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Tattoo removal

Nazanin Saedi, MD
Jared Jagdeo, MD, MS
Section Editor
Jeffrey S Dover, MD, FRCPC
Deputy Editor
Abena O Ofori, MD


Tattoo removal is an increasingly common office procedure often performed by dermatologists with special training in tattoo removal. A variety of procedures have been used to remove tattoos, such as laser therapy, surgical excision, and dermabrasion. Quality-switched (Q-switched, QS) lasers are the standard of care for tattoo removal based upon demonstrated efficacy and safety and an extensive history of use for this indication. QS laser treatment can result in good cosmetic outcomes and complete or near-complete removal of many unwanted tattoos.

The approach to tattoo removal will be reviewed here. The epidemiology of tattoos, tattoo placement process, and health risks of tattooing are reviewed separately. (See "Tattooing in adolescents and young adults".)


A tattoo is visible and permanent pigmentation of the skin secondary to the deliberate or accidental deposition of exogenous pigment within the dermis. There are five major subtypes of tattoo [1]:

Professional tattoos: Professional tattoos are decorative tattoos placed by professional tattoo artists and are typically placed with a vibrating needle. Pigment is deposited more deeply and extensively in the dermis than most amateur tattoos, which can make professional tattoos more difficult to remove.

Amateur tattoos: Amateur tattoos are decorative tattoos performed by nonprofessionals. Amateur tattoos are often placed by hand with a needle or other improvised devices. Amateur tattoos are most often black and may contain ingredients such as charcoal, soot, or pen ink.


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Literature review current through: May 2017. | This topic last updated: May 17, 2017.
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