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TCA (Trichloroacetic Acid)

What is TCA?

TCA (Trichloroacetic Acid) is a common skin peeling agent used by dermatologists, cosmeticians and plastic surgeons to help remove fine lines, wrinkles and acne scars. TCA is used to diminish skin lines and in some cases may assist with tattoo removal. TCA has been medically tested and proven to help fade or remove tattoos.

How long has TCA been in use?

Prior to the availability of laser therapy, all tattoos were removed with various chemicals and TCA was one of them. TCA is the next most commonly used tattoo removal treatment next to laser tattoo removal, which is more costly.

Can TCA therapy be combined with Laser Tattoo Removal?

Yes, in order to save money, TCA may be used at home to fade the tattoo. After a few treatments, laser tattoo removal treatments can begin which ultimately costs less overall due to fewer required treatments. In some cases, TCA may remove the tattoo completely without a need for laser tattoo removal but this depends on the tattoo.

What are the results of Tattoo Removal with TCA?

Review of data from the past 3 decades indicates that TCA is quite successful in lightening up tattoos in many cases. However, it does not necessarily remove all tattoos.

How does TCA work?

TCA promotes skin cell turnover which causes skin to peel. As this occurs, new skin forms and the tattoo is gradually covered over with new skin. Eventually, the tattoo is lightened or completely removed.

Is TCA treatment painful?

Applying TCA is not usually a painful process, but minor skin irritation may occur. If TCA is applied to inflamed or broken skin, the pain may worsen. Some individuals may take a pain medication prior to each application.

Are there risks associated with TCA?

Approximately 10-20% of individuals who use TCA for tattoo removal may notice some adverse skin reaction. TCA does not cause scarring but may cause blistering, pain and severe discoloration of the surrounding skin. Each skin type is unique and testing a small area of skin prior to the onset of treatment is a great way to determine if there is any skin allergy. TCA may not work for everyone.

Who is not a good candidate for TCA use?

TCA generally works well for fair skinned Caucasians. Individuals with a darker skin color or tendency to tan, such as Asian skin tones, Hispanics, and African skin tones generally do not have the same results with TCA. In dark skinned individuals TCA use has unpredictable results and has been know to cause extreme hypopigmentation of the skin. In addition, a greater number of TCA treatments may be required in such ethnic groups to remove the tattoo. Overall, TCA is not recommended for those with darker skin tones as the results are unpredictable.

Can TCA be used anywhere on the body?

TCA is not recommended for the removal of tattoos around the eyes, nose, ears, and lips. When used as a facial peel in these areas, TCA can lead to toxicity and the results in such areas are unpredictable.

How often does one apply TCA?

TCA should only be applied once every 4-6 weeks. Since it acts as a peeling agent, frequent usage can lead to severe skin peeling. After the initial application of TCA, the skin starts to peel in 2-3 weeks. One has to wait until all the excess skin has peeled off which usually takes another 2-3 weeks.

How fast does TCA work?

The effects of TCA are usually visible after 2-3 treatments. The fading or lightening effect is most obvious with brightly colored tattoos. The borders of the tattoo usually begin to fade during the initial stages of treatment. 3-6 treatments may be required before a complete fading of the tattoo is seen.

How much does TCA cost?

TCA is available at various pharmacies and also on the internet. One ounce of TCA costs about 40-60$. Directions for how to prepare the TCA often require dilution with water. One ounce of TCA should be enough to treat a moderately sized tattoo. Instructions for tattoo removal are available with each purchase and should be read and followed thoroughly to ensure safe and effective treatments.

Before deciding on one tattoo removal treatment over another, seek professional advice from an experienced tattoo removal specialist. Find a tattoo removal specialist in your area to discuss which treatment option may work best for your tattoo.

By TattooHealth Staff
Updated: October 21, 2008

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