removed, it might just take more energy and/or treatments. Best of luck with your removal and remember, a laser is just a tool like any other, in unskilled hands the results will be less than desired. Thanks, Brendan

  10. Hi I have some white bits in my tattoo that have turned grey/blue after laser, currently using a ruby laser now with a 694 wavelength to remove it further. Will this wavelength work?

    1. Hi Alex, Thanks for your great question. With all inks being different and all lasers as well, let me answer by saying you should know after one treatment. In my experience, blueish grey responds well to the Alex 755nm PicoSure wavelength. If after a single treatment with the 694nm there’s not marked improvement and clearance, I would discontinue use and find a PicoSure provider. An additional benefit to PicoSure is that the pulse width is so short that cavitation and disruption of the tissues allows for quick ink dispersal. Disruption, in my opinion, is just as important as destruction of the pigment – because if we destroy it but it has no path out then our attempts are futile. If you’re ever in Austin, stop by Austin Medspa and I’ll get you fixed up. Thanks, Brendan

      1. I am in the UK unfortunately Brendan, however I appreciate the advice! I would like to ask your opinion though, I see a lot of conflicting answers in regards to white ink that has been oxidised, some say it can’t be removed however others say it can it just requires more sessions and the correct wavelength? Do you have experience of having successfully treated oxidised ink? Thanks, Alex

        1. Hi Alex, Thanks for your question. I’ve not experienced white ink oxidizing and turning dark (because it’s relatively rare) but I have seen eyebrow tattoo ink turn dark. Virtually all inks have the potential to change color, so to speak. However, this doesn’t make them indestructible. Theoretically, if white ink turned dark, rather than remaining white, the chances of removing it are better because it would more readily absorb the laser energy. Sometimes white inks, which don’t normally absorb laser energy, will fade due to the PicoSure PressureWave, which disrupts the ink-laden tissue. This disruption frees some of the ink and it’s removed via lymph flow or through phagocytosis. Each tattoo and client is unique. When in doubt, a test spot should be performed. Thanks, Brendan

  11. Hi, I’ve received 3 laser removals with picosure on my eyebrow tattoos so far. With the first two treatments, my tattoo faded and turned a lighter brownish red. However, with my third treatment, they turned black. I’ve read a lot online that once the ink oxidizes into this black shade it’s not possible to remove. I’m now very worried I’ll be stuck with black eyebrows. Is removal still possible after eyebrow inks oxidize to black?

    1. Hi Rae, Thanks for your question. The fact that an ink has turned black, or even just gotten darker, doesn’t mean it can’t be removed. Black tattoos of all kinds are removed everyday, and they contain metals, like iron and other heavy metals, just like yours. There are many strategies for removing tough black ink as well as numerous laser settings and other variables. A successful removal has to begin with an outstanding laser, like PicoSure, and must include a confident and experienced provider. Wishing you much success on your removal. Thanks, Brendan

  12. Hi, I have been following your comments for some time and I see you have a very good knowledge when it comes to ink oxidizing. I have a scar on my forehead covered with the permanent make up. However the lingerist left some brownish line on the scar which I wanted to remove with laser treatment (2 years after the pigmentation). So far I had two treatments with picosure, however my doctor did not inform me about the possible outcome and I am bit surprised with my scar turning grey/dark blue. I understand this is the result of the ink oxidizing and it will fade if I continue with the treatment? I am quite depressed right now thinking this my stay as it is now. I am 4 weeks after the second treatment and see no result, actually it is much darker than after the first treatment. Maybe it is the scar which causes the problem? Is it possible to remove the tatoo from the scar tissue? It is the surgery scar after the accident.

    1. Hi Agnieszka, Thanks for your question regarding ink darkening. I’m sorry to hear you’re experiencing this potential side effect. I currently have a client whose flesh-tone ink also turned darker. Unfortunately, cosmetic ink is notorious for this. Metals are added to various inks to either change the hue and/or make the pigments tougher and more light-fast, meaning it won’t fade when exposed to the sun. Some metals, like cadmium sulfate, are very tough to remove, but not impossible. For laser tattoo removal to work, the ink colour must be differentiated from the color of the skin. When it is, we can target it with different wavelengths that break up the ink while leaving the skin intact. The fact that you can clearly see your ink means that it can be removed with repeated treatments. It’s possible the PicoSure will remove it but if you don’t start seeing results, my advice is find another provider. One other thing, there are imitation lasers that look like the PicoSure but they’re not – just cheap imitations. Best of luck to you. Thanks, Brendan

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