Tattoos are a unique and beautiful form of self-expression – one that is growing rapidly in popularity. Tattoos have gone from rough, dirty, and taboo, to professional, clean, respected, and widely accepted. While it is great to see society move in the direction of acceptance, it doesn’t come without pitfalls. Young people may feel they need to get a tattoo to fit in, or they may sincerely want one but aren’t mature enough to make the decision.

Unfortunately, not all mistakes can be avoided and with the increasing number of tattoos, comes an increased need and desire for removal. Tattoo removal services have become more common in recent days as more and more people want to have regrettable tattoos eliminated. Tattoo removal is progressing as the demand increases, but technology is still in its early stages and is not always 100 percent effective.

Can any tattoo be removed?

While many tattoos can be removed, full removal is not possible for all tattoos. There are a lot of tattoos that will disappear completely, while others will be more difficult and only fade.

Tattoo removal is a fairly new concept, and research is still being done and developments are still being made. As it stands right now, not every tattoo is removable, and not every person is a good candidate for the removal process! It is not a simple ordeal and there are many factors that come into play when deciding whether you should attempt to remove your tattoo.

Technology is Still limited

Laser tattoo removal is the most recent, and currently the most effective method of removing a tattoo. Progress is always being made and improvements will come as time passes, but the technology is still limited right now.

Generally speaking, black and grey tattoos are easier and faster to remove. For full-color tattoos, different wavelengths need to be used to target different colors. This will add a great deal of time to the process, and full removal still won’t even be guaranteed. Green and blue are challenging colors to remove, while white, purple, and yellow can be next to impossible to get rid of completely.

The Ink

Whether or not a tattoo can be fully removed will also depend on the type of ink that was used, how far into the skin it was placed, and whether or not it was done professionally.

Tattoos that are done at a professional tattoo shop will likely be more difficult to remove. These tattoos will usually include a wider variety of shades and colors, and the ink will be deposited further into the skin. If a tattoo is quite heavily saturated or even over-saturated, it will make things even more difficult and more sessions will be required.

Many people end up wanting tattoos removed because they were done poorly, and by an amateur. Getting tattooed by anyone other than a trained professional is always a bad idea, but the good news is that amateur tattoos are typically easier to remove. The inks are often carbon-based and tend to be placed more superficially on the skin. They are most often also only a single color.


The age of a tattoo will also play a role in determining the success of removal. Older tattoos have been sitting there for a while and the ink has had time to diffuse upward, making it easier for the laser to break up. Older tattoos are also more prone to fading and faded ink will come out more easily.

Tattoo Location

There are certain areas of the body where removing a tattoo will be more difficult. Areas like the feet, lower legs, and hands have a limited vascular supply and heal more slowly. These areas will require more treatments and may have a lower success rate than places such as the back and chest.

Layered Tattoos

Cover-up attempts are often made when someone wants to get rid of an unwanted tattoo. While coverups can be successful, they are extremely difficult to do well. If what you are trying to remove is a cover-up gone wrong you will be needing a large volume of sessions, and chances are it will not even be removed fully. Cover-ups usually need to be both darker and larger than the original in order to be effective, and it will result in multiple layers of ink.

Scarring and Damage

If you got your tattoo done at a professional shop by an artist who knows what they are doing, you are likely to have little to no scarring or damage. However, that is not always the case. Inexperienced artists may still make mistakes and overwork the skin.

Tattoos done by amateurs outside of a professional environment will almost always have damage to the skin as the person tattooing won’t have any proper training or guidance. There are some cases where skin can become incredibly damaged and the tattoo can leave behind heavy scarring.

Wherever it may have come from, if you have any scarring or other tissue damage on the tattoo, this will make removal very tricky. Any ink that resides underneath that hardened scar tissue will require many more treatments to remove.

It is important to note that the removal process itself can sometimes leave scarring as well, even on a tattoo that healed perfectly the first time around.

Skin Color

Skin color is a significant variable in the success of tattoo removal. Laser tattoo removal will be more effective on those with lighter skin tones. This is because lighter colored skin absorbs much less of the laser light, therefore allowing most of the energy to focus on the pigment of the tattoo.

Darker skin tones will attract some of the laser away from the pigment, leaving less energy to be focused on the tattoo. Operators will often also use lower energy settings to begin with on those with darker skin tones, as they will be more susceptible to the undesirable side effects caused by the laser.

Darker skin will also carry a risk of hypo-pigmentation during the removal process. This is when the laser actually removes pigment from your skin as well as the tattoo itself. Those with darker skin tones should proceed with a lot of caution when considering laser tattoo removal.


This is not a factor very many people will consider, but regular smoking will have an impact on the success of your tattoo removal. A 2010 study showed that subjects who were regular smokers have a 70% lower removal rate after 10 sessions than those who were non-smokers. This is most likely related to the effect that smoking can have on the healing of wounds.

Removal Can Take Years

Very large and heavily saturated tattoos may still be a candidate for removal, depending on the colors, but the process can potentially take several years. This would be with sessions occurring every several weeks. It can be a big commitment that you really need to think about as it is not an easy procedure. It is invasive, painful, and expensive. A single session can sometimes cost several hundred dollars, so full removal of a difficult tattoo may cost thousands by the time it’s all done.

Unwanted Side Effects

There are many side effects that are common and normal, but certainly not pleasant. They are things to consider when you are thinking about committing to the removal of a large or difficult tattoo. Especially if complete removal is not going to be possible, ask yourself if the side effects will be worth it!

In addition to the unavoidable and sometimes intense pain that comes with laser removal, some side effects you may experience are:

  • Tenderness
  • Redness
  • Blistering
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Scabbing

More serious side effects can include burning, permanent scarring, and infection.

Healing Time

The time it takes to heal after a laser treatment session will, of course, vary by person. Things like your current health and the strength of your immune system will all play a part, but most of the healing will usually happen within the first 72 hours. Negative reactions and/or infections will increase the healing time.

It is very common for healing to take the longest after the first session. It can sometimes take up to two weeks to heal from the very first treatment, but this time will go down as you progress through your treatments. With each session, you will have less ink to remove which will result in less damage to the skin.

The unfortunate reality is that not all tattoos can be removed fully. Many can, and most small tattoos will be gone after only a few sessions. Certain large tattoos can be fully removed as well, although they will require a bigger commitment of both time and money.

If you have a tattoo that is not going to come out completely, you can consider having it lightened over a few sessions, enough so that it can be easily covered up. Do your research and make sure your removal is being done by a trained professional with proper equipment. Assess the risks and make sure the removal is worth the process.