Tattoo ink is placed beneath the top layer of skin. That makes tattoo removal more complicated — and expensive — than the original tattoo application. If you're no longer satisfied with your tattoo, however, tattoo removal might be possible.
Common procedures for tattoo removal include:
- Laser surgery
- Surgical removal
If you're interested in tattoo removal, consult your dermatologist about the options. Don't attempt tattoo removal on your own. Do-it-yourself tattoo removal creams and other home treatments aren't likely to be effective and can cause skin irritation or other reactions.
You might consider tattoo removal if you regret a tattoo or you're unhappy with the appearance of your tattoo. Perhaps the tattoo has faded or blurred, or you decide that the tattoo doesn't fit your current image. Tattoo removal might also be important if you develop an allergic reaction to the tattoo or other complications.
Tattoo removal is often done as an outpatient procedure with local anaesthesia. Common techniques for tattoo removal include laser surgery, dermabrasion and surgical removal.
Q-switched lasers — which release energy in a single, powerful pulse — are often the treatment of choice for tattoo removal. Before laser treatment, the skin is numbed with an injection of a local anaesthetic. Then a powerful pulse of energy is applied to the tattoo to heat and shatter the tattoo ink. Multicoloured tattoos might need treatment with various lasers and different wavelengths. After the procedure, you might notice swelling and possibly blister or bleeding. An antibacterial ointment can help promote healing. You'll likely need to be repeated sessions to lighten the tattoo, and it might not be possible to completely erase the tattoo.
During dermabrasion, the tattooed area is typically chilled until numb. Then the tattooed skin is sanded down to deeper levels with a high-speed rotary device that has an abrasive wheel or brush. This allows the tattoo ink to leach out of the skin. The affected area might feel sore and raw for up to 10 days after the procedure. During this time, it's important to treat the affected area gently. You might need to use an antibacterial ointment and cover the affected area with special bandages. Like laser surgery, dermabrasion might not completely erase the tattoo.
During surgical removal, the skin is numbed with an injection of a local anaesthetic. The tattoo is removed with a scalpel, and the edges of skin are stitched back together. After the procedure, the antibacterial ointment can help promote healing. Surgical tattoo removal is effective — but it leaves a scar and might be practical only for small tattoos.