If you’re interested in tattoo removal, consult your dermatologist about the options. Don’t attempt tattoo removal on your own. Do-it-yourself tattoo removal creams and other home treatments aren’t likely to be effective and may cause skin irritation or other reactions.
Tattoo removal is usually done as an outpatient procedure with local anesthesia. The most common techniques for tattoo removal include laser surgery, dermabrasion and surgical removal.
Q-switched lasers , which release energy in a single, powerful pulse , are often the treatment of choice for tattoo removal. Before laser treatment, the skin is numbed with an injection of a local anesthetic. Then a powerful pulse of energy is applied to the tattoo to heat and shatter the tattoo ink. Multicolored tattoos may need treatment with various lasers and different wavelengths. After the procedure, you may notice swelling and possibly blistering or bleeding. You may need to use an antibacterial ointment for several days to promote healing. You’ll likely need repeated sessions to lighten the tattoo, and it may not be possible to completely erase the tattoo.
During dermabrasion, the tattooed area is typically chilled until numb. Then the tattooed skin is sanded down to deeper levels with a high-speed rotary device that has an abrasive wheel or brush. This allows the tattoo ink to leach out of the skin. The affected area may feel sore and raw for up to 10 days after the procedure. During this time, it’s important to treat the affected area gently. You may need to use antibacterial ointment and cover the affected area with special bandages. Dermabrasion might not completely erase the tattoo.
During surgical removal, the skin is numbed with an injection of a local anesthetic. The tattoo is removed with a scalpel, and the edges of skin are stitched back together. After the procedure, you may need to use an antibacterial ointment for several days to promote healing. Surgical tattoo removal is effective — but it leaves a scar and may be practical only for small tattoos.
Complete tattoo removal is very difficult, especially for people who have dark skin or multicolored tattoos. Some degree of scarring or skin color variations are likely to remain, regardless of the specific tattoo-removal method.