It can take up to five visits to the dermatologist to get a small tattoo like the model's removed

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Presley Gerber face tattoo removal
Credit: Presley Gerber/Instagram (3)

When Presley Gerber was spotted out in Malibu on Tuesday, one of his most prominent tattoos — the word "MISUNDERSTOOD" on his cheekwas missing.

Fans soon started to speculate that Gerber, 22, might have been in the process of having his ink removed after photos on his Instagram earlier this month showed the tattoo beginning to fade.

While the model may have used concealer to cover up his tat (Hide Cosmetics makes one specifically known to work on tattoos), he could have visited a dermatologist to have it professionally removed. (On Tuesday, a rep for Gerber did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.)

If he did go through with the removal, what exactly does that entail? Board-Certified dermatologist and founder of New York Dermatology Group, Dr. David Colbert, says the process isn't as scary as one might expect.

Dr. Colbert's practice uses the PicoSure laser to heat and break up ink particles in the skin. "The laser has a very small beam, and you just draw over [the tattoo] very carefully," Dr. Colbert tells PEOPLE. "As the laser hits the ink, it breaks it up into millions of little pieces. Your lymphatic system carries it away."

As for the pain, Dr. Colbert says most patients find the laser manageable — and often not as uncomfortable as getting the actual tattoo. "It feels like hot bacon wax but it's not unbearable," he says. "It depends on how the person processes pain. We numb the skin completely with Novocaine and an injectable anesthetic underneath the tattoo."

The removal technique is the same, no matter where on the body the tattoo is located. But the removal experience can vary depending on its size, ink color and the patient's own skin tone.

"[Presley's] tattoo would probably take about five treatments," Dr. Colbert says, noting that for a small tattoo like the model's, one laser treatment would likely last only five minutes after numbing cream is applied.

"If it's a big tattoo you can only do a certain number of surface areas per treatment. Otherwise, it's too dangerous and the patient is at risk for infection. Black ink is easiest to remove but colors like light blue or orange are more difficult," Dr. Colbert explains. "Also, if you already have melanin in your skin, you may see the loss of pigment (which is sometimes permanent), around the treatment area."

RELATED VIDEO: Presley Gerber Pays Permanent Tribute to Sister Kaia Gerber with a Tattoo of Her Name

Since Gerber's skin tone is naturally on the fair side, Dr. Colbert says it's likely that after all the tattoo removal laser treatments, the skin on his face will return to normal.

"The lighter your skin tone, sometimes the less obvious it is when you remove a tattoo. On the face, if the tattoo was small and black, you probably wouldn't be able to see where it was after it is removed. Maybe you will see a slight trace," he says.

The process does require patience since the healing process can take some time. "It doesn't always scab after, but usually it does after each laser treatment," Dr. Colbert says. "I recommend treating it with a topical ointment and Aquaphor. Also protect it with a zinc-oxide sunscreen while the area heals for a few weeks."