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Tattoo removal

A laser being  used to remove a tattoo
Credit:

damiangretka / Thinkstock

Unwanted tattoos can be removed gradually over a series of sessions using a laser.

The energy from the laser breaks down the tattoo ink into tiny fragments, which are eventually absorbed into the bloodstream and safely passed out of the body.

This process is rarely available on the NHS.

Find out more about tattoo removal on the NHS

What to think about before you have a tattoo removed

Cost

The cost of removing a tattoo will depend on its size and the number of sessions needed.

The price can range from £50 for a single session to remove a small tattoo, to more than £1,000 for several sessions to remove a large tattoo.

Limitations

Tattoo removal has some limitations including: 

  • it can be uncomfortable
  • it's a very slow process – 10 or more sessions may be needed to remove the tattoo
  • many tattoos cannot be completely removed – it's quite common to have some ink left in the skin
  • some colours do not fade as well as others

You should not have a tattoo removed if you:

  • are pregnant – there's a small risk to your baby
  • have a suntan or fake tan – wait for it to fade

Safety

Having a tattoo removed is usually safe if it's done by an experienced and suitably qualified practitioner.

Check the person removing your tattoo is on a register to show they meet set standards in training, skill and insurance.

Registers include:

Avoid practitioners who have only completed a short training course.

Find out more about choosing who will do your cosmetic procedure

What tattoo removal involves

You'll need to shave the area of skin before the appointment.

On the day, you'll be given special goggles to protect your eyes. A local anaesthetic cream may be used to numb the skin.

A handheld device will be pressed on your skin to trigger a laser. Some people say this feels like an elastic band snapping against your skin.

The session will take about 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of your tattoo.

The tattoo should become lighter with each treatment.

A gel is used to cool and soothe your skin, and it might be covered with a dressing.

Afterwards

Your skin may be red with a raised rash for a short while after treatment. Holding an ice pack to your skin may help. Try a packet of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel.

You may have some slight bleeding before your skin scabs over. Use aloe vera gel or Vaseline to help it heal.

Your skin will be more sensitive to the sun. Avoid sun exposure and tanning beds for at least 1 week after a treatment. Cover the area with clothing and use a sunscreen with at least SPF30.

You should avoid:

  • picking or scratching the scab
  • using soap or perfumed products on the area for the first 48 hours
  • strenuous physical activities for a couple of days
  • swimming and saunas until the scab has dropped off (they may slow the healing process)

Risks

Possible risks are:

  • some colours not completely fading – yellow, green and purple ink requires more sessions to fade than black, blue and red
  • a small chance your skin may become temporarily darker or paler than the surrounding skin
  • a slight chance of permanent scarring (3 in 100 people develop a scar)

What to do if you have problems

If you have problems with healing, rashes or skin pigmentation changes, contact the clinic where you were treated.

Speak to the person who treated you if you have any complications that need medical attention. If this is not possible, speak to a GP or go to your local A&E department.

Page last reviewed: 18 September 2019
Next review due: 18 September 2022