Dear Tattooist: How easy is it to remove a tattoo?

Urspo asked:

What always stops me is the notion it is permanent; i’ve seen 60yo and older and their tatoos look faded and awful.
How easy is it to remove a tatoo?

First a comment about the 60 year old individuals with tattoos that looked faded and awful: See my “What’s the best way to keep a tattoo fresh?” post for several explanations as to why this happens.

Now, on to the question: “How easy is it to remove a tattoo?” Not easy at all.

Tattoos are, by the science of the process, meant to be permanent.

That said, there are several methods that can be used to attempt to remove a tattoo. I have yet to read about or see a tattoo that was 100% removed, and there is usually either some skin discoloration or scarring as a result of the process.

Currently the most common method to remove a tattoo is Q-switching Laser Removal. Short pulses of intense light pass through the top layers of the skin to be selectively absorbed by the tattoo pigment. This laser energy causes the tattoo pigment to fragment into smaller particles that are then removed by the body’s immune system over time. There are different kinds of lasers for different colors of ink (e.g. Ruby, Alexandrite, Nd:YAG, and Frequency-doubled Nd:YAG lasers). The process is typically both painful and expensive.

There are a few other methods of tattoo removal that have been used over time.

Intense Light Pulse Therapy works in the same way as laser removal, except a special gel is rubbed on the skin and a wand is used to emit intense light pulses.

Excision, where a dermatologic surgeon removes the tattoo with a scalpel and closes the wound with stitches.

Dermabrasion, where the skin is “sanded” to remove the surface and middle layers.

Salabrasion, where the skin is “sanded” with salt to remove the surface and middle layers.

Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA)/“Do-It-Yourself” Cream Removals, where chemicals are applied to the area repeatedly to chemically burn the surface and middle layers of skin.

Saline/Hydrogen Peroxide Tattooing, tattooing over the existing tattoo with either a saline or hydrogen peroxide solution. I had never heard of this method until I started researching for this post. All the information I can find on it says it tends to lighten/blurry a tattoo but will not remove it.

Dry Tattooing, tattooing over the existing tattoo with no solution in an effort to scab the area and pull the ink out of the skin.

Cover-up Tattooing, camouflaging the existing tattoo with a new tattoo. We do many cover-up tattoos here in the studio. For different reasons. Some tattoos are just bad and need to be corrected. Some clients aren’t happy with the tattoo choices they made in their past and want to hide it. Some clients want to enhance or enlarge their existing tattoo.

For more information, I refer you to the following overviews:

If you have questions about tattoos: tattoos in general, about getting a tattoo, about giving a tattoo, or anything else related to tattoos, just add a comment to my November 6, 2009 post, or send me the question via e-mail from my contact page. I will then dedicate an entire post to answering your question.

Until next time...

4 thoughts on “Dear Tattooist: How easy is it to remove a tattoo?

  1. Thank you for your reply. I have been off line for a week; I have missed stopping by.
    I will think twice before getting a tatoo – as it is a permanent thing it seems.

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