While tattoos are toted as a permanent body modification, technology has advanced far enough that almost any tattoo can be removed without leaving a trace behind. Whether through laser surgery, tattoo removal creams, or frequent scrubbing, there are plenty of ways to speed up the fading process or remove the tattoo entirely.
As a site that enjoys expressing tattoos as an art, we understand that sometimes mistakes can be made. Sometimes, the vision in your head doesn’t match what you paid for. The artist makes a spelling mistake or absolutely wrecks the design, and you’re left living with it or paying to fix it. Other times, you no longer want to affiliate yourself with the meaning behind the tattoo. It might remind you of painful memories or represent something you now find repulsive. In all of these situations, tattoo removal is the method to turn to, especially if your past choice has left you feeling depressed or upset.
Finding the best way to remove your tattoo can be difficult. There are several different methods of removing tattoos, and I’d be lying if I said that they all have the same efficacy. Each method also has its own price, and there’s no way of guessing the exact amount of money it will take until after your tattoo has been completely removed. Unfortunately, some of the methods don’t even work!
To help you sort through all of this, we’ve compiled a hub of sorts that serves as a tattoo removal starter kit. Simply find the topic that you want to learn more about and give it a glance. If you don’t find your topic here, go ahead and alert us through Facebook, Twitter or in the comments section—we want to be able to answer any question you might have about tattoo removal! If you don’t know where to start, just keep reading—we’ll start from step one!
How to Remove a Tattoo
There are four major ways to remove your tattoo. We’ve made a little chart below to give you a brief introduction to how to remove a tattoo. The variation of treatment length and cost depends on many factors, but especially on the size and quality of your tattoo.
|Type of Removal||Efficacy||Treatment Length||Side-Effects||Cost|
|Laser Tattoo Removal||Almost Guaranteed Removal||Six Weeks to Six Months||Six week rash after treatment…possibly. No long term side-effects.||Between $100-$800 per session|
|Tattoo Removal Cream||Opposite Effect*||Many, many years.||Chemical burns, possible scars, possible infections.||$60 every six months|
|Exfoliation or Dermabrasion||Unlikely to Work||Eternal||Irritated skin. If too rough, possible scars or infections.||Less than $20 each month.|
|Surgical Removal||100% Effective||Immediate||Possible scar, possible infection.||Depends on surgeon and size of tattoo.|
*There are ongoing trials of a tattoo removal cream that works. It is not available on the market, so it is not considered here.
Laser tattoo removal is both the most effective and the most expensive method. It works by using light to break down the ink particles, which are then absorbed by the body and processed out like regular waste. They almost always work. Smaller tattoos might only need one session, while larger tattoos might need a very large amount. No matter what, it’s your best option for tattoo removal, and is the best non-invasive way to make your tattoo disappear.
Tattoo removal creams contain chemical compounds and acids to wear away at your skin. Through repeated use, you remove the top layers of your skin and can reach the lower layer of skin, which actually contains the ink. Unfortunately, this is literally using acid to melt your skin off slowly. That definitely comes with side effects. The only appealing thing about tattoo removal creams is that they are very cost effective.
Like tattoo removal creams, exfoliation and dermabrasion focus on removing the upper layers of skin to speed up the healing process of the ink beneath. Unlike using tattoo removal creams, you are unlikely to end up with scars or burns unless you are overzealous. Since this technique doesn’t get to the lowest layer of skin, it doesn’t actually remove your tattoo. It simply speeds up the natural aging of your skin to encourage fading. It doesn’t work very fast, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all.
If you have some kind of infection or a very small tattoo, you might be able to actually have your tattoo surgically removed! The price of this depends on your doctor or surgeon, and not every health care provider will be eager to cut off a piece of your skin.
There are a few other methods, but they are either inferior to the ones listed or not noteworthy enough to mention. If you want to read a more detailed account, be sure to check out our main article on types of tattoo removal and how to remove a tattoo.
Related Article: How to Remove a Tattoo
Laser Tattoo Removal
I’m sure you’ve already figured it out, but your tattoo ink is on the very lowest layer of your skin. So how can light reach it? Skin was made to block harsh sunlight from burning you. It naturally reflects light, and very few types of light are able to make it through and do some damage. Ink was made to do the opposite—black ink absorbs as much light as possible. This means that the laser can pass through your skin safely and attack the ink below. The intense light splits up the large ink particles into pieces small enough for white blood cells to escort away like the invaders they are.
Your skin will need a cool down between sessions to heal up—some of the light will get absorbed by the skin, and the feeling is akin to being hit by hot grease. It’s impossible to tell how many sessions you will need ahead of time, but your doctor might be able to guess based on the size and quality of your tattoo.
Large tattoos use more ink, and they don’t disperse very well. Even if the laser does a good job of breaking down the ink, sometimes there just aren’t enough white blood cells in your body to accommodate the influx of tattoo particles from a large tattoo. The particles will remain where they were, relatively harmless, until more white blood cells are made. On top of that, high-quality tattoos will use much more ink in a uniform manner. Since they use more ink, they are harder to remove.
The price of your laser tattoo removal will depend on your region and how many sessions you will need. For more info, check out our full article on laser tattoo removal.
Related Article: Laser Tattoo Removal
Tattoo Removal Cream
Tattoo removal cream is not the best choice for getting rid of a tattoo. In fact, I’d say it’s the worst. You can read about it in depth in our feature on tattoo removal cream, but I’ll go over the summarized version. Tattoo removal cream works by using acids to break down your skin. By applying multiple times, the upper layers are worn away and reveal the lower layers.
The lowest layer contains the ink you have to remove, but by removing it, you risk damaging the tissue underneath. If you don’t remove it entirely, the ink will blur and move around. You’ll be left with a chemical burn and a messed up tattoo! If you manage to get through every layer of skin, as you need to when you’re removing the lowermost layer, you also risk a serious infection. The skin will also not grow back the same.
There is a tattoo removal cream that actually works, but it is not available on the market yet. We’re paying close attention to the ongoing trials, so we’ll be the first to let you know when you can get it through a doctor or over-the-counter! In the meantime, you might want to stay away from creams.
Related Article: Tattoo Removal Cream
How to Remove a Henna Tattoo
Wondering how to remove a henna tattoo? Fear not—it’s actually much more simple than real tattoos! All you need to do is grab some lotions and exfoliate. ‘But Sara!’ you might say, ‘You just said that exfoliation and dermabrasion doesn’t work at all on tattoos!’ Well, that’s where you’re mistaken. Henna tattoos are created in a completely different way than actual tattoos.
Henna is not an ink. It’s much more like a dye. Instead of inserting the ink at the lowest layer of your skin, henna artists apply the henna to the uppermost layer. The henna paste seeps into the skin, acting like a dye, and colors every single layer of skin. Even if it reaches the bottom layer, the compounds that make up henna paste are very small and can easily be removed by our body’s immune system.
Since the ink resides in multiple layers of skin, and rarely the lowest one, scrubbing that skin off is the best way to go! Henna tattoos will naturally disappear in six weeks, but scrubbing might bring that down to four weeks. In the meantime, you can apply makeup to the tattoo if you need to hide it for any reason.
For more information about how to remove a henna tattoo, continue to our full article.
Related Article: How to Remove a Henna Tattoo
Tattoo Removal Before and After
Of course, who wouldn’t want to see tattoo removal before and after if they were weighing the different types of tattoo removal? We have a full gallery dedicated to showing you the different results of tattoo removal. Most of the images show the results of laser tattoo removal. It is very rare for other types of tattoo removal processes to have a successful before and after compilation. If you find any, it’s more likely that whoever is claiming that it is from tattoo removal cream or exfoliation or anything else is lying to sell a product. Many people will use makeup or just steal images from laser tattoo removal patients.
Related Article: Tattoo Removal Before and After
Tattoo Removal Cost
Your tattoo removal cost depends on the size of your tattoo, the quality of your tattoo, the health of your skin, and your immune system’s ability to respond to foreign objects in the body. Laser tattoo removal rings up as the most expensive form of tattoo removal, while exfoliation is the cheapest, as far as ‘safe’ techniques go. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t tell you how expensive a surgical removal would be. It might be cheaper than laser tattoo removal, or it might not be. It all depends on who is treating you and the size of your tattoo.
For more in-depth information on gauging the price of your tattoo and how to reduce costs, you can check out our full article.
Related Article: Tattoo Removal Cost
Getting a tattoo is difficult on its own. You have to worry about choosing the right design, picking the best artist, affording the thing in the first place, before and after care…the list goes on! If the tattoo doesn’t end up the way you want, the result is heartbreaking. Your first thought will be how long you have to wear it—will it be forever? Can you afford to get it removed? On the other hand, it’s a different feeling entirely when the mistake is your own. When you get a tattoo on the spur of the moment because you thought it looked great, only to look at it a week later and realize it says nothing about you…that’s a terrible feeling. When you get your boyfriend’s name tattooed in a prominent place, only to break up with him, that’s a horrible brand to carry. When you are pressured into getting a tattoo to fit in with your peers, only to have a fall out with them and hate their guts…there are plenty of reasons to get that tattoo removed. But it’s not hopeless.
Tattoo removal is the result of leaps and bounds in technology over the past century. As tattoos get more popular, people also get more interested in ways to remove them. It might be expensive, but getting your tattoos removed in the safest way possible ensures that you no longer have to wear scars where your old tattoo used to be. Your skin will be back to its old self, and you don’t have to worry about what kind of bad signals your old tattoo would give to others. On the other hand, you can even get more tattoos in the same area, if you so desire! Whatever your reason for getting tattoo removal done, and whatever you plan to do in the future with your pristine skin—know that you have options. Be sure to keep yourself safe and talk to your doctor before attempting any treatments. And, most of all, remember that it is not the tattoo that defines you—it is how you wear it.
Featured Image by Crysco Photography – Model: Kaiyla Stoddard