The practice of tattooing the human body dates back thousands of years, and if anything, has become even more popular in the past couple of decades. But as the number of tattoos grows, so does the number of people suffering from “tattoo remorse,” which can be especially true for facial tattoos. There are ways you can remove your face tattoo, but not without risks, pain and expense.
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One of the earliest references to a facial tattoo comes from a ship's surgeon who described his attempt to remove a tattoo from the face of one of his companions during the mid-1600s. In cultures like the Maoris of New Zealand, faces were embellished by incredibly elaborate tattoos or “moko,” regarded as marks of high status.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, as many as 45 million Americans have tattoos, although a study published in the March 2006 issue of the “Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology” reports the face is the least frequently tattooed body part. There are no hard-and-fast statistics on how many people seek tattoo removal, but the March 2009 issue of the “Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology” reports that as many as 50 percent of adults older than 40 seek tattoo removal.
The most common ways of removing a facial tattoo include laser surgery; dermabrasion, a sanding technique used with surgical dressings to raise and absorb the tattoo inks; and surgical excision, where tattooed skin is cut out and the skin sewn back together. With face tattoos, some doctors may also try trichloroacetic acid. Often used to remove fine lines, wrinkles and acne scars, it can also help fade facial tattoos.
A grading system known as the Kirby-Desai Scale, developed by William Kirby, DO, and published in the March 2009 “Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology,” proposes to accurately provide an estimate of the number of laser treatments that will be required to remove a face tattoo, using skin type, color, amount of ink, scarring and whether the tattoo is layered. Simple tattoos may take only one or two treatments, whereas complicated tattoos can require up to 20 laser treatments for complete removal.
Treatment costs vary. As of 2010, a small, single-color facial tattoo removed in one or two sessions costs at least $100, while each treatment to remove larger, multicolored patterns costs $500, according to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. The most complicated tattoos requiring up to 20 sessions or more could run as high as $10,000, adds plastic surgeon Dr. Jean Loftus of the Loftus Plastic Surgery Center in northern Kentucky.
You won’t be allowed to have a tattoo removed if you’ve used the acne drug Accutane within the past six months or have sunburned skin in the area of your tattoo. Other contraindications include active acne lesions or rosacea and warts.
The procedure can be painful, and is often described as similar to a slap from a plastic band. Side effects are usually minor, but can include redness, swelling, skin discoloration, infection or scarring. A raised or thickened scar may even appear three to six months after the tattoo is removed.