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For most of the tattooed population, our tattoos are something we would never dream of parting with, and not just because of the cost involved. According to recent surveys though, up to about 17 percent of tattooed Americans have considered a tattoo removal. So how exactly do you remove a tattoo anyway? 

There are many reasons that someone might decide to get a tattoo removed. Perhaps the tattoo art wasn’t done right or doesn’t look the way it’s supposed to.  Or maybe it includes the name of an ex, or has some affiliation with a group to which you no longer belong. Whatever the reason, removal is definitely a longer process than the original tattooing itself was. Here’s what you need to know:

There are a few basic methods of tattoo removal, and these include a cover-up, excision, dermal fading, cosmetic cover, and laser treatment.  A cover-up is basically a new tattoo used to cover an old one that you no longer like. Many people who have multiple pieces of body art and simply wish to cover a name, lettering, or a small element of a tattoo they dislike choose to get a cover-up.  These are generally on par price-wise with regular tattooing, though they may involve slightly longer healing and more sessions than the original tattoo. 

Excision is surgical removal, which is currently used in conjunction with skin grafts primarily for larger or multi-layered tattooing that would be very difficult to remove via laser. In this method complete removal is of course possible in one fell swoop, but it can be costly and is likely to leave some type of mild scarring when used for larger areas. 

Dermal fading includes methods like dermabrasion and fading balms, which either slough off the top layers of skin repeatedly or soak into them in an attempt to fade inks out through the epidermis. These practices generally take several months or years to reach their full effect and for most users will fade a tattoo, but not completely. 

Cosmetic cover is a temporary method applied when necessary to hide the tattoo rather than actually remove it.  In recent years this has come to include everything from various makeup products, to flesh colored microfiber sleeves, and even skin colored temporary tattoos that work in layers to hide ink like a band aid.

And finally, laser removal, is the most effective and widely used form of tattoo removal for those who require permanent fading. This type of service has evolved tremendously since the 1980s and currently uses primarily Q-switched type lasers to penetrate the dermis and break down ink molecules. These broken down particles are then absorbed by the body, allowing for a gradual fade of the tattoo.  For most tattooing, more than one session will be required, and though costly, results are generally very pleasing.  Because the laser will use different frequency pulses to target different colors of ink, certain hues are easier treated than others. Blacks and darker blues and reds will be easier to fade than lighter greens, yellows and oranges, and soft purples. With most laser removal procedures, topical anesthetic will be used to alleviate some of the discomfort (which is often compared to being snapped with a rubber band), and there is low risk of permanent scarring.

With all of these options available in the modern era, those who need to “fix” their tattoo art can certainly rest easy with the idea that “permanent” isn’t entirely, well, permanent

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