There’s an estimated 45 millions Americans with tattoos and over 15,000 tattoos were removed in 2017 (learn more in our guide to Tattoo Removal Concerns). Whether it seemed like a good idea at the time, or you're just not into the ink anymore, tattoo removal procedures can provide a safe and effective means of removing unwanted tattoos.
Who needs tattoo removal?
So, how do tattoos work? A professional tattoo artist injects ink into the dermis (middle skin layer). The body will seal the micro punctures containing the ink as part of the natural healing process, and voila you have body art.
An amateur tattoo artist (or someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing) might accidentally inject into the epidermis (top skin layer), which means your tattoo won’t make it out of the healing process, or too deeply into the subcutaneous (deepest layer), which your body is not going to like.
When it comes to tattoos, they are subject to the same processes the rest of your skin is. This means the tattoo you got in your late teens is not going to look the same 20 years later.
For anyone looking to pursue tattoo removal procedures, let's break down some of the most common concerns and factors that go into the tattoo removal process.
- Size of the Tattoo: The full sleeve or sweeping sunset portrait across your entire back are going to be a bit harder to remove than the star behind your ear.
- Layered Tattoos: The epic compilation of images layered over your skin mean a lot more ink, which means more work for the removal process.
- Age of the Tattoo: Age for the win. Your old, faded tattoo has already done some of the hard work.
- Smoking: In case you needed more motivation to kick this ridiculous habit, smokers have a harder time with tattoo removal because of the toxic effect of smoke on the skin.
- Amount & Type of Ink Used: While the full color spectrum rainbow may have seemed like a good idea, the vibrant, layered intricacy is going to be harder to remove. The simple black ink zodiac sign on your finger won’t be.
- Skin Tone: Dark skin colors usually require more time for removal due to differences in the amount of wave energy used in laser removal.
- Immune System: The healthier the immune system, the more effective it will be in ridding the body of the tattoo ink. So eat your fruits and vegetables before you have that dolphin taken off your calf.
What can you expect from a tattoo removal procedure?
A consultation with a medical professional can help to determine which treatment is most appropriate for your tattoo. The most common procedure is laser tattoo removal. Laser treatment techniques may require a few sessions. There is a chance of side effects like discoloration, hyperpigmentation, and scarring after having the tattoo removed.
Dermabrasion is another option, and tends to be a bit more affordable. It’s more abrasive and requires more healing time. Depending on how deep the technician has to go to break up the tattoo pigments, there may be scarring after the procedure.
Surgical removal of a tattoo is reserved for small tattoos. A surgeon will cut out the tattoo and stitch the skin back together.
When should you seek a tattoo removal procedure?
The ideal time to pursue tattoo removal is when you are feeling good, have stopped smoking for a few weeks (or better yet forever), can stay out of the sun for a while after the procedure, and have realistic expectations of how things are going to go.
Why should you seek a tattoo removal procedure?
When it comes to the why of tattoo removal, obviously the answers are really going to vary. Here are a few possible motivations: you’ve realized your old self had terrible taste and this monstrosity needs to go, you’ve decided the blob that is forming as your skin ages is not really the aesthetic you were going for, you got the tattoo in a dissociative fugue, or you’ve just changed your mind (that’s kind of boring).
Non-Surgical Tattoo Removal
The following procedures are undertaken under the care of a dermatologist or plastic surgeon and are safe and effective ways to remove unwanted tattoos.
Surgical Tattoo Removal
Note that this generally only an option for small tattoos.
- Tattoo Removal Surgery (Dermatologic Surgery)+
Tattoo removal methods have come a long way and are increasingly effective. The tattoo removal procedure utilized by your medical professional will be dependent on your skin type, the ink colors used, and how exactly your tattoo artist applied your body art. While tattoo removal lasers, like Q-switched lasers and picosure, continue to be the most popular method, there are other options for tattoo removal that may require fewer treatments. Regardless, safe and effective tattoo removal is possible with the help of a medical professional.