Think Before You Ink: The Truth About Tattoo Removal


Maybe it’s because I’m a dermatologist, but there’s one thing I’m certain about when it comes to tattoos: Many people who have them wish that there was an easy way to remove them.

A recent survey from England shows that close to 1/3 of people end up regretting their tattoos and that men are twice as likely as women to suffer such regret.

The first thing to realize about tattoos is that the ink is placed in the dermis, which is the deeper layer of the skin. The dermis is where all the connective tissue lies that make up the structure of your skin. It is also the layer of skin that leaves a scar if damaged. Superficial damage to your skin can typically heal with little or no residual mark. However, when the deeper layers of the skin are damaged, the tissue cannot repair itself without leaving a scar. This is an important point to consider before getting a tattoo.

Because the ink is deep in the skin, there is no cream or ointment that can get rid of a tattoo without leaving a scar. Although there are no shortage of websites claiming to remove your unwanted tattoo by applying their special cream or ointment, I know of none that is effective. It is not possible to bleach the pigment down deep without damaging the skin at the surface. Chemical treatments or acids that claim to get rid of tattoos could only do so by leaving a significant scar, like a third degree burn.

Lasers tattoo removal works best. It can eliminate a tattoo by targeting the pigment. Since different lasers target different ink colors, they can more effectively blast the tiny ink fragments.. The blast and destruction of the ink triggers your immune system to come in and clean up the spots, carrying the ink with it. Because the laser targets only the color, it is able to treat the tattoo that is deep in your skin while leaving the surface of your skin undamaged. Professional tattoos tend to use a higher quality ink in higher quantities, which makes complete tattoo removal difficult. Therefore, realize that oftentimes a shadow of the tattoo remains even after extensive or repeated laser treatments.

Newer tattoo inks have been developed that are engineered specifically to be good targets for the laser. The laser is more easily able destroy these pigments, and the tattoo can be removed entirely, without any residual color. You might want to ask your tattoo artist about this ink before you get your tattoo.

If you decide to remove your tattoo, then make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist who has experience with laser tattoo removal. Realize that different color inks require different lasers; black and red inks are easier to remove. Most patients need several treatments over a period of months to fully remove a tattoo, depending on the color and size of the tattoo and your skin color.

Keep in mind that laser tattoo removal is timely and expensive. Treatment sessions can be several hundred dollars each, and most people need several sessions over the course of many months. Even so, some tattoos are never completely removed.

So, please, think before you ink. It could save you a lot of time and money if the day comes when you no longer want it.

Photo credit: FCC, Jhong Dizon

7 thoughts on “Think Before You Ink: The Truth About Tattoo Removal

  1. Excellent post Dr Benabio! It’s an important point that tattoos are often not fully removable, and most times a shadow of the tattoo remains.

    It’s also important that if you do think before you ink, and decide to get that tattoo – ensure you go to a reputable establishment to get it.

    There have been instances of potentially dangerous tattoo inks being used in the past. This health risk can be increased when you remove such tattoos, as the dye particles must get filtered by your body in order to remove the tattoo.

    Be careful when you make choices with your skin and your health!

    Dr Zahra Alidina

  2. I got a tattoo many years ago and I do wish I had taken more time to think about it and get it right. It’s a chinese character and because of a slight mistake it now means something completely different to what I intended.

    Instead of thinking about removal I am now thinking about getting something else over the top, or somehow integrating it into a new tattoo. Either way I don’t think I would ever go down the path of removal. Also I was smart enough to get it somewhere not visible all the time.

    So yes I agree. Do think about it carefully before you get it done and what you get done because you will have it forever.

  3. I wish there would be an industry of fake tattoos and that socially fake tattoos can be considered as cool as the real ones… I would want to wear something but the idea of torturing my skin and having a permanent mark is just unacceptable for me..

  4. Pretty much the one thing that stops me from getting a tattoo–I’m sure I will one day, but man, it’s hard to decide on something you’d like to have on you for the rest of your life!

  5. I got a tattoo few years back, and now I just wanted to get it removed.
    I looks so childish. But thanks to this post now I understand the truth about this.
    Great Share!

  6. It’s almost impossible to anticipate how a tattoo will react to your skin over time. Not to mention what will happen to your skin. I love tats, and have many of them! I also make a special point of looking after my skin (living in Oz and being quite fair it’s essential) YOu must remember that everytime you expose your tattoo to the sun you are risking fading the ink….add a lifetime of extreme sun exposure and you have a horrid looking tat.

    Look after your skin, Inked or not.

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