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Comparing the Methods of Tattoo Removal

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Tattoos are generally considered to be permanent, at least until you don’t want them anymore. Whether you outgrew or moved on from an idea/person, you want to establish a new look and vibe to yourself, or you just want to create room for a new tattoo, tattoo removal might be the avenue for you.

Once you’ve made the decision that a tattoo needs to go, there are a handful of different methods ranging in effectiveness, safety, and accessibility. Some of these processes include laser tattoo removal, surgical excision, and more. We’ll go more in depth on what each of these methods entail, but first, let’s understand what is being accomplished when you remove a tattoo.

Science Behind Tattoo Removal

Understanding how to remove tattoos starts with understanding tattoo ink molecules and how they sit underneath the skin. A tattoo artist has their trusty tattoo machine equipped with at least one needle, but likely multiple. The needles are dipped in ink and then rapidly poked through your skin by the machine depositing the ink inside.

These injections create a wound, which causes an immune response from your body to these newly introduced molecules. Immune responses consist of, amongst other factors, the sending of white blood cells, which swallow up invading pathogens to neutralize them. However, due to the location within the layers of skin and nature of tattoo ink, this natural removal process takes decades and may never be fully complete. This is why tattoos will fade overtime, but also why they are largely permanent, especially in areas of deep saturation.

To see a significant reduction or complete removal of a tattoo, your body will need outside help. The methods of tattoo removal we will discuss aim to attack the ink molecules by directly removing them or zapping them with enough energy to reduce their size and allow for natural immune responses to remove the now much smaller molecules. Let’s look at the specific methods that are often recommended by artists should you want to remove some ink from your skin.

Effective Tattoo Removal Methods

Laser Tattoo Removal

Arguably the most well-known method for removing tattoos, laser tattoo removal is a tried and true approach. This method utilizes a concentrated, high-power laser called a Q-switched laser. This Q-switched laser sends high energy waves at the ink, which will break down the molecules and allow for your body’s immune response to carry away the pigment.

Because this process utilizes the natural processes, removal is not instantaneous. Laser treatments generally take about 8 to 12 sessions to completely remove a tattoo, with a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks between each session to allow for proper recovery.

The laser tattoo removal process is akin to the initial tattoo process in how you should approach aftercare. Getting and removing a tattoo creates a wound in your skin. Aftercare should include:

  • Antibacterial ointment to heal skin and reduce risk of infection

  • Keeping the area clean and dry

  • Avoiding tight clothing in the area that would cause excessive rubbing

  • Avoiding direct sunlight to the area

At First Class Tattoo in New York City, we utilize the Candela PicoWay laser for our tattoo removals. This FDA approved method has been proven to cause less damage to tissue being worked upon compared to other lasers on the market. Plus, the PicoWay is known for being extremely effective against treatment-resistant red and black ink making it one of the most effective lasers for tattoo removal in the business!

Surgical Excision

Just as it sounds like, surgical excision is the process of surgically removing the tattoo via a scalpel. The skin in the area is numbed, the tattoo is cut out, and the skin is stitched back together. Ointment is put on the skin afterwards to promote healing.

This method can be extremely effective at completely removing a tattoo. However, there are stipulations on when you can go ahead and cut out a tattoo. Typically, surgical excision is only used on smaller pieces because it can leave scars and generally loses practicality when practiced on a large area.


Dermabrasion is another name that is rather self-explanatory; to remove tattoos this way, a specialist will aggressively exfoliate or abrade your skin to remove layers of tissue and gain access to the ink of the tattoo. A high-speed brush or wheel is often used to essentially sand down the skin to reach and remove the ink.

This process, however, has some drawbacks as well. For one, the process is not very precise in the tissue it affects, meaning that nearby, untattooed skin will likely be sanded down as well. What’s more, this process is rather aggressive and yet, still will require multiple treatments, which in turn, leads to more scarring. This is all before dressing the wound that is created, just as the other methods, which will need to be treated to avoid infection.

In general, dermabrasions are best left for small, light tattoos. Any piece with significant size and saturation should be treated with a more practical, precise method.

Non-Effective Tattoo Removal Methods

Tattoo Removal Creams

There exists creams that claim to remove tattoos, but experts agree that they aren’t particularly effective. Tattoo removal creams are generally acidic, made from glycolic acid and trichloroacetic acid (TCA) that are supposed to break down the outer layers of skin to access the tattoo ink. However, these creams are generally unable to reach the depth that the ink sits and instead just damage and irritate the skin above.


Salabrasion is a DIY method of tattoo removal that involves abrading the skin with an aggressive salt rub to remove the layers of skin above the tattoo, eventually reaching and removing the ink. This method is not recommended due to high levels of pain and high risks for infection in the area.

DIY Methods In General

Whether you’re abrading yourself with salt or cutting your skin to remove a tattoo, self-operations at home are highly discouraged by health professionals. The chances for infection increase tremendously, the scars are large and ugly, and there is no guarantee that you will even effectively remove the tattoo to begin with.

Pain Management During Tattoo Removal

The uncomfortable truth for some people is that the tattoo removal process is generally a process that involves pain. There are ways to prepare, however. Treatments like Cryo Zimmer can help alleviate pain alongside pain medications and other practical steps in pain management.

Tattoo Removal Aftercare

Generally speaking, tattoo removal aftercare mimics the aftercare required for the initial tattoo. This includes ointment on the affected area to promote healing and protect against infections. Keeping the area out of direct sunlight is essential along with preventing any clothing from rubbing the area, which can often be accomplished by wearing loose clothing.


Just as with getting a tattoo, removing a tattoo is best left to professionals. Starting with a consultation with a professional in the tattoo removal industry is a great way to start and decide which method is the best approach for your piece. To get a consultation for your piece, you can contact First Class Tattoo and their tattoo removal team. From there, you can find an approach that will work for your desires and begin removing your tattoo in no time!

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