Here's everything you need to know about tattoo removal
Whether you're considering removing your ink or are simply curious, there's a lot to know about the tattoo-removal process.
INSIDER spoke to some experts to answer some of the most common questions people have about getting a tattoo taken off.
Where do you go to get a tattoo removed?
For your health, safety, and optimal results, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that you go to a dermatologist for your tattoo removal.
Removals are typically done using lasers that the FDA states should be used by or under the supervision of healthcare professionals. Per the FDA, visiting a dermatologist who specializes in tattoo removal is likely your best bet.
(Photo by Genesis Castillo)
Although some tattoo shops and spas offer laser tattoo-removal services, only dermatologists have medical training in this area, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). And so, you may run a greater risk of experiencing negative side effects if your tattoo remover does not have appropriate medical training, per the AAD.
How long does it take to fully remove a tattoo?
Removing a tattoo will almost always take more than one visit to the removal specialist — sometimes it could even take dozens of sessions.
To figure out how many visits you'd need to get a tattoo removed, you should first consult a professional so they can review your ink and medical history, said Dr. Amy Derick, board-certified dermatologist and medical director of Derick Dermatology, a Chicago-based practice that specializes in tattoo removal.
"Number of treatments vary based on many factors including: age of tattoo, number of colors, size, etc. For picosecond-wavelength tattoo removal — which is considered a gold standard for tattoo removal — most treatments will require seven to 10 treatments six to eight weeks apart," she told INSIDER.
"The [total] number of treatments [also] depends on your body's ability to eliminate ink from the skin. This varies for everyone," added Dr. Debra Jaliman is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York, whose practice offers tattoo removal as a specialty.
Per Jailman, generally, the more colors in your tattoo, the more treatments you will need. In addition, these sessions must be spaced out (typically a few weeks apart), so the process can take quite some time.
How much does it cost to get a tattoo removed?
Removing a tattoo can be costly depending on how many sessions you'll end up needing. In general, a single removal session can cost around $50 to $500, but the price may vary depending on your tattoo and your location.
To estimate how many treatments you may require for your specific tattoo and skin type, you may want to reference tools like the Kirby-Desai scale. Just keep in mind that the best and most accurate way to figure out how many sessions you'll need is to consult a professional.
Does getting a tattoo removed hurt?
How much the removal process hurts oftentimes depends on your individual pain tolerance — just like when you first got the tattoo you're having removed.
"Getting a tattoo is generally more painful than removing the tattoo. Uncomfortable — and there is a certain level of pain — but it's bearable. It feels like a small rubber band is snapping on your skin," Jailman told INSIDER.
(Photo by Matheus Ferrero)
That said, some areas may be more painful to have ink removed from than others. "On certain bony areas, like the wrists, ribs, and ankles, tattoo removal is more painful than on other areas of the body," Derick added.
Fortunately, there are some ways the process can be made to be even less uncomfortable, said Jailman. "The area is numbed with a topical numbing cream and a small chilling machine that blows cold air on the skin helps to keep pain at bay," she added.
Are there any risks that come with getting a tattoo removed?
As with any medical procedure, there are some risks associated with tattoo removal.
"Individuals who have light-sensitive seizures, vitiligo, history of poor healing, or an active rash or injury to the area may not be an ideal candidate for laser," Derick told INSIDER. She said these individuals may be prone to experiencing more tattoo-removal-related side effects.
She also said that all individuals (especially those with darker skin tones) are at risk of experiencing hypopigmentation after laser tattoo removal. "This is when the patient's normal skin pigment is removed by the laser process, resulting in white-looking scarring that is permanent. This is also known as a ghosting effect," Derick explained.
Jailman also pointed out that those who have sensitive skin and who are prone to allergic reactions may experience some issues when they have their ink removed. "You could have an allergic reaction as the laser breaks down the pigments in the tattoo," she added.
Some may also be at risk of experiencing more prominent scarring. "If you are prone to keloids (a type of raised scar), having a tattoo removed could be a problem. The scars from the area treated may definitely develop into a keloid," Jailman also told INSIDER.
Can all tattoos be removed?
Most of the time a tattoo can be removed — but with certain inks, it may not be possible to entirely remove your design.
"A true black-ink tattoo is by far the easiest to treat. In some cases, red ink can resolve easily as well," Dr. Will Kirby, board-certified dermatologist and chief medical officer for aesthetic-dermatology group LaserAway. previously told INSIDER.
(Photo by Ivan Verrengia)
But, he said that colors like maroon, aqua, and teal can be resistant to laser removal. He also noted that some shades like yellow, orange, and brown may not be removed by laser treatment at all.
Do you have to do any special sort of aftercare for a tattoo that's in the process of being removed?
Derick told INSIDER that, just like with your initial tattoo, when you undergo removal you're creating an open wound that requires careful treatment to ensure you heal properly and avoid getting an infection.
"After a session, the technician bandages the area just like the patient will be expected to do at home for generally about one week or until the area is healed," said Derick. "The patient changes this bandage every 24 hours after washing the area with a mild soap. Keeping the area bandaged keeps the tattoo out of the sun and allows for effective healing of the treated skin."
Those removing a tattoo can also expect to experience a bit of bruising, blistering, and scabbing, said Jailman. She said you should avoid picking scabs, cover blistering skin, and use ointment as recommended by your doctor.
If you're experiencing any reactions that seem abnormal to you (ie: you have a fever or your skin is severely swelling), you'll want to reach out to a medical professional.
Do tattoo-removal creams work?
Some special creams and ointments claim to help fade a tattoo by bleaching or peeling away layers of your skin to remove the ink, per Today. But there's a reason these creams sound too good to be true — they are.
At this time, the FDA hasn't "approved or cleared any do-it-yourself tattoo removal ointments and creams that you can buy online." Furthermore, the FDA warns that these creams can cause adverse side effects including scarring, rashes, and burning.
Can you really use salt to remove a tattoo?
You may have heard some people talking about using salt and water solutions to scrub away tattoos in a dated method called salabrasion — but this is potentially a very dangerous strategy, according to the AAD.
Scraping off the top layers of your skin and using salt to try to rid yourself of unwanted tattoos can lead to pain, scarring, and a serious infection, per the AAD.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
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