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Written by Kieran Proctor

Tattoo Removal: Methods, Costs & Considerations (2024)



Tattoo Removal: Methods, Costs & Considerations

Tattoos are a popular form of self-expression and many people opt to have their skin inked with designs that hold personal or aesthetic significance. However, tastes change, circumstances evolve and what was once a cherished piece of body art can become a source of regret.

Fortunately, modern technology has made tattoo removal more accessible and effective than ever before. In this comprehensive guide, I explore the various methods of tattoo removal, the associated costs and I discuss all the factors to consider before, during and after the process of tattoo removal.

Understanding Tattoo Removal

Tattoo removal has come a long way from the early days of invasive and often ineffective methods. Today, the most widely accepted and effective method of tattoo removal is laser therapy, which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Laser tattoo removal operates on a straightforward principle. It uses high-intensity light beams to heat and break down the tattoo ink under the skin. The fragmented ink particles are then small enough to be absorbed and eliminated by the body’s immune system.

Different wavelengths of light are used to target different ink colors, so if the tattoo is multicolored, the laser technician will need to employ more than one type of laser to eliminate the ink. While the process doesn’t always result in 100% removal of the tattoo ink, it fades the tattoo enough to make it almost indistinguishable from the surrounding skin.

Determining The Cost Of Tattoo Removal

The cost of tattoo removal can vary significantly based on several factors. The most crucial factor is the number of removal sessions required, which is determined using a tool known as the Kirby-Desai scale.

The Kirby-Desai scale assigns a patient a score based on factors such as skin type, tattoo location, color, amount of ink, presence of scarring and layering. The final score is roughly equal to the number of treatment sessions required. The more sessions needed, the higher the tattoo removal cost.

Average costs for tattoo removal can range from $200 to $500 per session. With total final removal costs reaching into the thousands for larger, more complex tattoos.

It’s essential to remember that tattoo removal is a process, often requiring multiple treatments spread over several months or even years. This means the total cost for the complete removal of a tattoo will be spread out over the course of the treatment period.

Pain Or Discomfort During And After Tattoo Removal

One of the most common questions regarding tattoo removal is whether it hurts. The truth is, laser tattoo removal can cause some serious discomfort. However, most patients find the sensation tolerable, often likening it to the feeling of a rubber band snapping against the skin.

Most tattoo removal providers offer some form of skin numbing during the procedure to help manage the discomfort. This can include a topical numbing cream, local anesthesia or a device that blows cold air onto the skin during treatment.

Post-treatment, patients can expect some level of discomfort and skin sensitivity. Common side effects include redness, swelling, blistering and scabbing, which are all part of the healing process. With proper aftercare, these side effects are temporary and will subside as the skin heals.

Tattoo Removal Methods

Laser Tattoo Removal

Laser removal is the gold standard for tattoo removal. It’s effective and safe when done by a trained professional. And it can significantly lighten or eliminate most tattoos.

The process of laser removal involves using a high-intensity light beam, to break down the tattoo pigment in the skin. The fragmented ink is then absorbed and eliminated by the body’s immune system.

Surgical Excision

Surgical excision involves cutting out the tattooed skin and stitching the surrounding skin back together. While this method can completely remove a small tattoo, it leaves a noticeable scar and is generally not recommended for larger tattoos due to the risk of significant scarring and potential complications.


Dermabrasion is a less common method that involves sanding away the top layers of skin until the tattooed ink layer below the surface of the skin is abraded away. While this method can remove small tattoos, it can be painful and often results in scarring and less effective tattoo removal.

Chemical Removal

Chemical removal methods involve the use of various chemicals to break down the tattoo ink. These can include TCA peels, acid injections and creams containing hydroquinone or trichloroacetic acid. These methods often result in skin damage and are far less effective than laser removal.

Note: No ‘tattoo removal cream‘ has been approved by the FDA. And the FDA does warn that use of creams marketed for tattoo removal can often result skin rashes, burns or scars.

Factors Affecting Tattoo Removal

Several factors can affect the ease and success of tattoo removal. These factors include:

  • Tattoo size and ink volume: Larger tattoos with more ink generally require more removal sessions.
  • Ink color: Some colors, such as black and dark blue, respond better to laser removal than others.
  • Tattoo age: Older tattoos tend to fade over time, making them easier to remove.
  • Skin type and color: Darker skin types may require more treatments to avoid skin discoloration.
  • Tattoo location: Tattoos located closer to the heart, where blood circulation is stronger, generally respond better to treatment.

Aftercare And Potential Risks

After each tattoo removal session, it’s crucial to follow the aftercare instructions provided by the practitioner. These instructions are the same for new tattoos and tattoo removal. They include applying an antibiotic ointment, avoiding sun exposure and refraining from picking at any scabs or blisters that form.

While rare, potential risks of tattoo removal can include scarring, skin discoloration and infection. Using an experienced, reputable professional for your tattoo removal can significantly reduce these risks.

Final Thoughts – Removing Your Unwanted ink

Tattoo removal is a significant decision that requires time, money and commitment. It’s important to have realistic expectations about the process, including the potential discomfort, number of sessions required and the final cost.

By understanding the process and considering your options carefully, you can make an informed decision about whether tattoo removal is the right choice for you. Sometimes, coverups and blackout tattoos are the better option.

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Article Sources – Recommended Further Reading

Vagabond takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.

  1. Tattoo Removal: Options and Results
  2. The Kirby-Desai Scale
  3. FDA: Tattoo removal no simple process
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