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What If I Don't Like My Tattoo?

woman with tattoos covering her face

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Perhaps you spent days thinking about your dream body ink and thought you had a definite idea of exactly where you wanted your new tattoo to be on your body. Or maybe, you just felt like trying something new on a whim. Either way, if you're no longer in love with a tattoo, then you're not entirely out of luck. Well, you have two options: laser tattoo removal or a brand-new tattoo cover-up. There's hope for dealing with your unwanted tattoo!

Why You May Not Like Your Tattoo

Tattoos are said to be very addictive, and with that same addiction, many people get tattoos without proper thought first. Maybe the design doesn't really suit your personality, or the end result is unfortunate, and you may find yourself wondering what to do. Other reasons you may have a change in your heart could be faith-based. Regardless of your reason, you can try one of these expert-approved solutions to fix your less than ideal tattoo. 

Tattoo Cover-Up

Tattoo cover-ups are an excellent option for correcting or fixing a tattoo you are unhappy with because it is a new tattoo replacing an old one. "The new tattoo ink will be deposited in the same area of the skin as the old ink. That means that the two colors will combine to create a new color, so often dark inks will dominate," says board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD, FAAD of New York City. Typically, black is "the most effective color to cover any other color," but darker hues can work. And don't stress if you have a lighter tattoo. The paler ink may be useful for hiding the old design King adds. And if your original tattoo is older, then you're in luck because tattoos fade with time, so it's easier to disguise.

If you are considering a tattoo cover-up, you should spend some time seeking an artist the specializes in this type of work. Look at their portfolios and bounce around a few ideas to ensure they can visualize the end piece and make sure you'll be happy with it. 

Today, tattoo artists have nearly limitless potential, so don't hesitate to shop around for a new eye for your design. Perhaps adding a few personalized touches will make you like your tattoo, or your artist may be able to cover it up entirely with something that won't show the original tattoo. Of course, you'll want to make sure you plan a more meaningful tattoo this time so that you avoid a further chance of regret. Study all the different styles of tattooing, and figure out what went wrong the first time around to avoid repetition.

Just remember: the "most important step," according to King, is to visit a reputable establishment that uses antiseptics and is delighted to discuss how they keep their instruments and inks sterile.

Before getting a tattoo cover-up, consider whether you want your tattoo in that same spot. The new tattoo will need to be larger to cover up the old one. So a small, insignificant "first" tattoo that you seek to cover will soon become a larger tattoo in the same spot.

If you really want a new tattoo and have your heart set on your design, is that really where you would place it? If not, then perhaps you could get the tattoo you love in a more suitable spot, and remove the old one with a laser.

Laser Removal

The costlier alternative to ridding yourself of an unwanted tattoo is laser tattoo removal. This process is quite expensive and is actually said to be more painful than getting one, but the results can provide satisfaction as you'll likely be sans-tattoo after the required number of sessions. If you're open to laser tattoo removals, then enlist the help of a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon. 

According to board-certified dermatologist, Caren Campbell, MD, of San Francisco, Pico lasers are the way to go for tattoo removal. "Pico lasers are a newer technology over the last few years. They send energy (fire) at 1/1,000 of a second and this rapid firing allows them to break-up tattoo pigment into smaller-sized tattoo pigment so that the body can clear it out," she explains. "The laser doesn't overheat the skin and instead uses sound waves (photoacoustic effect) to break up the pigment." The amount of sessions needed is dependent on the size, colors, and amount of pigment in your current tattoo. However, anywhere between four to 12 treatments might be necessary for satisfactory results. 

The typical process of laser tattoo removal is first a numbing cream is applied to the tattoo and sits for about 20 to 30 minutes, then the laser treatment begins. "It feels like tiny snaps from a rubber band, and typically the tattoo becomes white and then elevated and red," explains Campbell. After applying ice to the area for five to ten minutes, Vaseline and a non-stick bandage are applied on top of the treatment area. Recovery takes about seven to 10 days and involves sore, peeling, and potentially raw skin.

Tattoo Coverup Aftercare

Now that you have successfully secured a tattoo cover-up staying committed to an aftercare routine is essential to keep your new tat looking great longterm. Just have some patience with maintaining your new body ink. Typically, a small and simple tattoo could heal within two weeks while large tattoos with intricate details could take several months to heal according to King. Below, she reveals her pro-tips for taking care of your tattoo cover-up. 

Keep your tattoo clean

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She suggests you wash your tattoo cover-up gently with antibacterial soap and warm water twice daily. Try a gentle product that lathers up with ease and doesn't strip your skin of hydration after you rinse the soap away with water. The Dial Complete 2 in 1 Moisturizing & Antibacterial Beauty Bar is available in three scents (manuka honey, silk and magnolia, and coconut milk), so it's sure to satisfy your fragrance preferences.

Keep your wound hydrated by applying an ointment:

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"Keeping the wound moist aids in healing because it protects the tissue, provides an environment conducive to wound healing, and forms a protective barrier on the outside of your skin to help prevent infection," says King. She suggests you apply an ointment that contains petrolatum, mineral oil, olive oil, or zinc oxide. And if you've heard that oil-based ointments like Vaseline may cause your tattoo ink to fade, then you can breathe a sigh of relief. According to King, "there is no scientific evidence to support" that notion.

Avoid touching your tattoo:

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"If you rub or scratch, you may damage the skin and increase the risk of infection. If the wound is itchy or painful, apply an ointment with medicinal ingredients that provide temporary relief from the pain and itch.

Say goodbye to bath time and sun exposure:

King also suggests you avoid soaking in a tub or pool (a breeding ground for bacteria) until your tattoo is completely healed and staying away from sun exposure. Instead, protect the exposed skin with loose-fitting clothing. 

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. Hsu VM, Aldahan AS, Mlacker S, Shah VV, Nouri K. The picosecond laser for tattoo removalLasers Med Sci. 2016;31(8):1733–1737. doi:10.1007/s10103-016-1924-9

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