What Is Tattoo Removal?
Tattoo removal is a procedure performed to try and remove an unwanted tattoo from the skin. Because tattoo ink is placed beneath the top layer of the skin, removing a tattoo is typically more complicated than the original tattoo application. Fortunately, however, tattoos are no longer considered permanent and irreversible designs or marks on the skin. Therefore, dermatologists can safely and effectively use different techniques to remove unwanted tattoos successfully. Any patient considering getting a tattoo should consider the size, color choices, and placement of the tattoo, and additional factors to ensure they can remove the tattoo should the person decide against keeping it in the future.
Why Remove A Tattoo
There are many reasons why a patient may decide to have their tattoo(s) removed. A variety of social, cultural, and physical life changes can influence the decision to remove tattoos, including allergic reactions, the development of chronic skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis, regrets about getting the tattoo, dislike of the tattooed design, or even the desire to replace one tattoo with another. Our dermatologists in Boardman recommend considering the following information before getting a tattoo, as it might help if and when the removal process.
- Tattoos with newer inks and pastel colors may be difficult to remove completely
- Removal of stick-and-poke or homemade tattoos can be difficult
- Deep-toned blue and black inks are tough to remove
- Newer tattoos tend to be more challenging to remove than older tattoos
- Complete tattoo removal is not possible in every situation
- Tattoo removal is almost always performed on an outpatient basis
How Does Tattoo Removal Work?
Dermatology tattoo removal can be achieved in many different ways, ranging from laser treatments and chemical peels to dermabrasion and surgical excision. For information about our available options for tattoo removal, as well as our other skin treatments, contact Advanced Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center.
Laser Tattoo Removal
Laser treatment is the most common method of tattoo removal performed today. Tattoos consist of thousands of particles of tattoo ink suspended within the skin. While a human's natural immune system can remove small, foreign particles from the skin on its own, tattoo ink particles are generally too large to be removed by the immune system and are subsequently considered permanent. The use of lasers in tattoo removal helps break up these particles into smaller pieces which can then be removed naturally by the body. Laser treatments work by targeting the ink particles in the skin with highly concentrated light waves that heat the particles and cause them to fragment into tiny particles. However, complete laser tattoo removal results typically cannot be achieved in one laser treatment session; laser removal may require multiple treatments to achieve the desired results.
Chemical Peel Tattoo Removal
Chemical peel tattoo removal, or trichloroacetic (TCA) peels, can likewise be used to remove a tattoo. TCA is a mild acid applied to the skin to remove the outer layers of skin and tattoo ink. While some patients may find this procedure uncomfortable and somewhat painful, chemical peel tattoo removal typically does not require the use of an anesthetic. Another type of topical medication targeted at those seeking to remove a tattoo is tattoo removal creams. These over-the-counter products are the most widely available and least expensive option. The reason? There is no scientific evidence proving that they work. While the best creams may fade or lighten a tattoo, they don't offer complete removal.
Dermabrasion Tattoo Removal
Dermabrasion is a surgical method of tattoo removal that involves using a clinical grinding tool to remove the outermost layers of skin in a controlled fashion. The goal is to remove the layers of skin containing ink particles, thereby removing the tattoo from the body. This procedure is typically painful, and, as a result, it is often performed using a local, regional, or general anesthetic. Alternatively, dermatologists may chill the area of the tattoo until numb. As with laser tattoo removal, dermabrasion may be required in multiple sessions to reach desired results. However, due to unpredictable results and less effective outcomes than laser, or a combination of laser and surgical excision, dermabrasion isn't a common choice for tattoo removal.
Surgical Excision Tattoo Removal
Tattoos may be removed by direct surgical excision, during which a dermatology surgeon cuts out the skin that contains the tattoo. This technique is sometimes recommended for patients with small tattoos but may not be a practical option for larger tattoos. Following excision, the skin surrounding the surgical site is then brought together and closed with sutures. This type of tattoo removal will likely require local, regional, or general anesthesia, depending upon the size of the tattoo being removed. Surgical removal is the most invasive method of tattoo removal, but it is among the only effective methods for completely removing all traces of a tattoo.
How Long Does Tattoo Removal Take?
Depending on the tattoo design, size, placement, color used, and factors which regard the patient, including skin pigmentation and skin sensitivity, laser treatments may require 1–10 or more sessions over several weeks, months, or longer to remove the ink. Most tattoos are removed with Q-switched lasers, which release energy in a single, powerful pulse. A particular type of laser known as a Q-switched Nd:YAG laser, may be used on darker skin tones to avoid changing the skin's pigment. Tattoos with many different colors are usually more difficult to remove than simple and single-colored tattoos. As such, they may require treatment with different types of lasers and wavelengths to be effective. The best candidates for traditional laser removal are those with lighter skin. In comparison, patients with darker skin may require a specialized laser to preserve pigmentation in the treatment area.
Tattoo Removal Before & After
During laser tattoo removal, a laser technician numbs the tattooed skin with an anesthetic and then applies the laser to the treatment area. Following laser treatment, patients may experience bleeding, blistering, and swelling following each procedure, which must be cared for properly. Recovery may require a minimum of six weeks or more between each laser session to allow the wounds to heal and the body to absorb as much of the fragmented ink as possible. In most cases, the wounds heal around 5–7 days following the procedure. As the least invasive treatment option, laser therapy is often the preferred choice among patients and skin care professionals. Following your final session, you will notice a substantial difference in the appearance of your skin, as the tattoo becomes lighter after each treatment, eventually disappearing altogether. Lasers offer significant tattoo removal results over time which can be enjoyed by the majority of patients.
Is Tattoo Removal Painful?
In terms of tattoo removal pain, almost all treatment methods pose some degree of pain and discomfort. With laser tattoo removal, the sessions are somewhat painful. Many patients describe the sensation as a snapping of a rubber band against the skin. Pain can be minimized, however, with the use of topical numbing agents as well as anesthetics. Most patients tolerate the laser very well. Contact us for more information about your tattoo removal options!
Laser Tattoo Removal Aftercare
Following laser treatment, your technician will provide you with all the information you need to care for the treated skin. In general, instructions include applying an antibacterial ointment to the skin for several days following each procedure. The ointment helps heal the skin and reduces the risk of infection. Patients must change the wound dressing each time they apply the ointment. For a minimum of two weeks following treatment sessions, patients should keep the treated area clean and dry, avoid wearing tight clothing on the area, avoid exposing the treated skin to direct sunlight, and leave alone any scabs or blisters that form. For more information about how to care for your skin following treatment, please contact our office.