Tattoos & permanent makeup (cont.)

Methods for removing tattoos include laser treatments, abrasion, scarification, and surgery. Some people attempt to camouflage an objectionable tattoo with a new one. Each approach has drawbacks:

  • Laser treatments can lighten many tattoos, some more easily and effectively than others. Generally, several visits are necessary over a span or weeks or months, and the treatments can be expensive. Some individuals experience hypopigmentation -- a lightening of the natural skin coloring -- in the affected area. Laser treatments also can cause some tattoo pigments to change to a less desirable shade.

    Unfortunately, knowing what pigments are in your tattoo or permanent makeup has always been difficult and has become more so as the variety of tattoo inks has multiplied. Inks are often sold by brand name only, not by chemical composition. Because the pigments are sold to tattoo parlors and salons, not on a retail basis to consumers, manufacturers are not required by law to list the ingredients on the labels. Furthermore, because manufacturers may consider the identity and grade of their pigments "proprietary," neither the tattooist nor the customer may be able to obtain this information.

    There also have been reports of individuals suffering allergic reactions after laser treatments to remove tattoos, apparently because the laser caused allergenic substances in the tattoo ink to be released into the body.

  • Dermabrasion involves abrading layers of skin with a wire brush or diamond fraise (a type of sanding disc). This process itself may leave a scar.

  • Salabrasion, in which a salt solution is used to remove the pigment, is sometimes used in conjunction with dermabrasion, but has become less common.

  • Scarification involves removing the tattoo with an acid solution and creating a scar in its place.

  • Surgical removal sometimes involves the use of tissue expanders (balloons inserted under the skin, so that when the tattoo is cut away, there is less scarring). Larger tattoos may require repeated surgery for complete removal.

  • Camouflaging a tattoo entails the injection of new pigments either to form a new pattern or cover a tattoo with skin-toned pigments. Dr. Toombs notes, however, that injected pigments tend not to look natural because they lack the skin's natural translucence.

Temporary tattoos, such as those applied to the skin with a moistened wad of cotton, fade several days after application. However, some colors are not approved for temporary tattoos. Henna is approved only for use as a hair dye, not for direct application to the skin. Also, henna typically produces a reddish brown tint, raising questions about what ingredients are added to produce the varieties of colors labeled as "henna," such as "black henna" and "blue henna."


Last Editorial Review: 6/14/2012

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