The liquid phase spectra of tatoo pigments are shown to be unreliable as a basis for mechanistic deductions. The reflectance spectra of the solids from 2000 nm to 500 nm (5000 to 20,000 cm-1) are shown to accurately assess the relative loss of laser light for different pigments and to be useful in examining these to check for similarities in the pigments. The absorbance differences between the pigments are shown to be largely irrelevant in assessing the ease of tatoo removal by laser radiation of a variety of wavelengths. A multiphoton absorption mechanism with its concomitant shock wave is proposed to be responsible for the reduction of pigment particles to small sizes which the lymph system can remove. The different behavior of blue and green tattoos, treated by Q-switched ruby and Nd:YAG lasers, is attributed to the particle aggregation size of the pigments in the tattoo.© (1996) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.