What Can I Use to Remove Tattoos?

Reviewed on 1/8/2021
Temporary tattoos usually fade in a few days to a few weeks.
Temporary tattoos usually fade in a few days to a few weeks.

Permanent tattoos can be removed in the following ways:

  • Lasers: Laser is one of the most effective ways to remove permanent tattoos. The most commonly used laser is the Q-switched laser. Energy pulses from the laser heat up the ink in the skin to dissolve it. Multiple laser treatments over a period of several weeks or months may be required to completely remove the tattoos. The laser may not always remove a tattoo completely; most of the time, they lighten or significantly fade it so that it is less noticeable. Traditional laser removals were more effective in lighter skin tones, but newer lasers are safe on dark skin as well. Lasers work best on tattoos that are old or amateur with a lesser number of colors. The cost of laser tattoo removal varies depending on the size, color, and age of the tattoo. Tattoo removal is a cosmetic procedure and is not covered by insurance.
    • The procedure: Laser tattoo removal is an outpatient treatment. A numbing cream is applied to the skin to minimize discomfort during the procedure. There may be bleeding, blistering, and swelling at the treatment site, but it usually heals in a few days. The process is repeated over multiple sessions till the results are satisfactory. The number of sessions varies with each individual. Most people need around six to eight sessions.
  • Surgical excision: Surgical excision/removal is also called excision tattoo removal. In this procedure, the tattooed skin is cut off, and the remaining skin is stitched back together. Surgical removal is an invasive method of tattoo removal, but this procedure can remove the tattoo completely. The method is ideal for small tattoos. There is a risk of scarring. Surgical excision is less expensive than some of the other options, and multiple sessions are not required; hence, it saves time. Because this is a cosmetic procedure, insurance usually does not cover it.
    • The procedure: It is a daycare procedure performed by a plastic surgeon. It is performed under local anesthesia and may take one to several hours depending on the size of the tattoo. The tattooed skin is removed, and the remaining skin is sutured (stitched) together. The surgical wound may take 1-2 weeks to heal.
  • Dermabrasion: Dermabrasion involves using a sanding device to remove the superficial layers of skin, allowing the ink to leak out. Dermabrasion is not a common procedure for tattoo removal because it is not as effective as other treatments, but it may work for some people. It can sometimes remove or significantly fade a tattoo for some individuals. The treatment is effective to treat other skin problems such as acne, hyperpigmentation, and wrinkles. Dermabrasion is not recommended for those with sensitive skin or skin conditions, with bleeding disorders, or on blood thinners. People with darker skin tones have a higher risk of skin pigment changes. The cost of dermabrasion varies depending on the size and color of the tattoo. Multiple sessions are required. Because this is a cosmetic procedure, it is not covered by the insurance.
    • The procedure: This is an outpatient treatment procedure. Local anesthesia may be used to reduce pain and discomfort. A high-speed rotating abrasive device is used to sand off the top layers of the skin to let tattoo ink leak out. The time for the procedure varies depending on the size and color of the tattoo.

Who are the best candidates for tattoo removal?

The following factors increase the success rate of tattoo removal procedures:

  • Older tattoos
  • Amateur tattoos (using “stick and poke”), which are commonly done in rural areas
  • Some colors are easier to remove, such as black, brown, green, and dark blue. Lesser the colors in the tattoo, higher the chances of its removal.

Precautions to take while undergoing tattoo removal procedures

With all tattoo removal procedures, there is a risk of scarring. The risk of scarring can be reduced by taking the following precautions:

  • Following aftercare instructions from the doctor
  • Using prescribed ointments
  • Wearing sunscreen
  • Avoiding the sun, especially during the hottest part of the day, 11 AM to 4 PM
  • Using anti-scarring oils (vitamin E) and creams after the treatment site has fully healed
  • Avoiding picking at the wound
  • Keeping the treated area clean and dry

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References
American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Tattoo Removal. https://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/tattoo-removal

American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Tattoo Removal. https://www.asds.net/skin-experts/skin-conditions/tattoo-removal

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