So that fun night out many moons ago on your college spring break yielded a couple of unexpected results -- a missed return flight the next day and a freshly inked "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" forearm tattoo. Before you decide you're bound to a life of long-sleeve shirts, take heart in knowing that tattoos aren't as permanent as they used to be. In fact, you have several options for getting rid of a tattoo, ranging from laser treatment to surgical removal of the skin. These all range in price and effectiveness, so here's the breakdown of what you need to know.
Know your options
If you're seriously considering tattoo removal, it's important to research your options before making an appointment to see a doctor:
Laser removal uses a laser beam to break the ink into particles. These particles are eventually removed via your lymphatic system. This is the most common method used today, and it's also the most expensive.
Excision is a surgical procedure where the tattooed skin is cut out and the remaining edges are sewn together.
Dermabrasion is a process where the actual layer of tattooed skin is essentially sanded off, revealing new skin. Sounds fun, huh?
Fading creams could be a good option if doctors aren't in your budget and you have a light-colored and small tattoo.
Camouflage is ideal if it's simply your particular tattoo that you're opposed to -- you can always cover it up with a new and improved design.
Know the risks and limitations
The ultimate goal of having a tattoo removed is that your skin looks like it never had a tattoo in the first place. But, there are limitations that you should know going in. Successful removal depends on many factors, such as your skin color, how long you've had the tattoo, how deep it is, how many colors there are and specifically what colors it's made up of. Color inherently fades over time, so older tattoos with fewer colors are the best candidates. Laser tattoo removal can alter your pigment, so fair skin tends to work better than darker shades. And fatty areas such as your arms, chest and derriere are easier to work on than bony wrists and ankles. But there is always a chance that there could be scarring or remnants of color. Yellow, purple and turquoise are the most difficult colors to remove, but black and dark green are the easiest.
Know why you're doing it
It's understandable that the skull tattoo on your shoulder doesn't really complement your Greta Garbo-inspired bridal gown. But your wedding dress isn't your everyday garb, so before speed dialing your dermatologist, consider some other options. A strategically placed flower or piece of jewelry can do wonders for a temporary cover up, and don't underestimate the capabilities of body makeup. Angelina Jolie has tats out the wazoo, and rarely do you see them on screen. But if your style has evolved into more glam than Goth, maybe it is time to lose the barbed wire armband.
Know the cost vs benefit
If you thought you were shelling out some dineros to get your tattoo, that was nothing compared to how much it will cost to remove it.
Dermabrasion is less expensive than laser and a lot quicker, but it pretty much comes with a guarantee of scarring, and it could cause infection or permanent discoloration. It's also the most painful option.
Excision is also cheaper than laser removal, and it's a good option if you want to get it over with quickly, and you don't mind a small scar. You'll be under the knife, but it's generally an outpatient procedure performed with a local anesthetic.
Choosing the right removal method
In addition to time and money, there are a few other considerations that will dictate the best method of removal for your tattoo:
Laser seems to work best for folks with good immune systems, paler skin and a deep wallet. Different lasers are required for different colors, and seem to be most effective at removing tattoos with black, dark blue and dark orange colors.
Unfortunately, there isn't a laser that's adequate at removing turquoise, so dermabrasion might be a better option for colors that the laser doesn't respond well to. But, dermabrasion isn't recommended for facial tattoos because of the scarring, and it's also not as effective on older tattoos or deep tattoos, since it just deals with the top layers of skin.
Excision is a good choice for small tattoos in fatty areas that have looser skin. It's also more effective than laser and dermabrasion at removing deep tattoos. But if the color is super deep, it could require a skin graft.