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Tattoo Removal

Patients request removal of a tattoo for a variety of reasons — social, cultural or physical. Some patients develop an allergic reaction to a tattoo several years after the initial application. Because each tattoo is unique, removal techniques must be tailored to suit each individual case. For instance, professionally applied tattoos tend to penetrate the deeper layers of the skin at uniform levels. This uniformity allows dermasurgeons to use techniques that remove broader areas of inked skin at the same depth.

Homemade tattoos are often applied with an uneven hand and their removal may be more difficult. Deeper blue and black ink colors are particularly difficult to remove. Professional tattoos made with some of the newer inks and pastel colors may also be difficult to remove entirely.

Removing Tattoos

Tattoos can be removed by a dermasurgeon on an outpatient basis with local anesthesia. The most common techniques used are:

Laser Surgery

The surgeon removes the tattoo by selectively treating the pigment colors with a high-intensity laser beam. Lasers have become the standard treatment because they offer a "bloodless," low risk, highly effective approach with minimal side effects. The type of laser used generally depends upon the pigment colors. In many cases, multiple treatments may be required.


The surgeon "sands" the skin, removing the surface and middle layers of the tattoo. The combination of surgical and dressing techniques helps to raise and absorb the tattoo inks. View the dermabrasion fact sheet for more information.

Surgical Excision

The surgeon removes the tattoo with a scalpel and closes the wound with stitches. This technique proves highly effective in removing some tattoos and allows the surgeon to excise inked areas with great control.

Side Effects or Complications

Side effects are generally minor, but may include skin discoloration at the treatment site, infection of the tattoo site, lack of complete pigment removal, or some scarring. A raised or thickened scar may appear three to six months after the tattoo is removed.

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