My Experience Lightening and Removing My Tattoo at Home
I wrote this article detailing the process I went through after getting a tree tattoo that I wasn't very happy with. I also had an older barbed wire tattoo that I wanted to get rid of.
I researched every possible method to remove or lighten them both. I wanted to find something that wouldn't cause me too much pain and that wouldn't scar horribly. I wasn't sure what was going to work, so I tried a lot of different things. Home tattoo removal worked with fading and lightening, but it was slow and didn't completely erase my tats. In the end, lasering the tattoo was the most effective solution for me.
If you still want to try some DIY tattoo removal methods, read about the results I had with each before you try any of them.
First Week After Trying Home Tattoo Removal Methods
How to Remove a Tattoo at Home
Tattoo Fading Methods That Work
- Hydrogen Peroxide: This faded and lightened my tattoo. I saw major results, but the ink still remained below the surface.
- Lemon Juice: Although lemon juice is used as a bleaching agent, its effect will only work on the top layer of your skin and cannot penetrate beneath that layer to remove tattoo pigments.
- Salicylic Acid: I experienced some fading. This is another ingredient that works great on the epidermis but cannot penetrate into the layers of skin where the ink sits.
- Exfoliation: I used pumice stones to rub away my skin, and I even put on salicylic acid afterwards (it burned!). Like dermabrasion, exfoliation is intended to slough off the upper layer of skin and promote the growth of new skin that would hopefully cover up the tattoo. The results were minimal.
- Removal Creams: Whether you use a specific cream for tattoo removal, like Wrecking Balm, or a lightening cream, like Skin Doctors SD White, you will end up spending a lot on these products before you see some fading.
Home Tattoo Removal Methods That Don't Work
- Salt: This is a dangerous method because you need to rub the salt into the dermis (the second layer of your skin where the ink sits). In order to do that, you would need to somehow rub away the epidermis (the top layer of skin). If you succeed at getting salt into the dermis, then skin pigmentation and scarring will occur, not to mention, this method will burn your skin and cause a really painful rash.
- Vaseline: There is a myth that Vaseline will draw out ink, but that is just not true. The reason why people advise not to apply a petroleum-based ointment after getting a new tattoo is not because it will fade the tattoo but because it blocks your skin from breathing, which can cause an infection.
- Glycolic Acid: As a natural exfoliator, this gentle ingredient can only slough off dead skin on the upper layer.
- Aloe Vera: This is a myth. Aloe vera is used to heal cuts, wounds, and sunburns, so it would be a great ingredient to use after tattoo removal but not for the purpose of removing it.
Safe Alternative Ways to Get Rid of Your Tattoo
- Makeup: Depending on the location and size of your tat, applying makeup to a tattoo everyday can be a nuisance. But if you have a small one on your hand, you can easily conceal it using inexpensive makeup. The results are undetectable!
- Cover-Up Tattoo: You can try to cover up your unwanted tattoo with a cover-up tattoo. Talk to your tattoo artist. They will know what design is best for concealing. Talented tattoo artists can come up with some really cool and creative coverups that will make it look like you never had an ugly tattoo to begin with.
The Tattoo Removal Methods I Tried at Home
I started using these a few days after getting the tree tattoo.
Neostrata 10% Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Cream
I thought using an exfoliating cream every day might help fade the barbed wire. Glycolic acid is a natural exfoliant derived from sugar and works by sloughing off skin, so I thought it could fade the tattoo.
At only 10%, it was probably not strong enough for me to see any sort of change, but I also put it on the tree tattoo as well to try and lighten it.
Skin Doctors SD White
This is a skin-lightening product that contains emblica, which has the same effect as hydroquinone (a skin lightener), but emblica is safer to use. I am fairly certain that some of the official tattoo removal creams contain emblica. This process took some time as results did not show for weeks after I began.
I started with those two products while I was still researching other options. Exfoliating with glycolic acid and lightening with emblica seemed like a good start, but I did not see fast results. I needed a much higher dose of glycolic acid to see fast results. I went shopping again, but I continued to use these products.
Soluver Wart Treatment (20% Salicylic Acid)
I figured I'd need to open the skin before using this as the instructions say to scrub off the top portion of your wart and then apply the salicylic acid, meaning it needed to get under the skin to work. 20% salicylic acid will burn like crazy when put on an open wound. Keep that in mind!
Three Pumice Stones
I needed a way to open up my skin so the wart treatment could get under it. Yes, this hurt. It wasn't so much the rubbing away of the skin but applying the acid into it that will burn your brains out.
I only rubbed away a small portion of my barbed wire, as a test. I plan on doing this slowly, in small spots. This is unlike going to a dermatologist who will use a sander on your entire tattoo during your dermabrasion tattoo removal appointment.
As I did more research, I found out some other helpful information.
I learned that Vaseline is horrible on new tattoos and will draw the ink out, so of course, I had to get some. I had no idea if it would effect my barbed wire tattoo since it was older. But I reasoned that if my barbed wire had a wound in it, it might draw the ink out since the new tattoo is just a big wound.
It is also not a good idea to smother your new tattoo. It's best to keep it dry and let it heal on it's own. I was doing everything in reverse here.
Polysporin Triple Action
This is another big no-no to put on new tattoos, so, of course, I put it on.
This was probably my craziest experiment. I put this on a small portion of my barbed wire and left it there. Then, I put on salicylic acid afterwards. When it was dry, I added Polysporin and Vaseline and covered it.
Then, I let it air out and form a scab. I had no idea whether Nair was actually doing anything while it was on my skin. I couldn't feel anything. I only felt something when I took it off. Then, I realized it had indeed burned my skin.
Does Home Tattoo Removal Work?
If done consistently, natural methods and creams do fade tattoos over time, but they cannot completely remove tattoos.
Popular Ways to Get Rid of a Tattoo
- Laser: The fastest, safest, and most effective way to remove an unwanted tattoo is laser. Laser works by repeatedly targeting the ink with pulses of highly concentrated light, which breaks the ink into tiny fragments that are then naturally removed by your body.
- Surgical Excision: Until laser was invented, surgical excision was the only way to remove an unwanted tat. This process involves cutting away the tattooed area and stitching the skin back together. Scarring is likely to occur with this method, but there are good reasons why one might choose surgical excision over laser.
- Dermabrasion: This method uses a rotating device with a rough surface to sand away the upper layer of skin. As with surgical excision, you will likely develop a scar.
- TCA (Trichloroacetic Acid): TCA is a chemical peel that abrades the skin superficially and does not effectively remove permanent ink.
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL): This method is similar to laser in that is also uses an intense beam of light to target the ink. The difference is IPL uses a broad spectrum light, which makes it versatile for other purposes, such as hair removal. On the other hand, laser uses a narrow light that can specifically target a particular color. IPL is less painful because it is less intense, but the pulses are larger and less targeted, so the surrounding skin area can get damaged. IPL is also less effective and much more expensive.
My Journey With Laser Removal
I went to a laser tattoo removal consultant three weeks after getting the tree tattoo. We did a few tests to see how well I would deal with the pain, and it was okay!
Some of the barbed wire tattoo is already in the process of going bye-bye. As for the tree, I'd never be able to pay for that to be removed. I am planning on adding light, interesting colors to brighten it so that it doesn't look so black and fierce.
I will continue the creams on the tree, but as for the barbed wire, it's going to be lasered.
Results of Laser Tattoo Removal After Two Days
After one small laser treatment session, I think this portion of the barbed wire is practically gone. If it's that easy to get rid of it, I'm ecstatic!
How does it feel? Like nothing really. It's a small area, and I can't say I have even noticed any pain. Easy!
I'm still trying to lighten the tree up as much as I can at this point. I did a round of salicylic acid which lightly scabbed up the portion of the tree that I worked on. I'm thinking about getting a portion of the tree removed by laser as well.
The Second Laser Session
I had my second laser session done, and this one hurt bad!
She did a larger area of the barbed wire. You have to try to remember to breathe during this, but I couldn't. My whole body was stiff, and I didn't breathe the whole time. It was almost like going to the dentist, but when it's done, it's fine.
The pain won't stop me from continuing my quest! I have one more section of barbed wire to do, and then I start on the tree!
First Laser Session for Another Section of the Barbed Wire
I am pretty amazed at how much lighter the barbed wire is after only a few weeks of one laser session. I definitely won't need many treatments here.
I have also decided to laser off the entire branch right next to the barbed wire. Without the barbed wire there, it'll be a little easier for me to take off a bunch of branches and flowers.
I continue to lighten the entire tree at home, but I have to stop on the areas I'm going to get the laser on. I still work on the parts I can work on when I can. If I can at least lighten it as much as possible before the laser, I'll hopefully need less treatments on the tree.
Early Results From Second Laser Session
This part of my barbed wire has lightened considerably and still has a long time to go to lighten up even more. I am very happy with the results after just two laser sessions.
I still need to do the bottom of my arm and for that I bought some Emla, which is a numbing cream because I know that it's going to be painful!
Third Laser Session: This Time on the Tree
The pain I felt this time was nothing compared to my old barbed wire removal session! I was very pleased to say the least. I really had no idea how well it would lighten because it was a brand new tattoo, but I really wanted this part removed along with all the little flowers.
I'm going for a less busy look, but I might even be moving towards removing the entire tree now. I'm still not happy with it at all. The only part I like is a tiny little butterfly that I don't feel the urge to remove. I'm glad I'm getting this far!
It's usually every two weeks that I get a section done. The healing process is nothing to complain about, and this whole process is easy and quick with fast results.
Update After Lasering on Tree
It's been slow going, but I am really happy with what I have gotten done so far. Below is an updated picture of the part of the tree that I had lasered. I am so surprised that it is as light as it is now since it is a brand new tattoo.
I still use all my creams but never on freshly lasered areas. I'm still exfoliating and lightening.
Healing from this one has been the hardest! I have never been so itchy in all of my life. The other areas that I got done never itched this bad. I am really hoping that I do not decide to get rid of the entire tree. I think that with enough "tweaking" I will like it.
Before and After Photos of Laser Tattoo RemovalClick thumbnail to view full-size
Verdict and Final Update
After all my experimentation, it was the laser that got the tattoo off as much as it has. Nothing else really worked. I am very amazed at the progress! Honestly, I can't say anything bad about the results I've had so far with the laser.
Note: If you'd like to read up on my initial thoughts before undergoing this procedure, check out my article on Attempting to Remove a Tattoo at Home.
Results After a Few Days of Lasering the Tree
Final Results After the First Session
How Does Laser Tattoo Removal Work?
Concentrated beams of light or energy penetrate your skin and break the ink into tiny fragments that are then disposed of by your body's immune system.
How Much Does Laser Tattoo Removal Cost?
The range is $200 to $500 per session. The price will depend on the size and difficulty of the tattoo design. In order to completely erase a tattoo, you will need anywhere from six to ten sessions. Together, the whole tattoo removal procedure can cost $1,500 to $5,000.
Does Laser Tattoo Removal Hurt?
Yes, it hurts. The pain of removal is similar to the pain felt when getting a tattoo. People describe the feeling as being similar to getting splattered with hot bacon grease or having a rubber band snapped against their skin—it can hurt, but it's bearable.
The only thing I have to complain about is the itching! It's practically unbearable, but I deal with it and try not to scratch at all because I don't want scarring.
How Long Does It Take to Remove a Tattoo?
- You start out with a 30-45 minute consultation to discuss your health, as well as the location, size, and color of your tattoo.
- You will likely need more than one session to remove the tattoo completely. The number of sessions will depend on the location, size, and color. Most people need six to eight sessions, and each session is spaced six to eight weeks apart to allow for healing.
- Depending on your skin type, it can take anywhere from six months to a year for your skin to heal completely.
Q-Switched Laser vs. Picosure
- Both are lasers.
- Both break tattoo ink into tiny particles that later get eliminated by the body.
- Blasts heat in 1 nanosecond.
- Contains 3 wavelengths: 1064 (targets black ink), 532 (targets red/orange ink), 694 (hits blue/green ink). This range targets colors more specifically and is, therefore, more effective at removing certain colors.
- Uses photomechanical pressure waves instead of heat.
- Energy is released faster: each blast of energy is released in 1 picosecond (1000 nanoseconds).
- More effective at targeting blue/green/purple ink (the hardest colors to remove), but it is not effective for black or red ink.
Which Laser Is Best?
Different wavelengths are needed to remove different colors. If the incorrect wavelength is used, the color will not absorb it and the ink will not shatter. Whether you choose Q-switch or Picosure will depend on the color of your tattoo.
What Are the Risks of Tattoo Removal?
The side effects of tattoo removal may include:
Healing Your Skin: Tattoo Removal Aftercare
My skin healed very quickly and easily afterwards. Here are some tips on how to heal your skin after laser removal.
- Keep the area dry and clean.
- Apply a cold compress to the area for the next 24 hours after each session.
- Avoid showering, swimming, or hot saunas for 24 hours after removal.
- Apply an antibiotic ointment three times a day for the first three days.
- Itching, scabbing, and blistering may occur. Do not pop blisters, do not scratch, and do not vigorously rub the area.
- You may take a Tylenol to help with discomfort, but avoid taking an aspirin as it may cause bleeding and bruising.
- Apply sunscreen to the area, or, better yet, avoid the sun completely.
- Drink lots of water.
- Moisturize the area with a lotion.
- If the area looks infected, contact your doctor right way.
What Are the Easiest Tattoos to Remove?
- Darker colors are usually easier for the laser to detect, so they are easier to remove.
- Older tattoos are easier to remove than fresh, new tattoos because they have likely faded over the years.
- The further away your tattoo is from your heart, the harder it will be for them to fade. This has to do with blood circulation. So removing a tat on you chest is probably easier than removing one that is located on your arm or leg.
- You skin color also plays a role. The more contrast there is between the color of the ink and your own skin color, the easier it will be to remove the ink. That means that black ink on fair skin will be easier to detect than black ink on dark skin.
- If your tattoo was applied by an amateur tattoo artist, it will be easier to lighten because the quality of ink that was used was probably not that good.
- "11 Strange Facts About Laser Tattoo Removal," BodyDetails. November 8, 2016. Accessed October 13, 2017.
- "Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Tattoo Removal Therapy," Medic8.com. Accessed October 13, 2017.
- Karen L. Hudson, "Options and Alternatives to Tattoo Removal," LiveAbout. October 5, 2017. Accessed October 13, 2017.
- Amelia Smith, "7 Most Frequently Asked Questions from Tattoo Removal Patients," Astanza. October 28, 2015. Accessed October 13, 2017.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.