The mechanisms responsible for variable responses of cosmetic tattoos to Q-switched laser removal treatment remain unclear. We sought to investigate the properties of tattoo inks that may affect the efficacy of laser-assisted tattoo removal. The absorption of white, brown, and black inks before and after Q-switched neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet laser irradiation were analyzed by a reflectance measurement system. Rats were tattooed using the three inks and treated with the same laser for two sessions. Skin biopsies were taken from the treated and untreated sites. Black ink showed strong absorption, reduced after laser irradiation, over the entire spectrum. White ink had low absorption over the visible light spectrum, and brown ink had strong absorption at 400–550 nm wavelengths. White and brown inks turned dark after laser exposure, and the absorption of laser-darkened inks were intermediate between their original color and black ink. White, brown, and black tattoos in rat skin achieved poor, fair to good, and excellent responses to laser treatment, respectively. Transmission electron microscopy showed that white tattoo particles were the largest, brown were intermediate, and black were the smallest before laser. After laser treatment, white and brown tattoo particles were mixtures of large and small particles, while black particles showed overall reduction in number and size. Black tattoo ink’s excellent response to Q-switched lasers was associated with its strong absorption and small particle size. White tattoo ink’s poor response was associated with its poor absorption, even after laser darkening, and large particle size.
ASJC Scopus subject areas