Tattoo removal

More and more tattoo removers are setting up shop - and if you're not careful, you might get burned.
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02.How much?


Removal techniques have come a long way since the days of skin grafting, skin removal, or the use of infra-red and other non-medical lasers. Best practice these days dictates that unwanted tattoos be gradually broken apart through the use of Q-switched lasers set to specific wavelengths (depending on skin type and the colour and location of the tattoo). 

The lasers are used in short bursts to break up the ink; then the immune system goes to work and gets rid of the dispersed particles over the course of many months and treatments (up to 15 treatments, six to eight weeks apart, for multicoloured tattoos). How many treatments you’ll need varies according to how well your immune system clears the pigment after treatments, the location and colour of the tattoo, and your skin type. It can be a costly undertaking, especially if your tattoo is large, densely inked, and has a lot of colours – probably a lot more expensive than getting the tattoo in the first place. 

Tattoos made of up black inks only are much easier to remove that ones with colour, and some removers won’t take on clients with coloured tattoos. Green is the toughest colour to remove. Taking average prices in Sydney and Melbourne as a guideline, you would pay about $4500 to get a 10 x 10cm multi-coloured tattoo removed and $19,500 to get rid of a 30 x 40cm multi-coloured tattoo. And it may cost more than you’re inititally led to believe. 

One of the main worries for consumers seeking tattoo removal is deliberate underestimating of the number of treatments required. It will be too late to turn back if the promised number of sessions pass and your tattoo is still half there. It pays to think ahead, says Melbourne-based remover Hilary Quinn. “Very fine shading that you can see through can be removed in just one to three treatments as it's the least amount of ink a tattooist can put down. The same applies to very fine lines. Thicker lines and block ink take much longer to remove. It can save a lot of heartache to select an easily removable tattoo if it’s your first one. These are the ones that are most often regretted.”

The cream question 

Creams and other topical treatments promising tattoo removal can be tempting given the cost and commitment of going under the laser. Such products are also widely advertised on international websites, which means they can be purchased without passing through local Therapeutic Goods Administration regulation. Whatever their origin, it would be more accurate to call them tattoo-fading treatments since, according to dermatologists, they can only lighten a tattoo at best with repeated use.

And the better they lighten, the more you should worry. Products that contain ingredients such as trichloroacetic acid – arguably the ingredients they would need to contain to have any reasonable efficacy – can burn and inflame the skin or pose cancer risks. As one dermatologist at the well-respected Mayo Clinic in the US puts it, “if you’re interested in tattoo removal, don’t attempt it on your own”.


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