Definition & Overview
A tattoo may have been a good idea at one point, but due to certain circumstances, like a new career or special someone, you may be searching for ways to have it removed. There was a time when tattoos were considered permanent. Fortunately, advancements in medical sciences and technologies have made it possible to remove a tattoo completely or partially. However, tattoo removal can be just as painful as having a tattoo put on and even more expensive. But, if you really need to have it removed, here is everything you'll need to know about the process.
Tattoo removal is one of the services provided by a cosmetic surgeon. A dermatologist, who completed training in laser medicine and/or cosmetic surgery, can also perform the procedure.
To understand how a tattoo is removed, you'll first need to understand the process in which it is put on. Tattoos are created by injecting tiny amounts of special ink into the dermal layer of the skin. Modern tattoo artists use an electric tattoo machine fitted with one or more needles. In the early days, tattoo devices were crude and the procedure was a lot more painful.
Since the ink cannot be broken down by the body's immune system, it will stay in the dermal layer until such time it is removed.
How does tattoo removal work?
In order to remove a tattoo, the ink will need to be broken down or simply removed by scraping several layers of skin. There are several methods to accomplish this:
- Laser Removal – This procedure uses lasers to break down the ink so that it can subsequently be removed by the immune system. Laser removal by Q-switched ruby laser energy is the most modern technology available in removing a tattoo. It is the safest tattoo removal method and is considered the least painful. However, patients are required to visit the cosmetic surgeon or dermatologist multiple times to have the tattoo completely removed. Laser removal works by heating the tattoo pigment just enough so that the skin can absorb it. The laser is applied in very short pulses to avoid damaging the surrounding skin and causing burns and scars.
- Dermabrasion – This is one of the older methods of tattoo removal, but it is still being used today in certain cases. This method works by scraping layers of the skin using a small device similar to that of a grinding wheel.
- Excision – As the name suggests, the surgeon will remove the layer of skin with the tattoo and then close the wound with stitches. For large tattoos, the surgeon will need to perform a skin grafting, wherein the skin is removed from other parts of the body and used to cover the area where the tattoo was removed.
- Salabrasion – This is another early tattoo removal procedure. It involves soaking the area with salt water and then using a sanding device to remove the outer layer of skin and the tattoo pigments.
What to expect
The level of expectation will depend on the method used to remove the tattoo. Methods like dermabrasion, salabrasion, and excision will leave scars. Meanwhile, there's a very low risk of scarring in laser removal. However, there is a possibility that the skin's natural pigment may also be removed in the process. If this happens, you can expect a lighter skin color in the area where the tattoo was removed.
There's a risk of infection in all of the above methods, but the doctor will provide instructions on how to prevent infection, which is also one of the reasons why you should have a qualified specialist perform the procedure.
As for the level of pain, a topical or local anesthetic can be applied before the procedure. Once the effects of the anesthetic subside, you may or may not need pain relievers depending on your pain threshold.
In terms of cost, you can expect that any method of tattoo removal will be costly. It may even cost more than having the tattoo put on. The cost can be anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars, to thousands, depending on the size of the tattoo. Unfortunately, most insurance providers won't cover these costs since tattoo removal is considered a cosmetic procedure.