Tattoo Removal Techniques: What Are My Options?

Thousands of individuals each year undergo placement of permanent tattoos somewhere on their bodies. But after the initial excitement, a significant number realize that they have made a bad choice and want the tattoo removed. To assist this group with the removal of their tattoos, a variety of techniques have been developed. Many of the older methods are no longer used due to the advent of laser technology used for medical care. The older techniques are mentioned here for informational purposes and are to be placed in the archives of tattooing history.

Methods for removing tattoos include laser treatments, abrasion, scarification, and surgery. Of all the techniques, laser tattoo removal is the most commonly used method today because it is most effective and if performed properly by a trained professional, results in little to no adverse effects.

What are some of the benefits, risks and downsides of laser tattoo removal?

Laser treatments can remove most tattoos, some more easily than others. Generally, several visits are necessary over a period of weeks to months. There are inherent benefits and risks associated with laser tattoo removal. Laser technology allows for the decomposition of ink within the skin, jump starting the body's immune system to remove ink that has been treated with the laser. Different types and wavelengths target different colors. The procedure is generally less invasive than other methods, as it is a bloodless and incision-free treatment option. Laser tattoo removal is considered the safest treatment option overall.

For some patients, skin pigmentation, such as hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation, may be a concern. Some patients with very new tattoos may notice that more treatments are required for removal. There also have been reports of individuals suffering allergic reactions after laser treatments, apparently related to the ink released from the tattoo. In addition, laser treatments are expensive, ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and the specific benefits and risks for each patient will vary. A thorough discussion with an experienced tattoo removal specialist is required to fully understand how laser tattoo removal effectively removes tattoos and what to expect.

What is dermabrasion?

Dermabrasion involves abrading (rubbing/scratching) the skin with a wire brush or diamond fraise (a type of sanding disc). This technique is frequently used to even out deep pitted acne scars and fine lines around the mouth and eyes due to aging, but has been known to be used to assist in the removal of tattoos as well. When used in this manner, the procedure is slightly painful and requires multiple treatments spaced over a few months. Dermabrasion works much like a chemical peel in that it removes the top few layers of skin. The removal of skin may result in scarring, and the technique is rarely used today for tattoo removal.

What is salabraison?

Salabrasion is a technique that involves soaking the tattoo in a salt solution to remove the pigment. It may be combined with dermabrasion. The technique is only effective for superficial tattoos and requires multiple treatments. At best, this technique only causes fading of the tattoo.

What is scarification?

Scarification involves tattoo removal with an acid solution. Chemical peels have been around in various forms for over half a century. In the past two decades, 25% trichloroacetic acid (TCA) became available as a chemical peel, and it works by peeling off several layers of skin which, after healing, results in fresh, new skin being revealed. This technique is also rarely used today because, like salabrasion, its ability to effectively remove tattoos has not been proven.

What does the surgical removal of tattoos entail?

Surgical removal involves excising the entire tattoo together with the skin that has been affected by the tattoo ink. The skin is then sutured back if the defect is small; otherwise, skin grafts are required to close the defect. Surgery is a last resort for very large tattoos and only done when all other measures have failed. This procedure may leave visible scarring.

What does camouflaging a tattoo entail?

Camouflaging a tattoo entails the injection of new pigments—either to form a new pattern or cover a tattoo with skin-toned pigments. Injected pigments may not appear natural because they lack the skin's natural translucence. The price usually resembles that of a regular tattoo, and when done correctly the old tattoo will be completely invisible.

What is intense pulsed light?

Intense pulsed light skin treatment has been used to treat acne and can also be used for tattoo fading. It is the same concept and actual process as laser treatment but uses a different light source. IPL usually works best on brightly colored tattoos and multiple treatments are usually required.

Locate a tattoo removal specialist in your area to discuss which tattoo removal technique is best for you.

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