Tattoo Removal: Are You Covered by Insurance?

tattoo removalThere are several reasons for wanting to remove a tattoo. For some, the tattoo could represent a painful time that they’d like to put behind them, for others a new job or a religious change could prompt the tattooo removal. There are also medical reasons for removing a tattoo: if you are prone to skin cancer, the ink from a tattoo can actually hide malignant moles.

In truth, the reasons for having a tattoo removed are as varied and personal as the reasons for getting a tattoo in the first place.

If you are considering having a tattoo removed, here are some options and information on whether or not the tattoo removal method you choose will be covered by health insurance.

Dermabrasion for Tattoo Removal

Similar to using a loofa sponge or brush to rub away dead skin cells, dermabrasion uses a skin polishing tool to rub away the top layer of skin (and the tattoo ink along with it). Because dermabrasion removes a deeper layer of cells than a simple skin sloughing implement would, the procedure is more invasive and is usually done in a dermatologist’s office. However, even though dermabrasion is usually performed in a licensed dermatology facility, it is considered a cosmetic procedure, and is generally not covered by health insurance.

If you decide to move forward with dermabrasion without insurance coverage, here are some things to consider:

  • It is comparatively cheaper than other forms of tattoo removal
  • It requires several sessions to completely remove the tattoo, and there could be faint traces of pigment left in the skin
  • You must wait several weeks between sessions, to allow the skin to heal
  • The procedure requires the use of anesthesia. Small tattoos might only require a local anesthetic, to numb the target area. Larger tattoos might require you to be put under general anesthesia.
  • Side effects include: pain, scarring, loss of skin pigmentation, swelling, rash, and infection. It is also possible to have an allergic reaction to the anesthetic
  • People with active acne, burn scars, or thin skin at the dermabrasion site should avoid the procedure

Laser Tattoo Removal

Tattoo pigments are sensitive to light – this is one of the reasons people are cautioned to protect new tattoos from direct sunlight. When exposed to laser light, the tattoo pigments absorb the light which causes them to break down into tiny particles, which are then absorbed into the skin. Laser tattoo removal is usually performed by a licensed dermatologist or by a cosmetic surgeon. Laser removal is generally not covered by health insurance, unless your doctor can verify that there are medical reasons for having the tattoo removed.

Here are some things to consider before trying laser tattoo removal:

  • Laser tattoo removal is more expensive than dermabrasion (up to $1,500 per session), but it is also more effective
  • Laser tattoo removal is also less likely to produce scarring than dermabrasion and some other methods
  • Different pigments respond differently: black pigment absorbs light easily, and is easily removed; Lighter pigments, such as yellows, deflect light and do not break down as easily with laser
  • Depending on the size, location, and color of the tattoo, you could require several sessions for complete removal
  • Risks include: pain, loss of skin pigmentation or areas of darker pigmentation, burns, scarring, and infection

Tattoo Removal Surgery

Surgery is the fastest way to remove a tattoo because the surgeon simply cuts the image out of the skin. Depending on the size and location of the tattoo, the procedure could be done in a cosmetic surgeon’s office, with local anesthesia; or in a hospital setting under general anesthesia. Surgical tattoo removal is usually not covered by insurance, unless the removal is part of a necessary medical procedure, such as the removal of damaged skin after an accident or injury, or the removal of cancerous tissue.

Here are some things to consider before trying surgical removal:

  • Surgery is more expensive than dermabrasion, but could be less expensive than laser removal depending on the size of the tattoo, and other factors
  • There is a possibility of scarring
  • Surgical removal might also require the use of skin grafts to replace the skin that was removed
  • Because of the scarring, and possible need for grafts, surgery is not recommended for large or highly visible tattoos
  • Risks include: pain, skin discoloration, and infection
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