Tattoo removal creams do or do not actually work? We talked to Dermatologists about it

by Samantha Johnson
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tattoo removal cream skin damage

If you’re having second thoughts about one of your tattoos, you’re not alone in feeling this way. According to my mum, it happens to the best of us. Prior to reaching for that gimmicky tattoo removal cream for a little do-it-yourself removal, you might want to refresh your memory on what these products are, how they work, and why you might want to take a different approach to tattoo removal in the first place! In the following sections, dermatologists and tattoo removal specialists will explain all you need to know about using tattoo removal cream.


Nate, Eraze Laser Clinic,  Website: , Tattoo Removal Specialist for over 10 years on the Gold Coast of Australia.

Dr Phillip Hedgings, in Private Practice, Cosmetic Dermatologist, Melbourne, Australia


Removal cream for tattoos what are they?

The word “tattoo removal” literally translates to “diminishing ink.” Gmyrek continues, “They say they remove tattoos by using either a bleaching or peeling process that allows for the removal of tattoo pigment.” While it’s to be expected that products that use skin-lightening techniques (i.e. bleaching or peeling) have major side effects for darker skin tones, the severity of the issue depends on how much the skin is damaged after the bleaching or peeling is complete. Pay attention to the risks listed below.

What is the method by which creams claim to work?

Tattoo removal creams “function” by sloughing away the top-most layers of skin, whether they are prepared with glycolic acid or other peeling agents such as trichloroacetic acid (TCA) as active ingredients. Because TCA is capable of penetrating to the upper dermis at high doses, as Phillip points out, it should not be used at home or without the guidance of a qualified professional.

TCA is FDA-approved for in-office usage by medical experts, but Gmyrek cautions that using it at home could put you at danger of contracting a disease.

According to her, “TCA use in these creams is not regulated,” saying that there is not a single tattoo removal cream on the market that has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

Efficacy and Safety

Unfortunately, we have to provide a sad response: at-home tattoo removal lotions are neither effective nor safe. Tattoo removal creams, as you may have figured by now, are more of a misnomer than anything else in terms of effectiveness. Despite the fact that the creams themselves promise very efficient formulae, Drummond asserts that the reality is that permanent ink is more likely to be lightened rather than completely eliminated. The fact that it is practically impossible to apply tattoo removal cream only where the ink is located on the skin means that there is a significant risk of lightening surrounding skin as well, which makes tattoo removal cream particularly harmful for those with dark skin tones.

According to Gmyrek, “These lotions only penetrate the top layer of the skin, known as the epidermis, whereas tattoo ink is injected into the deeper layer of your skin, known as the dermis.” Tattoo ink is injected into the deeper layer of your skin, known as the dermis. As a result, she claims that tattoo removal lotions, which only reach the epidermis, are unsuccessful in removing the ink from tattoos. Additionally, depending on how much tattoo ink is present in the epidermis, if some of the ink is partially removed, the cream may create distortion or discoloration of the tattoo without actually eradicating it, according to Dr. Kimball.

Out of consideration for their overall ineffectiveness, Gmyrek asserts that, due to the fact that these creams work to accelerate exfoliation and peel off deeper than conventional face and body exfoliants, they can really be detrimental to the skin. It’s possible to have allergic responses, skin peeling, acid burns, and even scarring, according to the expert. These are severe skin responses that can result in long-term skin or tissue injury.

Can ingredients be harmful?

Think there should be a strong warning label on some creams that contain caustic agents such as strong acids and alkaline. These chemicals have the capacity to erase tattoos but are so damaging to the skin that you run the risk of infection and serious scarring. A minority of people may be able to use the product without scarring, but the majority will likely develop a huge keloid that is extremely difficult to repair, thus there should be a warning label on the product if it contains those kinds of substances.

Safer Tattoo Removal Options

Just because tattoo removal cream is unlikely to work doesn’t mean that there aren’t other, much safer options out there. Find out what they are, below.

Lasers with Q-switched or picosecond pulses

He believes that laser tattoo removal is the most successful method of removing a tattoo by an overwhelming margin. According to her, “These lasers provide a burst of intense heat to the skin, which breaks up ink in the skin into tiny particles that are then removed from the skin by cells in your body called macrophages.” The entire procedure can be extremely unpleasant—sometimes much more painful than having the tattoo itself—and numbing cream is recommended. According to Nate though, it is necessary to split up the therapy—you can safely have a session every four weeks, but benefits from a single treatment can take eight to twelve weeks—in order to make the treatment easier to handle and more manageable.

When it comes to the length of time and number of treatments required, everything is determined on the size and placement of your tattoo. “On average, a single session can cost anywhere between $200 and $500,” Nake explains. In order to properly erase the tattoo, laser surgery may be required in numerous sessions, with a full treatment costing anywhere from $1,000 to more than $10,000. In general, she claims that darker skin requires more treatments and is more likely to develop significant hypo or hyper pigmentation after removal.

Furthermore, to be completely upfront, Eraze Laser Clinic warns that your skin may enlarge, blister, or bleed as a result of the high temperatures involved in the therapy.


First and foremost, let’s establish a distinction: dermabrasion is distinct from microdermabrasion in terms of results. Unlike microdermabrasion, which utilises small crystals and suction to slough off the top layer of skin, laser tattoo removal can infiltrate the skin very deeply, according to Nate. Microdermabrasion, on the other hand, can never penetrate the skin deeply enough to erase tattoo ink, he explains.

Now that we’ve established that, let’s talk about dermabrasion. Nate explains that after the tattooed skin has been numbed with a local anaesthetic injection, your doctor (because this type of operation should always be performed by a specialist) will use a circle-shaped abrasive brush to scrape off the tattooed skin he or she has placed there. According to her, a little tattoo can be removed for less than $100, however a large tattoo can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000. She also points out that numerous treatments are often required and that the number of sessions required will depend on the location, size, and depth of the tattoo.

The skin will be raw for more than a week following treatment, and it is critical that sufficient care is done to avoid infection and scarring as the skin heals, says the doctor. Furthermore, she acknowledges that it is not always as effective as laser tattoo removal and that it carries a larger risk of leaving scars or altering the texture of the skin. Her final words: “It would not be my first choice when it comes to tattoo removal.”

Chemical Peels are a type of skin exfoliation

The use of chemical peels including TCA (the active ingredient present in many tattoo removal treatments) can be done in the comfort of a doctor’s office. “A TCA peel may include a larger concentration of acid than a cream, and as a result, it is capable of getting deeper into the skin,” We explains, noting that multiple treatments are required, but the number of treatments required varies depending on the tattoo. Furthermore, she claims that post-procedure care (such as keeping the region clean and covered with ointment, as well as applying rigors sun protection) is required for a week following treatment. Despite the fact that a TCA peel might produce some slight burning, tingling, and irritation, we do not recommend using an anaesthetic during the procedure.

What advice would you provide to someone who is thinking about getting their tattoo removed?

We have come a long way in terms of being able to erase tattoos without scarring; but, if the tattoo is extremely dense, it might take years to remove it, and throughout this time, the tattoo will not appear very appealing to the eye. There is no such thing as a quick remedy. There used to be light tattoos and amateur tattoos back in the day, but today tattoos are really dense. Tattoo removal is a serious decision that should not be taken on the spur of the moment, as it will require a significant amount of time and dedication to achieve complete removal of the tattoo. A significant improvement with Picosure (Cynosure) is that it has allowed us to erase green tattoos that were previously impossible to remove. It is becoming increasingly clear that tattooists’ techniques have vastly improved over the course of the years. The majority of the sailors we dealt with back in the 1990s had faded tattoos that were relatively easy to erase in less than ten sessions when we first started. Tattoos are becoming increasingly dense, to the point where they almost appear to be black enamel paint on the skin. Because there is so much pigment in there, it can take a very long time to completely remove it off the skin. The other issue is that, because the laser affects the tattoo pigment in the skin, the body requires time to relocate the damaged pigment, which can take up to three months to fade completely in certain cases. The notion that scheduling tattoo removal treatments closer together can speed up the removal process is false, since you are only prolonging the removal process. Ideally, you treat, wait for the body to remove as much as it possibly can, and then come back again, which means roughly three monthly intervals over a period of several months or years. The majority of tattoos are black and thick, with the exception of some lighter colours such as white and grey that move more quickly.

When it comes to tattoo removal creams, numerous practitioners both in Australia and abroad believe that topical solutions powerful enough to erase tattoo ink will cause irreversible damage to the skin if used on a regular basis. Dr. Arnold Oppenheim, a dermatologist in Virginia Beach, states succinctly: “The ink from tattoos is lodged into the dermis, making it inaccessible to any normal cream… The use of an acidic cream strong enough to penetrate the dermis would result in a scar even more unsightly than the tattoo.”


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