Interest in tattoo removal has increased considerably in the past several years. People often get tattoos for the wrong reason or rush into the decision, which has made "tattoo regret" a real concern.
Not all tattoos can be entirely removed, but procedures such as laser, dermabrasion, and surgical excision are an option for some people.
Seek treatment from a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon specializing in tattoo removal.
All procedures may cause scarring and abnormal skin pigmentation, but the laser has the least risk of this outcome.
Patients with a history of keloid scarring or other specific medical concerns may not be able to get tattoo removal.
Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions and keep the area clean and moist, prevent contact with clothing, avoid direct sunlight, and not pick at it.
Since tattoos are placed deep into the skin, removal can be difficult and expensive but is not impossible.
What is a tattoo?
Tattoos are a form of body art placed by electric handheld devices that inject ink into the skin. Some tattoos are permanent and cannot be removed entirely.
Why do people want their tattoos removed?
There are many reasons people choose to have tattoo removal. Many regret having tattoos done at all while others do not like the way their art turned out. Over time, tattoos age and fade or get blurry. Some do not want a reminder of the reason they got the tattoo in the first place, such as a person's name. If you want your tattoo removed, you should always seek treatment from a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon that specializes in tattoo removal.
What are the easiest tattoos to remove?
Several factors determine how easy a tattoo is to remove:
- Age of the tattoo. The older the tattoo, the harder it is to remove.
- Colors. Certain colors, such as yellow or white, are more difficult to remove. Black is the easiest.
- Location of the tattoo. Tattoos on the back, chest, and abdomen are the easiest to remove because those body parts have the best circulation.
- Amateur tattoo. Amateur tattoos are easier to remove because there is less ink.
- Size. Smaller tattoos are easier to remove.
How can tattoos be removed?
Several treatments are available for tattoo removals, such as laser, dermabrasion, and surgical excision.
Laser tattoo removal
Laser tattoo removal is the best and most common way to remove unwanted tattoos. Each laser emits a particular wavelength of light that targets a different tattoo color. The laser breaks up the ink particles so the body can remove them through the lymphatic system. If your tattoo has many colors, you will need several different lasers to get rid of it.
It takes many treatments to remove a tattoo and the patient must wait several weeks between treatments, making this a slow process that can take years. Many times, it is not possible to completely remove the entire tattoo.. Laser treatments are also expensive.
Most patients experience redness, swelling, minor bleeding, and discomfort after laser tattoo removal. Other possible post-procedure complications include blistering, scarring, hypopigmentation, hyperpigmentation, and infection. Depending on the tattoo ink, lasers can even make the tattoo darker.
Dermabrasion utilizes a device that sands off layers of skin until it removes or lightens the tattoo. It is not routinely used anymore, since laser technology has advanced considerably. This treatment is now considered less effective and also comes with a higher risk of scarring.
It also requires several treatments of dermabrasion to get rid of the tattoo, so individuals can expect to wait several weeks in between treatments. It is also less likely that the entire tattoo will be removed with laser treatments. The results of dermabrasion are more unpredictable than they are with other modalities.
Scarring, bleeding, bruising, change in skin pigment, and discomfort will occur after the treatments.
If the tattoo is small enough, it can be surgically cut out and sutured closed. This is the most invasive way to remove a tattoo, but it is the quickest method. Excisions can be completed in one session, making them the cheapest long-term treatment.
The possible side effects of surgical tattoo excision include scarring, bleeding, redness, swelling, discomfort, and infection. However, most of these complications can be mitigated with proper post-operative care.
Who should not have tattoo removal?
Some patients may not be the best candidates for tattoo removal. Individuals should avoid tattoo removal if they:
- Have a history of keloid scarring.
- A suppressed immune system, also called immunosuppression.
- Are taking certain medications, like blood thinners or isotretinoin.
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Have herpes infections in the treatment area.
- Suffer from severe skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis.
- Have a darker skin color, since some lasers cannot be used on darker skin tones.
- Have tan skin.
Preventing complications after tattoo removal
There are ways to lessen your risk of complications after tattoo removal. You must adhere to these guidelines until the area heals, which could take a couple of weeks or longer depending on the tattoo removal technique.
- Keep the area clean and follow your post-op instructions, such as using antibiotic ointment.
- Cover the area with a bandage when you are outside or wear sunscreen.
- Do not wear tight-fitting clothing that rubs on the area that was treated.
- Do not pick or scrub at the tattoo.
- Listen to what your doctor tells you to avoid.
- Call your doctor’s office if you have questions or concerns.
Can I remove my tattoo at home?
You should not try to remove your tattoo with an at-home kit. This is dangerous and can cause permanent scarring.
Tattoo removal is expensive and time-consuming. If you cannot afford tattoo removal, consider using camouflage cream. This will cover up your tattoo quickly and easily. Another option is skin-colored sleeves if the tattoo is on your arms or legs.
Tattoo removal can be difficult depending on the type of tattoo and other factors. Some tattoos cannot be completely removed. Always seek treatment from a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon specializing in tattoo removal. Follow all the post-op instructions your doctor recommends for the best outcomes.
- American Academy of Dermatology. Tattoo Removal: Lasers Outshine Other Methods.
- Clinics in dermatology. Tattoo removal.
- StatPearls. Laser Tattoo Removal.
- Lasers in medical science. Laser tattoo removal: laser principles and an updated guide for clinicians.
- National Library of Medicine. Laser tattoo removal: a clinical update.