Tattoos are now widely accepted in society, however you may wish you never got yours. The regret of having an unwanted tattoo is bad enough. Being able to hide it with clothing makes it slightly more bearable. If you’re wanting to remove your tattoo - then YES you can. However, finding accurate and reliable resources for tattoo removal can be exhausting.
Many websites claim to know the “answer”, but what information really points you in the right direction. Current methods advertised on the internet include:
- cream or lotion;
- surgical excision;
- and laser tattoo removal.
But, which one can you trust to be the most effective and least damaging to your skin? You don't want a scar at the end of the process!
In this blog we’ll discuss the various ways your tattoo can be removed, but more importantly, why we would recommend laser tattoo removal as the most safe and efficient way for you.
How does laser tattoo removal work?
Laser tattoo removal works by targeting the pigment in the tattoo ink and shattering it into minuscule particles. The body then eliminates the particles of ink through its natural waste system. Tattoos nearer to the heart clear quicker than those on the extremities, due to the large vascular system connected to the head and neck.
If you have professionally done tattoos then these will typically take 8 sessions to remove over 18 months. If you have an amateur tattoo that was done “at home” rather than at a professional tattoo clinic, you will find that you will need fewer laser sessions to remove the tattoo. This is due to the quality of the ink and the depth of it in the skin. DIY or at home tattoos typically use inferior quality ink and the ink rarely gets as deep in the skin compared to when done by a professional tattoo artist.
Salabrasion tattoo removal
This method, which is often promoted as a home treatment on the internet, can be incredibly painful and is likely to leave a visible scar. There is also a good chance that the procedure won’t go deep enough to reach the tattoo ink anyway.
Salabrasion tattoo removal claims to use simple ingredients including plain table salt, tap water and an abrasive device. After shaving the area of the tattoo, the person performing the procedure will apply the salt mixed with water to the area while using the abrasive gauze surface to vigorously rub the region until it turns a deep blood red.
They will then apply an antibiotic ointment and sterile gauze dressing, which is left in place for 3 days. After this time, the dressing will be removed and the skin, which will be raw, is covered once again with the salt for several hours following more antibiotic ointment to be redressed and sit for another 3 days.
You’re basically rubbing off your skin with a salty water gauze which you then put more salt on and let sit. We cannot stress enough how pouring salt into an open wound that you rub raw is a horrible idea and will often cause serious scarring or infection.
“Salabrasion is not a reliable method for tattoo removal. It also carries a high risk of scarring that cannot be minimized. I would suggest you seek out laser treatment.” Phillip Bekhor (MBBS, FACD), Dermatologist at Laser Dermatology, Melbourne.
Common side effects: bleeding, weeping pores, itching, bruising, swelling, scabbing, discolouration, infection and permanent scaring.
Acid tattoo removal
Acid removal causes a reaction to remove the top layer of skin. Due to the associated risks these procedures should be done under medical supervision. The most common acid procedures include:
- Acid injections – This invasive treatment involves taking a tattoo-like needle filled with acid and injecting it into the skin with the tattoo. This attempts to flush out ink and bring it to the surface. Scabs full of the tattoo colour appear and when they fall off, take the ink with them. This can cause serious complications such as infections and pigmentation.
- TCA Peel – TCA stands for TriChloroacetic Acid and will burn away outer layers of the skin. The amount of time this chemical peel is left on the skin will determine how many layers are burnt away. Typically the procedure does not get deep enough for professional tattoos and all a TCA peel will do is bleach the skin / ink and make it seem as though the tattoo has been removed, when in fact the tattoo has just been lightened.
- Glycolic Acid Peel – This contains a mixture of lactic, tartaric, malic and glycolic acid and can be administered by a skin professional. The solution is meant to inflame the skin so your body can expel the tattoo ink, but it doesn’t get deep enough. Therefore, it isn’t very effective and could result in pain or scarring.
“Chemical peels and other modalities do not penetrate deep enough to remove the ink from the tattoo that is in the deeper dermal layer of the skin. The best method for tattoo removal is through the laser.” Michele S. Green (MD), New York Dermatologist
Common side effects: burning, weeping sores, itching, swelling, scabbing, discolouration, cicatrisation, infection and permanent scaring.
Using a cream for tattoo removal
Tattoo removal creams, like Profade, are readily available on the internet. They claim to work effectively and promise you will see results in a matter of weeks simply by using their product. What they don’t explain to you is that most creams are just a bleaching of the skin. The chemicals never completely penetrate through to the layer of skin that holds the ink from your tattoo.
These are very ineffective. The risk is that the prime component is a low strength bleach-like substance or low concentration of TCA, which can irritate your skin and may cause complications.
Common side effects: itching and skin burn leading to scarring.
Surgical tattoo removal
If you thought the salabrasion technique was bad, then you might not want to read what surgical excision involves, especially if you’re squeamish. For this procedure, the surgeon removes the tattoo using a scalpel and closes the wound with stitches. That’s right, surgical excision involves cutting a tattoo out of your skin under local anaesthetic.
While some will claim this is effective for smaller tattoos and offers improved precision, the cut doesn’t usually go deep enough and may not remove all of the ink or pigment. On top of that, side effects include skin discolouration, infection and raised or thickened scars, which won’t appear until 3 to 6 months after the procedure and may stick around for life.
Dermabrasion is a surgical method of tattoo removal that involves the use of a medical grinding tool that is used to remove the outer layers of the skin in a controlled manner. The intent is to remove the layers of the skin that contain the ink particles, thereby removing the tattoo.
This procedure is painful and because of this, is typically performed with a local anesthetic. A session will result in an open wound that needs daily cleaning of the wound and the application of an antibiotic ointment with a dressing. Multiple treatments are required.
“Excision will leave permanent scarring and dermabrasion will likely leave scarring as well as loss of pigmentation that may not be reversible. Laser treatment has improved dramatically in the past year and is by far your best option.” Roy G. Geronemus (MD), Dermatologic Surgeon at Laser & Skin Surgery Centre, New York.
Common side effects: Pain, bruising, swelling, discolouration, infection and permanent scaring.
Laser tattoo removal
It is clear to see that laser tattoo removal is considered by medical experts to currently be the safest and most effective way to get rid of an unwanted tattoo.
However, not all "laser tattoo removal" devices marketed are genuine lasers, some are IPL or diode machines which are less effective or do not do all ink colours. Professional laser brands in the UK you can trust include:
If you’re shopping around for treatment, important questions to ask are…
- Do you use an FDA approved laser tattoo machine?
- Are your laser practitioners trained and awarded with qualification certificates?
- Do you carry out a patch test pre-treatment?
- Do you apply aftercare dressings and supply bio oil as after care?
- Are you a registered and inspected clinic by Healthcare Improvement Scotland?
Laser tattoo removal is a process that requires patience. Your skin will take 6-8 weeks to fully recover before you can safely have your next treatment. There are many variables that affect how quickly and effectively tattoo ink will fade, but laser tattoo removal is the most effective method. Expect some common side effects such as minor blistering / scabbing / swelling, but these are temporary signs that the treatment is working and the body is healing.
When performed properly, laser tattoo removal leaves little to no scarring and is the best tattoo removal method to date. The NHS recommend laser tattoo removal as the preferred procedure for safe removal. We are approved laser treatment providers for NHS Lothian and a Healthcare Improvement Scotland registered clinic, so you can full confidence you are in professional hands.
Our Candela Q-switched AlexTriVantage laser is FDA approved and can treat even the most stubborn of colours. Winter is the best time of year for laser tattoo removal as covering your treated area while it heals and avoiding heat or direct sunlight for a few days is essential.
You are not alone
Many people choose to have their tattoo removed for various personal reasons. Recently many celebraties have openly talked about removing their tattoos.
Mark Wahlberg recently revealed that he wanted to get his tattoos removed to deter his own children from getting them. He underwent several laser treatments to eliminate his Bob Marley tattoo.
Victoria Beckham has been having tattoo removal services since 2015 with HELLO! reporting that she is simply not as fond of body art as she used to be, and decided to have it removed as an aesthetic choice.
If it is something you have been considering I would encourage you to come along for a consultation, as each person is evaluated based on skin type, size, and colour of their tattoo. We will carry out a patch test to ensure your safety and determine the best settings for treatment according to your skin and tattoo.
PS I thought it might be useful to state my experience in laser treatments which is over 8 years. I am professionally qualified in laser tattoo, hair and vascular removal. I also have over 13 years experience in using IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) machines. My 3 colleagues have similar experience.