We all make mistakes – some are more permanent than others, like tattoos. Perhaps you’re no longer in love with the person whose name is currently tattooed on your arm, or a tattoo that was once an act of rebellion now just reminds you of uncomfortable memories.
Luckily, you don’t have to live with your mistakes. Not the tattooed kind anyway. There are ways to get that ink to fade away. You could go through laser tattoo removal, or you can decide to add more ink to the area to cover up the unwanted design.
There is a lot to consider when deciding between getting a tattoo permanently removed or covering it up with another design. Laser tattoo removal can rack up quite a bill, but is the option to go for if you don’t want any type of tattoo to be noticeable.
However, if you decide to cover up a tattoo with another tat, you’re going to have to be okay with a bigger, more attention-grabbing design.
Let’s dive into your options.
Laser Tattoo Removal
What Does It Entail?
If there is a foreign entity that doesn’t belong in your body that has taken root in your skin, your immune system will try to do away with it. The reason why tattoo ink stays put is because the ink particles are too large to be removed by your body’s regular system. This is where a laser comes in.
As the American Society of Plastic Surgeons explains,
“Laser treatments work by targeting the ink particles in the skin with highly concentrated light waves that heat up the ink particles and cause them to fragment into smaller particles that are able to be cleared away by the body’s immune system.”
However, this isn’t a one-shot solution – it takes a few sessions for the ink to fade away completely. The amount of sessions you may require depends on the size of your tattoo and the colors in the design, as some colors are more difficult to break down than others.
Also, there is no bunching up your appointments to knock the process off of your to-do list in a month.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons recommends a six-week waiting period between each laser session so that the wound can heal and the body has time to absorb as much ink as possible.
Is It Safe?
Yes, if you go to a reputable clinic with licensed professionals.
Making an appointment with a dermatologist with a lot of experience in the art of removing tattoos is one of your best options to make sure the process is effective and safe.
Getting laser tattoo removal is a serious process that can result in bleeding, cause you pain, and it comes with risks of scaring and infections, so making sure the person wielding the laser knows what they’re doing is vital.
Just like getting a new tattoo, getting a tattoo removed with a laser comes with some aftercare instructions that are important to follow.
Removing a tattoo leaves you with an open wound, so you are susceptible to infections.
Your dermatologist will recommend cleaning the wound regularly with soap and water (use a soap for sensitive skin to avoid any uncomfortable skin reactions) and applying antibiotic ointment until the area is healed.
Perhaps your tattoo experience was an awesome one – you barely felt any pain and your tattoo healed quickly. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have any adverse reactions to getting the ink removed. Lasers can cause permanent scaring as well as skin discoloration.
In 6 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Laser Tattoo Removal in SELF, Dr. Susan Bard, says that if you had a bad allergic reaction to a tattoo and that’s the reason you want to remove it, laser might not be your ideal solution,
“The worst thing you can do is laser tattoo removal. [It could] break up the pigment and bring it into the lymph nodes, which will cause a systemic reaction everywhere.”
This could put a patient at risk of anaphylaxis, a severe and dangerous allergic reaction. If you’re someone who is high risk for anaphylaxis, you should consider other methods of tattoo removal, listed below.
Is Laser 100% Effective?
The short answer is no. The long answer is that the effectiveness of laser removal depends largely on the size of your tattoo, the colors in the design, and you.
Dr Sherrif F. Ibrahim explained to SELF,
“Black tattoos are easier to remove than brightly colored tattoos. Green and blue tend to be a little more challenging, and things like yellow, white, and purple are almost impossible to remove completely.”
For a close to 90% removal of a tattoo with different colors, different lasers may have to be used in the process – so, make sure you go to a clinic that knows its stuff and has a good success rate.
According to dermatologist Dr Susan Bard in SELF, your skin also plays a crucial factor in the success of laser tattoo removal.
“The laser targets pigment that’s in the dye, but at the same time, it can also target melanin in your skin. So, the darker your skin, the more complicated it will be to utilize a laser to remove the tattoo.”
For more on laser tattoo removal, click here.
Is Laser The Only Option For Permanent Tattoo removal?
There are other tattoo removal options to consider if your unwanted tattoo is haunting you.
While dermabrasion is more commonly known as an anti-aging treatment, this procedure has shown effectiveness in removing more than just wrinkles. A grinding tool is used to remove the layers of the skin in an attempt to remove the ink right along with it.
This is not the route to take if you’re trying to avoid the pain or recovery time of laser removal. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons says that this procedure is painful enough to require anesthetic, and the recovery time is longer than if you went under the laser.
If you’re looking for an appointment that won’t require you to arrange a lift home because of general anesthetic, you may want to consider getting a chemical peel. Trichloroacetic acid is an acid that removes layers of the skin, and ink right along with it.
As Tattoo Health explains, TCA promotes skin cell turnover resulting in peeling skin and new skin forming. Over time, the tattoo is lightened – but, this process most likely won’t remove your tattoo completely.
You do have the option of getting a few TCA peels to lighten your tattoo before making your laser appointment – this might lesson the amount of laser sessions you need to remove your ink, saving you some money.
If pain – or knives – don’t frighten you, you could consider surgical excision. This procedure involves cutting the tattoo out of your skin before stitching up the skin to heal.
As this is quite an extreme process, it is not recommended for people who want a large tattoo removed. This route should only be considered for small tattoos that wouldn’t require a lot of skin removal.
Besides the invasiveness of this procedure, other downsides include the need for a general aesthetic and scars.
The best thing to do is to have a consultation with a dermatologist who is experienced in tattoo removal. They will be able to assess your ink and you, explain the options that are suited to your situation, and recommend the best way forward.
Covering Up An Old Tattoo With A New One
If you don’t want to go the removal route, there is an alternative: add more ink.
Your options may be slightly limited here, depending on the tattoo that you want to cover up – the new design you want may not provide ample cover for the old ink.
You’re also going to have to be okay with getting a slightly bigger tattoo. In many instances, to cover an existing tattoo effectively, the new tattoo will have to be bigger, and perhaps with more inked in areas. So, a simplistic design with delicate line work won’t work.
Also, if the tattoo you want to cover up has different hues, color matching is definitely something you will need to take into consideration.
“The pigment of the new ink does not go on top of the pigment of your old tattoo. These two colors get combined to create a new color. There are chances that dark inks will dominate the mixture. For instance, blue and red together turn into purple underneath your skin.”
Focusing on black ink may be the easier route to take when covering up colorful tattoos.
With any tattoo you get, it is vital that you go to an artist who knows what they are doing. In this instance, you should find someone who has experience with covering up and redesigning tattoos.
An artist with experience will know how to integrate the old tattoo into the new one so that they work together to create a design you will love. A new tattoo slapped over an old one with no consideration shown to how the designs could work together could end up as an inky mess.
Don’t Try This At Home
Would you use a kitchen knife and ink from a broken pen to tattoo yourself at home? No? Then don’t try and remove tattoos at home either.
When researching this topic, you may have come across some DIY tattoo removal options – don’t go down this route. Burning a tattoo off of your skin is a serious process, and one that is best left to the professionals.
Just because you can buy an at-home removal kit doesn’t mean you should. Doing this at home yourself can lead to scarring and infections.
Popular methods of DIY tattoo removal range from the downright dangerous – salabrasion – to the laughably ineffective – aloe vera and yoghurt.
Salabrasion involves the removal of your epidermis and then rubbing salt on your tattoo.
According to Healthline, not only does this method not work, you may be left with continued extreme pain and scarring. While aloe vera is a great treatment for rashes, it’s not going to do anything to remove your ink.
Ordering a tattoo removal cream may seem like the responsible, less DIY option for eradicating your unwanted tattoo in the comfort of your own home – think again. There is not one at-home tattoo removal cream on the market that is approved by the FDA.
In the feature Do Tattoo Removal Creams Actually Work? We Asked Dermatologists in Byrdie, dermatologist Dr Robyn Gmyrek explains,
“These creams only penetrate the top layer of the skin, called the epidermis, but the tattoo ink is injected into the deeper layer of your skin called the dermis.”
While the cream might lighten the tattoo, there is also a strong possibility that it will lighten your actual skin around the tattoo. Gmyrek continues,
“In addition, depending on how much tattoo ink you have in the epidermis, if some of the ink is partially removed, the cream can cause distortion or discoloration of the tattoo without actually removing it.”
So, you may end up in a worse position than when you started the removal process – having a tattoo that looks like it’s spent years in the sun without any aftercare tips being followed.
If you take into consideration laser tattoo removal and skilled artists willing to create a new design over an old one, tattoos are no longer all that permanent.
However, laser is a lengthy, expensive process, and there are no guarantees that you won’t still see a line of three of your old tattoo peeking out from behind your new ink.
So, the next time you go under the needle, make sure you are 100% sure that you’re in love with the design (and maybe give that person you’re currently in love with a few more months before getting their name inked on you).
For a full checklist of things to consider before getting a tattoo, click here.