How-to’s, costs, before and after photos, and more

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Thinking of removing ink? There are several ways to approach tattoo removal:

  • laser removal
  • surgical excision
  • dermabrasion

Tattoo removal usually works, but some tattoos are much harder to remove than others. Older tattoos as well as stick-and-poke tattoos are easier to remove than newer ones, for example.

Some colors are also easier to remove than others. These include:

Larger, more colorful tattoos are generally longer and more expensive to remove than smaller, lighter, less colorful tattoos.

Due to the risk of side effects, it may also be more difficult to remove tattoos if you have:

  • darker skin
  • a pre-existing skin condition, such as eczema
  • a health condition that affects the skin, such as herpes

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t remove your tattoo if any of these apply to you. It just means that you may need to take a little longer to find the best removal option for you.

When thinking about tattoo removal options, you need to consider several factors, including:

  • Cost
  • risk of scarring
  • efficiency
  • time commitment

Again, these factors will largely depend on the size, complexity and condition of your tattoo, as well as your skin tone.

Here’s a brief overview of how the different types of tattoo removal compare to each other, followed by a more in-depth look at each.

Laser removal

Most experts consider laser removal to be the most effective and cost effective way to remove tattoos. Often lasers do not completely removing a tattoo. Instead, they lighten or blur it considerably, making it much less noticeable.

Today, most tattoos are removed with a Q-switched laser, which delivers energy in a single strong pulse. This pulse of energy heats the ink in your skin to dissolve it. You will need to receive a number of laser treatments over several weeks or more to remove your tattoo. Older or less complex tattoos will require fewer sessions, while newer or more complex tattoos will require more.

If you have darker skin, you may want to consider Q-switched Nd:YAG laser treatment, which is less likely to change the color of dark skin than traditional Q-switched lasers.

In general, it takes about 7 to 10 sessions removing a tattoo with laser treatment. You will need to wait 6-8 weeks between sessions for best results.

After each session, you will need to follow the follow-up instructions that will be given to you. Usually this will involve applying an antibacterial ointment to your skin for several days. The ointment will help heal your skin and reduce the risk of infection. Change the dressing each time you apply the ointment.

For at least the next 2 weeks:

  • Keep the treated area clean and dry.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothes.
  • Avoid exposing the treated area to direct sunlight.
  • Do not pick the scabs or blisters that form.

Laser tattoo removal generally carries less risk of scarring than other tattoo removal options, just be sure not to touch the area while it heals as this can increase your risk of scarring.

Surgical removal

Surgical removal, also called excisional tattoo removal, involves cutting the tattooed skin and stitching the remaining skin back together. This is the most invasive method of tattoo removal, but also the only guaranteed way to completely remove a tattoo.

It’s often cheaper than laser hair removal, but it will still leave a scar. As a result, this is usually only done on smaller tattoos.

Surgical excision is usually performed in a plastic surgery office. You will be given local anesthesia before the surgeon uses a sharp, knife-like instrument called a scalpel to cut the tattooed skin. Then they will sew up the remaining skin. The procedure itself can take a few hours, depending on the size of the tattoo.

The healing process will take several weeks. During this time, you will want to apply the prescribed or recommended ointment for several days to help heal your skin and avoid the risk of infection. Keep the site clean and out of direct sunlight for at least 2 weeks and follow your surgeon’s aftercare instructions.

Dermabrasion

Dermabrasion involves using a sanding device to remove layers of skin to allow ink to seep through. Its effectiveness varies widely from person to person, making it a less popular option.

You’ll want to avoid dermabrasion if you have very sensitive skin or suffer from a skin condition like eczema. If you take blood thinners, you may also have a higher risk of bleeding, bruising, and changes in your skin color after the procedure. People with darker skin may also have a greater risk of skin pigment changes.

During a typical dermabrasion session, a clinician will administer a local anesthetic to reduce any pain. They will use a high-speed rotating abrasive device that sands the top layers of skin to release the tattoo ink.

Usually this is done during a procedure at a cosmetic surgeon’s office. The duration of the procedure depends on the size and color of your tattoo. Larger tattoos with many colors can take over an hour to process.

The treated area will likely be sore and raw for several days after the procedure

Full recovery may take 2-3 weeks. The pink color or discoloration of the treated area usually fades in 8-12 weeks.

As you recover, your clinician may advise you to:

  • Apply an ointment to prevent infection.
  • Avoid direct sunlight for 3-6 months after the procedure.
  • Apply sunscreen to the site whenever you are outside.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing to the site until it heals.
  • Avoid soaking the site in water while it heals.

Some people have scars from dermabrasion treatments. You can reduce scars by:

  • using prescribed ointments
  • wear sunscreen
  • avoid the sun
  • using anti-scar oils and creams, after the treatment site has completely healed

After treatment, dermabrasion can cause:

  • changes in skin color, such as lightening, darkening, or spotting
  • infection
  • redness or discoloration, swelling, and bleeding
  • healing

To prevent these complications, be sure to follow your clinician’s aftercare instructions. Make sure the clinician also has a proper license and good reviews (more on that later)

If you’re not trying not to get a tattoo, it may also be worth considering getting a tattoo.

A cover-up can be a quick and economical option to disguise the tattoo you already have. This method is a good option if you don’t like your tattoo design but wouldn’t mind having another tattoo.

When you ask a tattoo artist to do a cover up, they will work with you to design a tattoo that can be used to hide what you already have.

This may involve creating a design with heavier lines, more shading, or unique shapes. Many tattoo artists are quite skilled in creating new designs to hide unwanted tattoos.

Once you have agreed on a design, your tattoo artist will apply the cover as they did for your original tattoo.

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