How To Remove a Tattoo

What is the best method of removing a tattoo? There is no “right” answer to this question as everyone has a different type of body and different preferences, but there are definitely options out there. We will reveal them in just a bit, along with some tips on preparing for it, taking care of your skin after removal, some potential side effects, and a few tips to stay safe while doing it.

What To Do Before Removing Your Tattoo

Even before you start looking at options to remove your tattoo, it’s recommended that you visit a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon that specializes in tattoo removals. They understand what it means to remove a tattoo from start to finish and can help you understand the process a bit better and what are the possible outcomes or unwanted scenarios.

A medical professional can also recommend the best removal method for you according to your skin type. They will also be able to identify any potential skin conditions you may have, how it may affect the tattoo removal process and what kind of skincare to apply before and after the tattoo removal.

Some tattoo artists offer tattoo removal, but keep in mind that it’s best to have this job done by a medical professional. However, if you can’t find a dermatologist or plastic surgeon who does this type of work near you, find a tattoo artist licensed or specialized in tattoo removals. Research their studio, ask them how many tattoo removals they have done in the past, and the equipment they use for tattoo removals. Make sure you’re informed about everything and are going to a trusted and certified tattoo studio.

What To Expect

Before you get into the process, it’s essential to know that removing a tattoo is not the same for everybody, so don’t take someone’s word for it. A few things will affect the length of the removal process and the methods that will be used, so the experience is different for each person. Here are some things you can expect:

Skin color vs. tattoo color

Your skin color and tone may affect the method and length of the removal process as people with darker skin usually take more to remove a tattoo than those with fairer skin tones. The tattoo colors also affect how easy or hard it will be to remove the tattoo. You probably think that the easiest colors to remove are the light ones, but you’re actually wrong. Dark colors like red, blue, and black are the easiest to remove, while colors like yellow, orange, pink, and purple are harder to remove.

Close to the heart

We don’t mean tattoos that you love and are meaningful to you, we mean ACTUAL heart. Yes. The closer the tattoo is to your heart, the easier it will be to remove it. This is because the area around the heart has the largest blood vessels and the most circulation, so it’s easier to remove and heal at the same time. So, tattoos on your chest, back, and upper arms will be easier to remove while tattoos on your ankles, wrists, and feet will take a few extra sessions to remove.

Ink and tattoo quality

Everyone wants the best, especially when getting something permanent, like a tattoo. However, if you got your tattoo in a renowned tattoo parlor, removing it will probably be a bit more challenging. Why? Because highly rated tattoo studios usually use better quality ink that goes deep into the skin, the doctor/tattoo artist will have a harder time penetrating the laser light. The ink is to remove the ink particles.

But the good news is that amateur tattoo jobs will be easy to remove as they use lower quality ink that doesn’t go that deep into the skin. They are also more likely to be the ones getting removed due to a design flaw or fading.

There is an aftercare process

Same as you took careful care when you got the tattoo the first time, there will be an aftercare process when you remove it as well. Most of the removal methods are invasive, so there will be blistering, bruising, bleeding, and potentially scarring. Proper care will need to be applied not only to avoid infections but also to minimize the physical residue left after tattoo removal.

Methods To Remove a Tattoo

Laser removal

In most cases, laser removal is the first and best tattoo removal option. Before we get into explaining, you should keep in mind that this is considered an elective procedure, so it’s highly unlikely that any type of health insurance will cover it.

How does it work?

The tattoo laser removal process starts by having a local anesthetic applied to the tattoo area to numb the skin so you don’t feel any pain during the procedure.

Once the anesthetic has started working, the doctor or tattoo removal professional will start the procedure in which a laser is pointed towards the tattoo to break down the pigments until they leave the skin. The laser sends a strong pulse that breaks down the ink and dissolves it so it can be removed from the flesh.

How long does it take?

Each laser removal session lasts around 45 minutes or more. The person doing the removal has to take photos of the tattoo for the before/after effects, inject anesthetics and wait for them to start working, then freeze the area and start the laser treatment. Once they are done with the laser treatment, they will also apply a bandage over the area.

Each laser session duration will depend on your tattoo and the type of laser the professional uses. Similarly, the number of treatments you will need to go through depends on your tattoo, the quality of the ink used on the tattoo, the size of your tattoo, and the type of laser used. In most cases, six to ten treatments are needed to remove a tattoo with a laser.

Tools used in the process

The most commonly used lasers for tattoo removals are q-switched lasers and picosecond lasers. There are three types of q-switched lasers:

  • Q-switched ruby laser (694 nm) used to remove black, blue and green pigments.
  • Q-switched Nd: YAG laser (532 nm, 1064 nm) – 532 nm used to remove red pigments and the 1064 nm one is used to remove black and blue pigments.
  • Q-switched alexandrite laser (755 nm) used to remove black, blue, and green pigments.

Picosecond lasers are a newer type of laser that delivers short, rapid bursts of energy to the skin in a trillionth of a second. The photothermal and photomechanical effects that happen during picosecond laser sessions break up and destroy the color pigment, so the tattoo is fading away easier.

Aftercare

The medical professional or the technician doing the laser treatment will guide you through the aftercare process. For two weeks after getting your tattoo removed with a laser, you need to:

  • Make sure the area is always clean and dry.
  • Avoid exposing the area to direct sunlight.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothes that will press on the treated area.
  • Don’t scratch or pick the blisters and scabs that may form.

Potential risks of lasering would include:

  • Blistering, redness, and bleeding of the skin after each session.
  • Skin pigmentation alteration.
  • Change in your skin’s texture.
  • Scarring (in some cases).
  • Darker skin can change color during the process and make the spot lighter permanently.

Keep in mind that laser removal doesn’t entirely remove the tattoo, just bleaches the skin where the tattoo previously was, so there will be some visible traces afterward.

Before you opt for a tattoo laser removal, make sure you consult a professional, preferably a dermatologist, especially if you’re aware of having some skin conditions.

Surgical Removal

When the tattoo you want to remove is a small one, surgical removal is the most recommended method, but it can also be used on larger tattoos. It’s the most invasive procedure out of all tattoo removal methods as it involves removing the flesh where the tattoo is, but it’s also the only option that guarantees a 100% removal of the tattoo.

How does it work?

Same as with laser removal, the first step in surgical tattoo removal is for the professional to apply a local anesthetic to the skin to numb the area. The doctor will then use a scalpel to cut off the tattooed area of your flesh and stitch the skin back together after they are done with the removal.

However, if you opt to remove a larger tattoo through surgery, you will probably need a skin graft. A skin graft is a procedure that involves cutting off a piece of flesh from another part of your body to replace the skin that was cut off from where the tattoo was previously. This procedure is more complicated and leaves you with two wounds and two scars in the end.

How long does it take?

When surgical removal is performed on smaller tattoos, the procedure doesn’t last very long. The usual time spent on one surgical tattoo removal is around one to two hours in a single removal session, unlike laser treatments that require a few sessions to complete. However, when the tattoo you want to remove is more extensive, it will take several hours because three procedures are done at the same time – cutting the tattooed flesh, cutting the skin graft flesh, and restitching the skin graft to the previously tattooed area.

Tools used in the process

Like any other similar medical procedure, the medical professional will use a scalpel or another type of surgical knife to cut off the flesh. The other tools are just regular surgical tools used commonly in surgical procedures; there is no difference at all.

Aftercare

As with any other medical procedure, especially surgical one, the doctor will give you detailed aftercare instructions. In most cases, they will tell you the following:

  • Leave the bandages on for 48 hours.
  • After removing the bandages, clean the area with antibacterial, unscented soap and water for at least two weeks.
  • Apply ointment as prescribed by the medical professional.
  • Avoid exposing the area to direct sunlight for at least two weeks and wear sun protection on the area until it’s fully healed.
  • Avoid taking drugs or alcohol that may affect the healing process.
  • Avoid strenuous exercises.
  • Maintain a healthy and nutritious diet.

Potential risks would be:

  • Infection of the wound/s.
  • Scarring.
  • Rejection of the skin graft tissue.

Previously, cryosurgery was very popular for removing tattoos. It works by freezing the tattooed skin with liquid nitrogen and using a special light to induce the peeling of the skin.

Dermabrasion

Dermabrasion is not used as much as laser and surgical removals, it’s still a common method of removing a tattoo as it’s the most affordable out of the three. Although it doesn’t remove the ink 100%, it can help achieve a satisfactory result in most cases.

How does it work?

Dermabrasion can be done by either taking sedatives or receiving general anesthesia, depending on the procedure’s extent. The doctor will then use a sanding device to remove layers of your skin to allow the ink underneath it to leach out. Once the upper layer of your skin is removed, the doctor will dye out the remaining ink and dry it. The result won’t be as effective as what you would get with laser and surgical removals, but it will make the tattoo less visible nonetheless.

How long does it take?

The duration of your dermabrasion procedure depends on the size of the tattoo you want to remove. It can take anywhere between a few minutes to more than an hour and through multiple sessions if your skin is more sensitive.

Tools used in the process

Typically in dermabrasions, the medical professional uses a rapidly rotating device to sand the outer layer of your skin. They will also use sedatives and anesthetics to numb the area.

Aftercare

After dermabrasion, your skin will feel raw and sensitive for a few days. The overall healing process usually lasts around two to three weeks, during which you will be required to follow your doctor’s advice. In most cases, this would be:

  • Take the pain medications the doctor prescribed.
  • Stay away from chlorinated swimming pools for at least four weeks.
  • Avoid active sports, especially those that involve a ball.
  • Avoid exposing the area to direct sunlight for three to six months after getting the procedure done.
  • Avoid soaking the skin in water until the area has completely healed.

Potential risks can be:

  • Bleeding and bruising if you consume blood thinners.
  • Redness and swelling of the skin.
  • Change in skin pigmentation.
  • Infection.
  • Scarring.
  • Other skin reactions (allergy, rashes).

Finally, dermabrasion may not be a permanent removal method as laser removals and surgical removals. As you age, the remains of the tattoo may start becoming visible on your skin once again, so if your goal is never to see the tattoo again, another option will give you better chances of achieving that.

DIY Removal Methods

Homemade tattoo removal creams are the least expensive option and the most widely available option as well. There were split opinions about the efficiency using any of these, with some professionals discarding them completely, while others are supporting their effects. While the debate is still up in the air, here are a few of those homemade, DIY tattoo removal methods:

A mixture of salt and lemon juice

Combine 100 gr (~6 tbsp) of salt with lemon juice until you’ve made a thick paste. Then, soak a cotton pad in the mixture and apply it to the tattoo for 30 minutes or more. Once you’re done, rinse the area with warm water.

A mixture of salt, aloe vera, honey, and yogurt

Mix 34 gr (~2 tbsp) of salt, 30 ml (~2 tbsp) of aloe vera gel, 30 ml (~2 tbsp), and 30 ml (!3 tbsp) of yogurt in a bowl. Once the mixture has t thick paste’s consistency, apply it to the tattoo and let it soak for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Pure table salt

Salabrasion is a tattoo removal method where all you do is rub the area for 30 to 40 minutes with table salt until it turns dark red. You shouldn’t feel any pain during the process, as the salt will act as an anesthetic. Once you’re done with the rubbing, you should apply an antibiotic ointment and cover the area for three days. After a week, you will notice that you’ll be able to peel the top layer of your skin, which will lighten the tattoo.

One of the problems with this method is that you would have to repeat it several times, which may damage the skin. However, if you decide to repeat the process, try to have at least six to eight weeks between treatments to let the skin heal fully and minimize the risk of infection. Remember that this method is the riskiest one of the list and is not recommended by professionals.

Homemade tattoo removal cream

Mix 15 ml (~1 tbsp) of aloe vera gel, two capsules of vitamin E, and 15 ml (~1 tbsp) of the gel from Paederia Tomentosa leaves. Apply the mixture on your skin and let it soak for around 10 minutes, and rinse with warm water afterward. Repeat this four times per day for one week or more.

When it comes to any homemade tattoo removal method, keep in mind that none of them has been proven to work and carry a high risk of doing skin damage, so professionals don’t recommend doing them without prior consultation.

F.A.Q.

Can I completely remove my tattoo?
The only method that guarantees a complete tattoo removal is a surgical removal. With it, you won’t have any traces of the tattoo other than a scar on the place where the tattoo previously was. With other methods, the success of the tattoo removal depends on several factors: the skin complexion and color, tattoo size and location, as well as the quality of the ink used to draw it.

What is the fastest method to remove a tattoo?
Each method takes a different amount of time to complete, but assuming you go for the most common one – laser removal, the process will take a few months in most cases. Again, the exact time depends on the size of the tattoo, and single sessions are possible, but as we mentioned, the average number of sessions needed to remove a tattoo entirely is six to ten sessions. A few weeks must pass between each session to let the skin recover, so assuming you need six sessions and four weeks pass between each of them, 24 weeks would pass before you can see the final results or six months to be exact.

I just got a tattoo I don’t like, and I want to remove it. Can I do it now?
If you’re unsatisfied with how your tattoo looks, you can go back to your artist, show them the tattoo and point out which parts you don’t like. They will probably be able to fix it once it’s entirely healed, but if they are unable to offer you this option, you can remove the tattoo only after it has completely healed first.

If none of these methods works or you haven’t achieved the result you expected, you can always opt to cover up your tattoo. We explained a few methods of covering up a tattoo in a previous article, so with a bit of effort, your skin may look like it had never been tattooed before.

Final Thoughts

Removing a tattoo is never going to be a pleasant thing. There are many emotions involved – the feeling of regret for getting it in the first place, anger for having to take it off, anxiety of what the process will be like, and general discomfort. Regardless, if you are convinced this is the right path for you, we hope this information has provided some insight and clarity as to what is involved and what it may entail.