Peter Hibberd, M.D., is a doctor whose advice is based on more than 28 years of hospital outpatient and inpatient experience. He is an experienced emergency medicine physician, surgeon, and consultant. Dr. Hibberd is certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine. He is also a fellow and active member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, an active member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, and a member and fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Hibberd has earned numerous national and international professional certifications, memberships, and awards.

Are Tattoo-Removal Procedures Risky?

Tuesday, 29 Apr 2014 05:31 PM

By Peter Hibberd, M.D.

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Question: I have had a tattoo for 30 years that I would like to have removed, but I've read reports about burns and other problems with laser-removal techniques. Is there any other option?

Dr. Hibberd's answer:
 
Yes, tattoos can be removed, but not always completely. The color and location of some tattoos make them more difficult to remove. Some tattoos cannot safely be removed without the risk of complications, and might be best left alone.
 
Lasers are most commonly used for removal and are relatively safe when used by experienced artists. Burns are unusual, but are increasingly seen as more unregulated tattoo-removal outfits are opened by non-physicians. Most of the time burns are related to metallic elements within the tattoo itself. These metallic fragments may heat up considerably when manipulated, and are the reason why MRI studies may need to be cancelled if metallic paint is thought to be present. Not all tattoo artists use the same components, so it is definitely buyer beware.
 
Excision and grafting procedures are laborious, and dermabrasion will lighten up a tattoo but will not usually clear it totally. Tattoos are designed to be permanent and once they are in place, their removal can be very expensive and in some cases difficult to remove without scarring. The best option is not to get a tattoo in the first place, unless you are certain you want it to last a lifetime. But in your position, you might ask your primary care physician to refer you to a dermatologist or plastic surgeon for additional recommendations on your tattoo-removal options.

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