While you might have to touch up a tattoo from time to time to restore its vibrancy, tattoos themselves are permanent fixtures.
The art in a tattoo is created in the middle layer of skin called the dermis, which doesn’t shed skin cells like the outer layer, or epidermis.
The good news is that, just like tattooing methods have evolved, so have the options of removal.
In fact, some DIY tattoo removal kits you can buy on the internet may lead to dangerous side effects.
For permanent tattoo removal, you’re better off leaving the process up to a dermatologist or dermatologic surgeon. If you’re thinking about getting rid of a tattoo, learn more about which methods work — and which don’t.
Perhaps you’ve grown tired of your tattoo, or you’re looking for a quick and affordable way to remove it for a job or big event.
The DIY methods you can find online simply aren’t strong enough to remove pigments from the dermis — most of them affect the epidermis only. Some methods can even damage the skin and lead to unpleasant side effects.
Below are some of the most touted at-home tattoo removal methods and why they don’t work.
Salabrasion is an extremely dangerous tattoo removal process that involves the removal of your epidermis and then rubbing salt in its place. Not only does the method not work, but you may be left with continued extreme pain and scarring.
Aloe vera and yogurt
Another tattoo removal trend being spread online is the use of aloe vera and yogurt. While not necessarily harmful, there’s no evidence that topical aloe vera can work
The use of sand for tattoo removal is designed to mimic the effects of professional dermabrasion. However, there’s no evidence that rubbing sand on your tattoo will remove any of the pigment — you may instead be left with cuts, rashes, and possible infection.
DIY tattoo removal creams and ointments are available to purchase online. However, the FDA hasn’t approved of these due to lack of clinical evidence, as well as their side effects such as rashes and scarring.
As a common DIY skin lightener, lemon juice is prominent in at-home skin care recipes. However, the ingredient is highly acidic, leading to rashes and sensitivity, especially when combined with sun exposure.
Salicylic acid is a common exfoliating agent seen in skin care products. While the ingredient works to remove dead skin cells, this is only done at the skin’s surface. Salicylic acid won’t penetrate to tattoo pigments in the dermis.
Glycolic acid is a type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that’s more potent than salicylic acid because it can help remove the outer layer of skin. However, this again only works on the epidermis, so the ingredient isn’t useful for tattoo removal.
Professional tattoo removal is ideal because you’ll likely get results compared to at-home methods that only target the epidermis.
Keep in mind that professional removal can still lead to side effects, including:
The available methods of professional tattoo removal include laser surgery, excision, and dermabrasion.
Laser removal is the one of the methods of tattoo removal approved by the FDA.
The process works by using high-energy lasers that reach the dermis and absorb tattoo pigments. Complete removal takes time, as some of the pigments are excreted through the body, and you’ll need several sessions.
Another way you can completely remove a tattoo is via surgery — this method tends to work best for smaller tattoos.
During the process, a dermatologic surgeon cuts the tattoo out of your skin with a scalpel, and then stitches up the wound back in place.
Dermabrasion is a common anti-aging skin care technique that uses a sanding-like device to remove the outer layers of your skin. This method is also used as a cheaper, less invasive alternative to laser removal and surgical excision.
The biggest downside is that the procedure can leave behind significant redness for up to three months.
Patience goes a long way when you’re under the needle getting a tattoo, and the same principle holds true when you’re removing one.
Work with a dermatologist to determine the best way to have your tattoo removed professionally. Don’t rely on kits and topical products you can buy online — there’s no evidence that these work, and they can lead to side effects.
Also, keep in mind that even professional tattoo removal can leave behind scars. You may want to consider other camouflaging methods as well, such as body makeup.