Lots of people are looking for an inexpensive, natural way to remove tattoos without suffering through the pain and expense of laser treatments. Some of the suggestions we’ve come across are pretty wild, but none of them are things we’d recommend.
AN YOU REMOVE A TATTOO WITH SALT?
One of the most common home tattoo removal methods we see talked about is salabrasion or rubbing the skin away with salt. It’s an old method, and it does technically work, provided you rub enough skin off to reach the layer where the ink is held. You could also achieve the same effect with coarse sand or sandpaper. WE DO NOT RECOMMEND that anyone try it at home! This process is extremely painful and leads to terrible scarring. salabrasion or removing a tattoo with salt does have this advantage over most home remedies — you won’t have a tattoo there anymore, just scar tissue.
ABRASION / DERMABRASION
This method is similar to salabrasion, but uses mechanical abrasive agents like coarse sand, a metal file, or sandpaper instead of salt. It comes with the same guarantee of extreme pain and scarring and high infection risk.
CAN YOU REMOVE A TATTOO WITH HEAT?
To remove a tattoo with heat, you’d need to apply enough heat to burn away the epidermis and cause 3rd-degree burns to the dermis layer. The tattoo will be gone, along with your skin and hair. You’ll need a skin graft to repair the damage, and this will cause permanent scarring. 3rd-degree burns also come with a high risk of infection as your charred skin necrotizes.
HOME CHEMICAL PEEL
Any attempts at topical tattoo removal will fail because the epidermis successfully blocks the chemicals from reaching the tattoo. But what if you remove the skin by burning it off with powerful acid?
Administering a chemical peel at home to attempt to remove a tattoo is another extremely painful procedure that runs a near guarantee of massive scarring. There are a few infamous pictures floating around the internet of people who tried this at home. The tattoo ink did come out, but it was replaced by a huge tattoo-shaped keloid scar that will be a painful lifelong reminder of why you shouldn’t use an at-home chemical peel to remove tattoos.
The most popular suggestion we see for home remedies has to be lemon juice. The active ingredient of this method would be the mild citric acid, but it faces the same problem as most topical solutions: the acid isn’t strong enough to reach the tattoo.
The top layer of your skin, the epidermis, is a layer of dead skin cells that is very effective at protecting the living tissue underneath from most harmful things you encounter in your day-to-day life. Lemon juice simply isn’t strong enough to penetrate the epidermis and reach the tattoo underneath. If you leave it on your skin long enough, you may feel some mild discomfort, which might trick you into thinking it’s working. It’s not.
There’s a whole list of other common home chemicals (and foodstuffs!) that people try on their skin, hoping to remove their tattoos. Honey, essential oils, hydrogen peroxide, bleach, and so on have all been suggested as ways to lighten or remove your tattoos. Some of them may appear to work temporarily by causing irritation to your skin, but if any of them are reaching the living dermis tissue, you’d immediately know by the severe pain followed by a trip to the emergency room.
One of these chemicals deserves special mention: quicklime, or calcium oxide. Quicklime is a fairly common household chemical that can be used for cement mixing and a number of other uses. In small quantities, it can be used as a food additive to balance the acidity. You may also be familiar with the self-heating tablets that react with water to warm up meals for hiking or emergencies.
Quicklime reacts violently with water to release heat. Rubbing quicklime on your tattoo won’t have any effect besides a burning sensation, but if you get the powder in your eyes, nose, mouth, or lungs, it will react with the water of your tissues to burn you. DO NOT rub quicklime on yourself.
WHAT ABOUT PROFESSIONALLY PRODUCED TATTOO REMOVAL CREAMS?
The internet is full of people selling these products, and many of them even claim they are safe and effective to use. None of them have been shown to be safe OR effective by the FDA, making these fraudulent claims.
Topical creams have the same problem as home remedies: anything strong enough to reach your dermis, by burning away the epidermis with acid or oxidizers, will also burn your dermis too. This would leave you with severe pain and scarring. Anything that doesn’t cause this scarring and pain isn’t strong enough to have any effect on your tattoos.
The best way to use home remedies or topical creams on your tattoos is to avoid them. Or in the case of lemon and honey, maybe stick with putting it in your tea?
Can you remove a tattoo at home? was originally published in Tatt2Away on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.