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How Well Can Dermabrasion Remove a Tattoo?

I had a tattoo on my back which I had lasered at least 7 or 8 times and realized that my green ink would just never go away. I then got a cover up and still don't want the new tattoos. How well can dermabrasion 'remove' tattoos?

Doctor Answers (6)

Dermabrading your tattoo

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Dermabrasion does not work well for tattoos.  Probably the best method is a specific type of laser or


Everett Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 8 reviews

Dermabrasion for stubborn tattoos?

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I have used dermabrasion as a second line therapy for tattoo removal when laser tattoo removal hasn't been effective. Green and white pigments are especially difficult to remove with a laser. Dermabrasion removes the top layers of skin down to the cells containing the tattoo ink. This will result in a near complete removal of the pigment. Exceptions to this are "homemade" tattoos created at variable depths in the skin. Sometimes they are too deep for dermabrasion and must be surgically removed.

William A. Wallace, MD, FACS
Jacksonville Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 19 reviews

Dermabrasion not for tattoo removal

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Dermabrasion is not the best option for tattoo removal. There are many different lasers used to remove tattoos. Look for a dermatologist who has good before and after photos as well as all the lasers available depending upon the color of the tattoo pigment.

William Portuese, MD
Seattle Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 55 reviews

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I do not recommend dermabrasion for back tattoos

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I do not recommend dermabrasion for back tattoos.  Dermabrasion on the back will leave a thickened hypertrophic scar.  Dermabrasion does work well on the face for tattoo removal.  I recommend visiting with a physicain who has multiple lasers.  Different colors require different wavelenths to remove the pigment.  It is very probable that you were treated with a laser that was not appropriate.  Warmest regards, Dr. Pippin.

Gregory Pippin, MD
Metairie Facial Plastic Surgeon
4.0 out of 5 stars 7 reviews

Dermabrasion for tattoos

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Dermabrasion can work well for small areas of tattooing in some part of the body (knuckles, face, hands), but on the back it would be problematic, possibly leaving scars, not fully getting the pigment out, and therefore not recommended.  I would stick with the laser, maybe try another place.  All the best, Dr. Vartanian 

A. John Vartanian, MD
Glendale Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 9 reviews

Infrared Coagulator Works for All Types of Multicolored Tattoos

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It may be fairly easy to get a tattoo applied, but it’s safe to say, it’s much harder to get one removed, and, for that matter, much more expensive. Prior to the introduction of light-based therapies, a variety of procedures were used for getting rid of them. These included dermabrasion, salabrasion, cryotherapy, chemical peeling. and surgical excision.

Dermabrasion involved the use of a motor-driven wire brush to abrade the skin surface; salabrasion, the use of coarse salt crystals; cryotherapy, freezing with liquid nitrogen; and medium-depth chemical peels, the application of caustic materials. Each of these techniques relied upon stripping away the epidermis, the topmost layer of the skin, and exposing the pigment-laden dermis. Following exposure, the ink would be extruded as part of the healing process. Success with each of these modalities was variable, which prompted the search for more effective methods of tattoo removal.

Surgical excision skirted the issue of dealing directly with the embedded pigment. Instead, if the lesion were small, it was cut out entirely and the resulting wound sutured together. If it were very large or its location difficult to work with, the removal was done in stages, allowing each surgical wound to heal before proceeding to excise another part. In general, these methods were successful at obliterating the tattoo, but at least some degree of scarring was inevitable. It was a trade-off--an acceptable scar in place a highly visible and undesirable tattoo.

Lasers and other light therapy devices, such as the Infrared Coagulater (IRC), are the treatments of choice today. Lasers work by emitting short, intense pulses of light that pass through the skin and target the ink. The energy from the laser light fragments the large particles of tattoo pigment enabling the body’s natural immune system to more easily scavenge the pigment and carry it away. This process usually takes several weeks, and multiple treatment sessions are often necessary to achieve maximal clearing.

Since black pigment absorbs all wavelengths of light, it is ironically the easiest pigment to remove. Colors, such as green, do not absorb as well, and sometimes a variety of lasers, with varying wavelengths, are needed to effectively treat a multicolored tattoo.

Potential complications include permanent scarring, temporary or permanent loss of pigment or excessive pigmentation. Fees for laser treatments may range from $1000-$3000 or more, depending upon the number of treatment sessions required, and the size, shape, colors, and location of the particular tattoo.

IRC uses non-laser infrared light to heat the area containing the pigment. It is quick and easy to perform, and generally requires fewer treatments than lasers. Most small tattoos can be treated successfully in one to three sessions. IRC’s efficacy also does not depend upon the particular color of the pigments involved. For these reasons, it is my favorite method for dealing with small tattoos.

Nelson Lee Novick, MD
New York Dermatologic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 11 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.