Tattoo Removal

Overview

Tattoos are permanent marks on the skin made by depositing ink underneath the top layer of skin (epidermis) using a needle. There are currently several options for removing a tattoo; however, tattoo removal is often painful and expensive. The three most common ways that tattoos are removed are laser surgery, dermabrasion, and surgical removal. Although several products are marketed as at-home tattoo removers, they are ineffective and possibly harmful. A dermatologist can help to decide the best option for tattoo removal for each individual.

People decide to get tattoos removed for several reasons. Tattoos may become faded, distorted, or no longer wanted. Some people also develop allergic reactions to tattoos and tattoo ink, which makes removal necessary. A dermatologist can help someone decide which method to use to remove a tattoo. While lasers are popular and more effective for certain types of ink, smaller tattoos may be more easily removed using surgery. Regardless of the method, tattoos are typically removed in an outpatient setting with local anesthesia. Laser tattoo removal uses pulses of energy to heat and break up the tattoo ink. It can be a long process involving different types of lasers and different wavelengths, depending on the size and color of the tattoo. Following the removal, the skin may be swollen and blistered, and the tattoo may not be completely removed. Laser surgery often requires repeated sessions that must be spaced several weeks apart. Dermabrasion uses an abrasive device to remove the tattoo. Prior to the procedure, the skin is chilled to numb it, and the skin is sanded down, removing the top layer of skin and allowing the ink in the layer underneath to seep out. This method of removal creates an area of skin that is raw and more susceptible to infection, so it requires special care for some time following the procedure. The other option for tattoo removal is surgically cutting the skin and removing the inked skin. The edges of the skin are then stitched back together and antibacterial ointment is applied. This method is most effective for small tattoos.

Laser removal and dermabrasion will most likely not remove a tattoo completely; most tattoo removals will leave some scarring or skin discoloration. Black and darker tattoos tend to be more easily removed than brightly colored ones. Some people may choose to cover up an old tattoo with a new one, or use laser treatments to fade a brightly colored tattoo to make it easier to cover. The primary risk associated with all forms of tattoo removal is infection, so it is very important to follow all aftercare directions provided by a doctor to keep the area from becoming infected.

More Information

Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tattoo-removal/MY01066
Medline Plus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/piercingandtattoos.html
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tattoo_removal