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How to Remove a Tattoo

How to Remove a Tattoo

How to Remove a Tattoo

by Thomas Barrows, M.D.

A History of Tattoo Removal Techniques

“How to remove a tattoo” is one of the most common questions people ask. There have historically been many ways to remove tattoos so I’ll review some of them in this article.

  • Surgical Excision

  • One of my favorite aphorisms is, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.” In the years before lasers if you asked a surgeon, “How to remove a tattoo?” you would get a simple answer, “A scalpel!” Surgical excision or simply cuttting an elipse around the skin containing the tattoo and sewing the edges back together (provided your tattoo isn’t very large) works pretty well. The problem is that it leaves behind a surgical scar that is sometimes pretty signficant.

  • Mechanical Dermabrasion

  • Mechanical dermabrasion is the removal of the skin containing the tattoo by physicially grinding away the epidermis and dermis with a mechnical device such as a microdermabrasion handpiece. This is quite painful and so the procedure is typically performed under general anesthesia. It can be very effective, however there is a prolonged healing phase with a very high risk of infection and scarring since the entire surface layer and some of the deeper dermal layers are removed.

  • Chemical Dermabrasion

  • Chemical dermabrasion is similar to mechanical dermabrasion except that chemicals such as acids or phenol are used to destroy the surface of skin. This is also painful and best done with anesthesia and similarly there is a high risk of infection and scarring. More recently, this archaic approproach to tattoo removal has been ressurrected by performing a “microneedling” in which tissue toxic chemicals are directly injected into the skin in a grid-like pattern. You can read more about this frightening process in the related article about Microneedling Tattoo Removal.

  • Topical Creams

  • Let’s just cut to the chase on this one: tattoo removal creams don’t work. Please don’t become the next sucker to buy them. You can read more about tattoo removal creams in our our article Why Tattoo Removal Creams Don’t Work

  • Lasers

  • Lasers have been used for tattoo removal for the past 30 years. Early lasers had long pulse durations (the amount of time that the beam was on) leading to a higher incidence of burns and scarring. However, modern tattoo removal lasers employee very short pulse durations lasting only billionths to trillionths of a second which greatly minimized the risk to the surrounding tissue. Results are superior to all the other methods of tattoo removal particularly with respect to preserving the surface of the skin and minimizing complications. For more information about how tattoo removal works, please read our article How Does Laser Tattoo Removal Work.

I hope this article has answered your question, “How to remove a tattoo?” If you would like more information regarding tattoo removal, please set up a free consultation on the location page that is nearest to you.


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