What You Need to Know About Tattoo Removal

Blonde woman with sunglasses, and a shoulder tattoo peeking out from under a burgundy blazer
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A tattoo is the very definition of body art. Hopefully, it has a special meaning, and that's why you chose to have it permanently inked on yourself. But unfortunately, tattoo regrets are a real thing. If you have a tat that you're ready to have partially or completely removed, you've got some options.

Laser Removal

Lasers are the most common method of tattoo removal. They work by targeting the tattoo with pulses of highly concentrated light that break the ink into tiny fragments, which are then cleared away by your own immune system (science, but also kind of magical).

However, this isn't all done with just one treatment. The more treatments you have, the more the laser can penetrate to break up the ink. The kicker: More treatments also mean more damage you can potentially do to your skin, causing painful blisters and scabs that can eventually lead to scarring.

Experts in removal therapy say that technology has advanced to the point where scarring is minimal, sometimes nonexistent, but this varies depending on the situation and the person.

On top of being physically painful (it's been described as feeling like being splattered with hot grease), laser removal can hurt your wallet, too. Depending on your tattoo, you may need anywhere from one to 10 sessions, each costing an average of more than $400, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. A large color tattoo could cost thousands of dollars to remove, and the effectiveness still isn't guaranteed.

Fading With Saline

Some tattoo artists claim they can fade a tattoo by tattooing (not injecting) saline solution into the area where the old ink is. This might be most effective on older tattoos, but even then, it's not very reliable.

Sometimes this method is used for fading a tattoo to make it easier to cover up with a new one. There's some controversy among tattoo artists over whether this technique works, and it is not a method the FDA acknowledges, so finding an artist that does it might be difficult.

A Cover-Up Tattoo

If you have a tattoo you just don't like, there's a simpler alternative to having it removed—with less pain and less strain on your budget. A cover-up involves covering an old tattoo with a new one.

Many tattoo artists are skilled in doing cover-up jobs and can help you come up with a design that you'll be much happier to live with. These usually cost the same as a regular tattoo. When done correctly, a cover-up makes your old tattoo completely invisible, reducing it to a memory.

When coming up with a cover-up tattoo, discuss color and design with a talented artist. A dark tattoo can only be covered with dark ink and a design with too many spaces and blank areas won't work to effectively obscure an old tattoo. 

If you're looking to get a tattoo covered, it's important to find a tattoo artist who has experience in doing them and can prove it with examples in their portfolio. Once a tattoo has been covered up, it's very difficult—if not nearly impossible—to do it again.

The Other Kind of Cover-Up

If these options don't work for you, there's always concealer. Make Up For Ever Full Cover Concealer ($32) truly does provide incredible full coverage. What tattoo?

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Khunger N, Molpariya A, Khunger A. Complications of tattoos and tattoo removal: stop and think before you inkJ Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2015;8(1):30-36. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.155072

  2. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. How much does tattoo removal cost?

  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Tattoo removal: options and results. Updated June 22, 2017.

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