What you can expect

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Tattoo removal is often done as an outpatient procedure with local anesthesia. Common techniques for tattoo removal include laser surgery, dermabrasion and surgical removal.

Laser surgery

Q-switched lasers — which release energy in a single, powerful pulse — are often the treatment of choice for tattoo removal. Before laser treatment, the skin is numbed with an injection of a local anesthetic. Then a powerful pulse of energy is applied to the tattoo to heat and shatter the tattoo ink. Multicolored tattoos might need treatment with various lasers and different wavelengths. After the procedure, you might notice swelling and possibly blistering or bleeding. Antibacterial ointment can help promote healing. You'll likely need repeated sessions to lighten the tattoo, and it might not be possible to completely erase the tattoo.

Dermabrasion

During dermabrasion, the tattooed area is typically chilled until numb. Then the tattooed skin is sanded down to deeper levels with a high-speed rotary device that has an abrasive wheel or brush. This allows the tattoo ink to leach out of the skin. The affected area might feel sore and raw for up to 10 days after the procedure. During this time, it's important to treat the affected area gently. You might need to use antibacterial ointment and cover the affected area with special bandages. Like laser surgery, dermabrasion might not completely erase the tattoo.

Surgical removal

During surgical removal, the skin is numbed with an injection of a local anesthetic. The tattoo is removed with a scalpel, and the edges of skin are stitched back together. After the procedure, antibacterial ointment can help promote healing. Surgical tattoo removal is effective — but it leaves a scar and might be practical only for small tattoos.

Mar. 10, 2012