Reviewed by Yael Halaas, MD
"Think before you ink" is sage advice. Maybe you did, and maybe you didn't. Either way, if you have tattoo regret, tattoo removal can help.
There are more effective choices for tattoo removal today than ever before. Tattoo removal can lessen or completely remove your unwanted ink.
There are several available methods of tattoo removal including excision, laser resurfacing, dermabrasion, intense pulsed light (IPL) or salibrasion (a technique in which a salt solution is used to abrade the skin and remove your tattoo or micropigmentation). These methods can help get rid of tattoo art as well as traumatic tattoos, which are caused when dirt or debris gets embedded beneath your skin. They can also be helpful in the removal of permanent make-up on your face and neck as well as on the rest of your body.
Tattoo Removal: Are You a Candidate?
Not everyone is an appropriate candidate for tattoo removal. However, if the tattooing process was carried out without any complications such as unfavorable scarring, it stands to reason that you can undergo tattoo removal without scarring.
You should not have a tattoo removal treatment on the affected area if you have:
- Undiagnosed lesions
- Active acne
- Active rosacea (chronic skin condition marked by inflammation and redness on the face)
- Unstable diabetes, which can complicate wound healing
- Certain autoimmune system disorders
- Pigmentation problems
To find out if you are a candidate for tattoo removal, schedule an appointment with a board-certified plastic surgeon or facial plastic surgeon. Due to the many practitioners offering tattoo removal, selecting the right surgeon can be difficult. All About Facial Rejuvenation makes it easier by providing you with a directory of skilled, esteemed surgeons who consistently produce excellent results. To find a surgeon in your area, click here or on the right side of this page.
During your initial consultation, you should discuss why you want your tattoo or tattoos removed. Your surgeon will discuss your options and make a recommendation about the best way to remove your tattoo(s). He or she should also discuss the risks associated with tattoo removal procedures with you. You will be given a preoperative information packet that explains everything you should do and know before your tattoo removal procedure. These instructions are highly dependent upon the method being used. The best way to maximize your results and minimize your risk of complications is to follow these instructions carefully, and ask questions if you don't understand or are not clear about something.
Tattoo Removal: Your Options
Laser tattoo removal: Lasers break up the pigment colors of the tattoo using a high-intensity light beam. Some colors — such as black — are easier to remove than others. Precisely how many treatments you will need depends on the size and color of your tattoo. For more information about lasers, their risks and cost, visit our comprehensive article on laser skin resurfacing.
Excision: During this tattoo removal procedure, your tattoo is cut out of your skin and the wound is sutured. It is relatively simple and has a mild recovery phase — assuming, that is, that you do not experience any complications such as an infection. Usually, tattoo excision is performed using local anesthesia. The main downside? A scar. The upside? Immediate results and relative lack of expense.
Salibrasion: This is a very old method of abrasion where your tattoo is literally rubbed with salt. This procedure is performed under local anesthetic.
Tattoo Removal Recovery
Your recovery varies based on the type of tattoo removal procedure you choose. You may feel as though your skin has a windburn or sunburn or that your skin feels tight. You may be instructed to cleanse your face after a few days using a gentle cleanser, and to use a special moisturizing cream or lotion. It is important to stay out of the sun while you are healing from tattoo removal. Wear a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or higher.
Tattoo Removal Risks
Tattoo removal risks vary by treatment, but in general they may include:
- Skin discoloration at the treatment site
- Incomplete pigment removal
- Raised, thickened scars, which may appear three to six months down the road
- Tattoo removal regret
Tattoo Removal Cost
Cost varies based on treatment choice, tattoo size, number of treatments needed, the surgeon, region, and type of anesthesia. The cost can be anywhere from $150 for the surgical excision of a small tattoo to $5,000 for laser tattoo removal which requires several treatments.