Is Tattoo Removal Painful?

Multiple sessions of treatment may be needed to complete tattoo removal.
Multiple sessions of treatment may be needed to complete tattoo removal.

Yes, tattoo removal is painful and may cause a certain amount of irritation to the area being treated. The intensity of pain may not be the same for everyone because each person has their own pain threshold. Tattoo removal treatments can also vary in pain depending on the area being treated. Areas with more fat like the arms and legs are generally not as painful as the neck, ankle, or finger that are close to a bone and have less fat. People who undergo tattoo removal described the pain as a hot rubber band snapped on your skin or sunburn scratched. A few people say it is a little bit more painful than being tattooed, but it is a lot quicker.

Multiple sessions of treatment may be needed to complete tattoo removal.

Before tattoo removal, high potency lidocaine cream may be applied on the area to numb the pain. Throughout the process, the tattooed skin may be treated with ice packs or cool spray to decrease the intensity of the pain.

How does tattoo removal work?

Tattoos are permanent, as the ink is inserted deep into the skin by the needles.

  • Tattoo removal requires using an ultra-short pulse laser. These lasers work by emitting extremely hot blasts, in short, quick bursts to heat up and break apart the ink particles. They work at an extremely fast speed; some blasts are as quick as one trillionth of a second. The speed plays a significant role in the effectiveness of removal.
  • Ink color matters because they absorb different wavelengths. The immune system thinks of it as an intruder. Like other injuries to the skin, white blood cells will spring into action to protect the body.
  • The white blood cells will attempt to break down the ink, though very slowly. They will also carry small parts of it to the liver, where the ink will be processed and discharged.
  • Once the laser breaks the ink down into smaller pieces, the white blood cells seize them and carry them to the liver so they can be flushed out along with other foreign objects and toxins in the body.


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What are the different ways to remove a tattoo?

Common techniques for tattoo removal include laser surgery, surgical removal, and dermabrasion.

  • Laser surgery: Most common way to remove a tattoo. Before laser treatment, the skin is numbed with local anesthesia. Then a powerful pulse of energy is applied to the tattoo to heat and shatter the tattoo ink. Multicolored tattoos might need treatment with various lasers and different wavelengths. An individual may need repeated sessions to lighten the tattoo, and it might not be possible to completely erase the tattoo.
  • Surgery: Surgical tattoo removal is effective only on small tattoos, but it leaves a scar. During surgical removal, the skin is numbed with an injection of local anesthesia. The tattoo is removed with a scalpel, and the edges of the skin are stitched back together.
  • Dermabrasion: During dermabrasion, the tattooed area is typically chilled until numb. Then the tattooed skin is sanded down to deeper levels with a high-speed rotary device that has an abrasive wheel or brush. This allows the tattoo ink to leach out of the skin.
  • Chemical peels: This procedure may not require anesthesia. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels can also be used to remove tattoos. TCA is a mild acid that is applied to the skin to remove the outer layers of the skin and the tattoo ink.

What are the side effects of the tattoo removal process?

The most common side effects include:

  • Redness
  • Soreness
  • Sensitive skin
  • Swelling
  • Bleeding
  • Blisters
  • Hyperpigmentation (dark patches of skin)
  • Hypopigmentation (light patches of skin)
  • Infection

How to take care of skin after the tattoo removal process?

It is considered that the first 24 hours after the process is crucial for better healing of the skin. The healing process may be enhanced by following the below steps:

  • Apply a cold compress to help reduce the inflammation or discomfort that may likely occur
  • Avoid physical activities and hot shower during the first 36 hours
  • Avoid using any type of makeup for 48 hours after undergoing the removal process
  • Avoid using any non prescribed medication or cream on the treated spot for the first 24 hours
  • Apply ointment, such as antibacterial cream or Neosporin, on the treated spot for at least 3 days
  • Dressing on the treated skin may need to be changed every day
  • For at least 2 weeks, limit exposure to the sun, pool water, hot tubs, or saltwater
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