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Tattoo Removal

People desire to have tattoos removed for a variety of different reasons and with the development of different removal strategies, tattoo removal has become much more common. The processes currently used vary in expense, level of pain, and success. Treatment options include laser removal, dermabrasion, excision, trichloroacetic acid, and tattoo removal creams. It is important to remember that although these treatment options may fade or remove most or all of a tattoo, they will not repair the skin to its original state.

Detailed Description
Laser Removal

Laser tattoo removal is both the most common and expensive treatment used today. This treatment is done by targeting ink within the skin, using highly-concentrated streams of light, breaking the ink into smaller fragments. This process has been described as feeling as painful as the original tattoo, similar to being snapped with a rubber band, and holding a hot light bulb. Following treatment, the body’s own immune system will work to remove these ink fragments as the body heals. Depending on the size and age of the tattoo, numerous visits may be necessary to remove most or all of the ink from the skin. Although this treatment had been advanced over time, each treatment may be damaging to the skin, resulting in redness and scabbing, blistering, and scarring within the treated area. Each individual treatment may cost in the range of $200 to $900.


The process of dermabrasion involves the removal of top skin layers through sanding the affected area with a sharp, rapidly rotating tool. By removing the affected skin, new skin is encouraged to grow in its place. Like laser treatment, this process may require multiple treatments. The pain caused by this procedure can be minimized with the use of a local anesthetic, but dermabrasion may lead to scarring, discoloration, and infection of the treated skin. This process is not recommended for facial tattoos or older tattoos, where ink may have seeped further into the skin layers.


Excision is a surgical procedure in which tattooed skin is cut out from the body. During this procedure, a scalpel is used to remove the affected skin and the area is sealed with stitches. This may be an option for tattoos with ink which has sunken deeper into the skin, or complimentary to other tattoo removal treatments. This process should be completed by a cosmetic surgeon and may be expensive as it is not commonly covered by insurance.

Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA)

The use of trichloroacetic acid (TCA) is a process in which a mild burn is created over the tattooed skin with the application of this acid. As a result, the body works to heal the area through scabbing and new skin growth. During the burn, ink is broken apart, migrating toward the surface as the area heals, ultimately separating from the body with the dead skin. Pain during this treatment is generally mild, however, several applications of TCA may be required to optimize the tattoo removal.

Tattoo Removal Creams

Tattoo removal creams are essentially skin bleaching creams, which may lighten a tattoo and its surrounding skin when applied over time. A small jar of removal cream may cost anywhere from $50 to $150 or more. While the use of these creams is painless, their effectiveness has not been proven through scientific study. In 2006, the FDA proposed a ban on creams containing the compound hydroquinone, commonly an active ingredient in skin bleaching creams, as it is known to cause cancer and other skin-related complications. The use of this compound has already been banned from use in several countries.

Last updated: 01-Jul-09

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