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Everything You Need to Know About Tattoo Removal

No wiser words than "think before you ink."

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Tattoos. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, tattoos make quite a statement. But what happens when you no longer want to announce a particular statement on your body and want to get it removed? Aside from the option of purchasing a ton of expensive, heavy-duty coverage makeup, another route, a more permanent one, would be to go invest for tattoo removal sessions. 

Unfortunately, tattoo removal is not as simple as 1-2-3. For those who are considering undergoing the tattoo removal process, here’s a bit of info that may help you out.

How To Get A Tattoo Removed

According to Mayo Clinic, there are essentially three ways you can get a tattoo removed; surgical removal, dermabrasion, and laser surgery. Let’s break them down. 

1. Surgical Removal

With surgical removal, the skin is numbed with an injection of a local anesthetic. Then the tattoo is removed with a scalpel, with the edges of the skin stitched back together, and an antibacterial ointment applied afterward to promote healing. While this method is effective, the procedure does leave behind a scar, so it essentially would only be practical for teenier tattoos.

2. Laser Tattoo Removal

Laser tattoo removal, as the name implies, involves lasers, typically a Q-switched laser or a Pico laser (which laser you should go with should be discussed with your doctor). Before laser treatment, the skin is numbed with an injection of a local anesthetic. Then a powerful pulse of energy is applied to the tattoo to heat up and break down the tattoo ink. Depending on the size and coloring of the tattoo, you may need to undergo multiple sessions with a variety of laser types and different laser wavelengths. Post session, you may notice swelling and potential blistering of bleeding. 

3. Demabrasion

Dermabrasion tattoo removal is a surgical method of tattoo removal that involves the use of a medical grinding tool by a dermatologic surgeon to remove the outer layers of the skin the tattoo is over. This procedure tends to be painful and is typically performed with a local, regional, or even a general anesthetic. Like laser tattoo removal, a session of dermabrasion will result in an open wound that needs after-care post procedure. 

The wounds left as a result of a session of dermabrasion typically take longer than a laser tattoo removal session to heal, around 10-14 days. Like laser tattoo removal, more than one session of dermabrasion may be necessary to remove the tattoo. 

Also, dermabrasion can lead to significant scarring and should only be performed by trained physicians with expertise in this area. 

Consult With A Professional 

Before you decide on which method to go with, schedule a consultation with a trained medical professional with experience in tattoo removal and certification in laser treatment. Depending on the state you live in, regulations for tattoo removal centers may vary and not all centers may require a doctor to handle the procedure. As lasers can potentially leave behind scarring, it’s best to research the clinic and tattoo removal specialist extensively beforehand. 

How Many Treatments Does It Take?

The number of treatments you will need depends on the age, size, and coloring of the tattoo, and texture and color of your skin. As the laser has to differentiate between tattoo pigment and the pigment of your skin, patients with deeper skintones and patients with textured skin (from scarring, eczema, etc.) need to be especially careful to find professionals with a diverse tattoo removal portfolio.

During and Post Tattoo Removal Session Care

In the case of treatments like dermabrasion and laser tattoo removal, you are likely to undergo multiple treatments over the span of several weeks to months. 

The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommended several things to in mind regarding post-session care:

  1. Wash the treated area twice a day with water and a gentle cleanser, apply petroleum jelly with a clean cotton swab to the area, and cover the treated area with a dressing.
  2. Avoid picking or scratching at any flaking, peeling, scabs, or blister that may form to avoid causing infections.
  3. Keep a close eye on your skin. While there is some redness, swelling, and blistering to be expected post treatment, watch out for any signs of an infection, like increased redness and pain, swelling or pus. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your dermatologist right away. 
How to Care For Your Skin During The Removal Process

We reached out to Tattoos a Boston-based Certified Esthetician, for her recommendations for those going through the tattoo removal process. Deery suggested, “Aquaphor is a great product to apply in the beginning stages of healing. OTC cortisone cream can also aid with itching and reduce erythema. Applying a mineral sunscreen daily to the area is crucial for proper healing.”

Aside from applying a mineral sunscreen, another way to help protect your healing skin from the harsh effect of the sun is to plan out the timing of your tattoo removal sessions strategically. “I would recommend starting the tattoo removal process in the fall so you can have the entire winter to undergo treatment sessions. It can take multiple sessions for removal and keeping that area out of the sun will provide the best results,” said Deery. 

Bottom Line

Tattoo removal can often be an expensive, lengthy, and somewhat painful process, with 100 percent removal not guaranteed. So think twice before you decide to leave a permanent statement on your skin.


Kate Deery is certified esthetician and makeup artist with Clareo Aesthetics, located in Boston Massachusetts. She is a Registered Nurse with certification from the National Laser Institute. When Deery isn’t hard at work at Clareo, she loves to cook, practice yoga, and hang out with her two dogs.

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Nicole Kirichanskaya
Nicole Kirichanskaya is a born-and-raised Brooklynite with a passion for fashion, feminism, and the fanciful. Her love of beauty stems from when she was taught the importance of a good manicure at an early age from her Ukrainian babushka. She has written for a number of publications including Global Glam Magazine, CEW, Footwear News, and more.