People get tattoos for many reasons, be it cultural, personal, or simply because they like the design. Tattoos are becoming more mainstream, too, with face tattoos even growing in popularity.
Just as there are many reasons people get tattoos, there are many reasons why people may want to remove them.
Although tattoos are permanent, this is only to an extent. They can be removed if you decide you no longer want them.
Lets take a look at the ways you can remove a tattoo, including cost, how long itll take, and more.
Older tattoos as well as amateur (stick and poke) tattoos are easier to remove than newer ones.
Some colors are easier to remove than others as well. These include:
Larger, darker, more colorful tattoos are more time-consuming and expensive to remove than smaller, lighter, and less colorful ones.
Due to the risk of side effects, its also more difficult to remove tattoos if you have:
However, this doesnt mean you cant remove your tattoo if any of this applies to you. It just means you may need to take a bit more time to find the best removal option for you.
Your healthcare provider can also help you if you have a health condition. For example, they can prescribe antiviral medications to prevent a tattoo removal procedure from triggering a herpes flare-up. They can also refer you to a dermatologist for further guidance.
Most experts consider laser removal to be the most successful and cost-effective way to remove tattoos.
Today, most tattoos are removed with a Q-switched laser. It sends out energy in one strong pulse. This pulse of energy heats up the ink in your skin to dissolve it.
Youll need to receive a number of laser treatments over several weeks or longer to remove your tattoo.
Often, lasers dont completely remove a tattoo. Instead, they lighten or fade it so its much less noticeable.
Tattoos with many colors are more difficult to remove. They might require treatment with different lasers and wavelengths to be effective.
The best candidates for traditional laser removal are those with lighter skin. This is because laser treatment can change the color of darker skin.
If you have darker skin, your best laser option is Q-switched Nd:YAG laser treatment. Its least likely to change the color of darker skin.
Older tattoos tend to fade most with laser treatment. Newer tattoos are more difficult to remove.
The cost of laser tattoo removal depends on the size, color, and age of your tattoo.
According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the national average cost of laser removal is $463.
Tattoo removal isnt covered by most insurance companies because its considered to be a cosmetic procedure.
You can get laser tattoo removal at an aesthetic clinic. A laser technician will numb the tattooed skin with a local anesthetic. Next, theyll apply the laser to the skin. The skin may bleed, blister, and swell following each procedure.
This process is repeated over multiple sessions until youre happy with the extent to which your tattoo has faded.
The average course of treatment varies greatly from person to person. In general, it takes about six to eight sessions to remove a tattoo with laser treatment. Youll have to wait six to eight weeks between sessions for best results.
Your technician will give you specific aftercare instructions.
In general, apply antibacterial ointment to your skin for several days following each procedure. The ointment will help heal your skin and reduce the risk of infection. Change the wound dressing each time you apply the ointment.
For at least the next two weeks:
Some people experience scarring. To reduce your risk for scarring, dont pick at the area as it heals. Also, be sure to follow your providers instructions and recommendations.
Surgical removal, also called excision tattoo removal, involves cutting off tattooed skin and stitching remaining skin back together.
Surgical removal is the most invasive method of tattoo removal. However, its the only surefire method of completely removing a tattoo.
Surgical removal is a very effective method for getting rid of an unwanted tattoo. Its often less expensive than some of the other options. However, surgical removal will leave a scar, so its usually preferred for small tattoos.
The cost of surgical tattoo removal tends to be lower than laser removal and dermabrasion.
Depending on the size of the tattoo, surgical removal may range between $150 and $350, according to St. Josephs Plastic Surgery Center.
Because tattoo removal is considered a cosmetic procedure, insurance doesnt usually cover it.
The procedure can be done in a plastic surgery office. During the procedure, a surgeon will inject your skin with a local anesthetic so you dont feel pain.
Theyll use a sharp, knifelike instrument called a scalpel to cut away the tattooed skin. Then, theyll stitch the remaining skin back together.
Surgery to remove a tattoo may take one to several hours, depending on the tattoos size and the surgeons repair method. It usually takes several weeks for the site of your tattoo removal to heal.
Your surgeon will give you specific aftercare instructions.
In general, apply the prescribed or recommended ointment for several days after the procedure to help heal your skin and avoid risk of infection. Keep the site clean and out of the sun for at least two weeks.
Everyone who chooses surgical tattoo removal experiences scarring. However, you can reduce the risk of severe scarring.
Be sure to follow your surgeons aftercare instructions for best results. Dont pick at the site, and avoid strenuous activities that put tension on the area immediately after surgery.
Dermabrasion involves using a sanding device to remove layers of skin to allow ink to leach out.
Dermabrasion is a less common tattoo removal option. Its efficacy varies widely from person to person. It can sometimes remove most of an existing tattoo.
Dermabrasion isnt recommended for people with sensitive skin or skin conditions like eczema.
Blood thinners may put you at risk for bleeding, bruising, and changes in your skin color if you receive dermabrasion.
People with darker skin may be at a greater risk for skin pigment changes.
The cost of dermabrasion varies depending on the size and coloring of your tattoo.
According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, the total cost for dermabrasion can range from several hundred to thousands of dollars. Keep in mind that this figure refers to all treatments needed to completely remove the tattoo.
During a typical dermabrasion session, a clinician will chill or numb your skin with a local anesthetic to reduce any pain. Theyll use a high-speed rotating abrasive device that sands off the top layers of the skin to let tattoo ink escape.
Dermabrasion is usually done during one procedure at a cosmetic surgeons office. The length of time the procedure takes depends on the size and color of your tattoo.
Larger tattoos with many colors may take more than an hour to treat.
Your clinician may recommend applying an antibacterial cream to the treated site as it heals to avoid infection and reduce scarring.
The treated area will likely feel painful and raw for several days after the procedure. Your skin may look red or pink during this period.
Full recovery can take two to three weeks. The pinkness of the treated area usually fades in 8 to 12 weeks.
Your clinician may also advise you to:
Some people experience scarring from dermabrasion treatments. You can reduce scarring by:
After treatment, dermabrasion may cause:
To prevent these complications, be sure to follow your clinicians aftercare instructions. Make sure the clinician has proper licensing and good reviews, too.
Tattoo removal creams are the most widely available and least expensive option. Theres a reason why: Theres no solid evidence that they work.
According to experts and anecdotal evidence, the best these creams do is fade or lighten a tattoo.
Due to the high risk of skin irritation and allergic reaction, experts dont recommend using DIY tattoo removal creams to get rid of your tattoo.
Another option is to cover the unwanted tattoo with another tattoo. This is known as the cover-up method.
Yes, it involves adding more permanent ink to your skin, but it can be used to mask a tattoo that you no longer want.
A cover-up can be a cost-effective, quick option for disguising the tattoo you already have. This method is a good option if you dont like the design of your tattoo but wouldnt mind another tattoo.
If you already have tattoos, youre probably familiar with your local tattoo artists fees.
According to tattoo artists Healthline spoke with, a small tattoo can start off at around $80. Larger, more time-consuming pieces can run into the thousands.
Since cover-up tattoos often take more planning and time to ink onto your skin, they may cost more than your original tattoo.
When you ask a tattoo artist to do a cover-up, theyll work with you to design a tattoo that can be used to hide what you already have.
This may involve creating a design with heavier lines, more shading, or unique shapes. Many tattoo artists are quite skilled at creating new designs to hide unwanted tattoos.
After you agree on a design, your tattoo artist will apply the cover-up just as they did your original tattoo.
Tattoos can take minutes to hours to days to finish, depending on the size and detail.
Your tattoo artist will give you instructions on caring for your new tattoo. Theyll also tell you how long to wait before taking off the bandage.
In general, youll gently wash the tattoo with unscented, mild soap three times a day without soaking for the first three days after you remove the bandage. After washing, pat-dry your tattoo.
After those few days, you can wash your tattoo once a day and apply unscented lotion to the tattoo twice a day.
Its easier said than done, but resist picking or scrubbing off the flakes of skin on your healing tattoo. If the tattoo gets very dry or itchy, apply a thin layer of unscented lotion to get some relief.
Avoid swimming, sun exposure, and tight clothing, which may stick to your cover-up. Within a few weeks, your tattoo should be completely healed.
Its important to get your cover-up and any tattoo from a licensed tattoo artist in a clean, sterile tattoo shop that doesnt have a history of health violations.
Make sure your tattoo artist is wearing gloves and using sterilized equipment. Read reviews before booking your appointment. If you have any concerns or questions, dont hesitate to ask your tattoo artist.
Most people dont experience problems other than some soreness and redness after tattooing. Its also normal to experience some itching during the healing process.
However, every tattoo comes with risks. These include:
Tattoos are a common yet permanent body decoration. For people who no longer want a tattoo, there are different ways to remove it.
Tattoo removal methods vary in cost, efficacy, and recovery time. Knowing your options can help you make a decision about tattoo removal thats right for you and your budget.
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