Surgical tattoo removal

What is surgical tattoo removal?

Having a tattoo may seem like a good idea at the time but some people may later regret their decision. Tattoos can be removed surgically as a quick and immediate alternative to laser treatment, which usually requires many treatment visits and still does not guarantee complete removal of the image.

What are the reasons to have a tattoo surgically removed?

There is a high demand in surgical tattoo removal as people tend to regret being inked in the first place, or because a tattoo could potentially hinder job prospects. Some employers will not hire staff who have visible tattoos.

Other patients may have had a few unsuccessful sessions of laser removal surgery previously, whereas surgical tattoo removal is definitive.

What happens during the procedure?

Surgical tattoo removal works best on small tattoos. The skin that contains the image is completely removed, which leaves a gap that is stitched. The tattoo is replaced by a neat surgical scar. This procedure guarantees the complete removal of the tattoo.

In some cases, larger tattoos can be removed with serial excision, where parts of the tattoo are removed sequentially over a period of time. Dissolving stitches can be used and the procedure is carried out as an awake day case operation.

Larger tattoos may need a skin graft, where the skin is taken from another part of the body, which may cause an additional scar. The skin graft leaves a patch of skin in place of the tattoo that will be a slightly different colour and texture to the surrounding skin.

What happens during recovery?

Post-surgery the skin is covered with sutures and a pressure pad or skin-coloured surgical tape for two weeks to support the scar. It will then be checked by the surgeon and if it hasn’t healed, the graft will be redressed for another week. The scar will need to be massaged and moisturised for the final results. Showering is allowed but the dressings are to be kept dry.

How long does it take for the scar to disappear?

Compared to laser removal, which leaves the imprint of the tattoo, surgical excision will only leave a thin line. The surgical wound takes approximately two weeks to heal and the scar will take several months to fade.

Who is suitable for surgical tattoo removal?

The best candidates for tattoo removal surgery include those who can pinch their tattoo easily into a fold of skin. If this is difficult to do, then a serial excision or skin graft is required instead.

How much does surgical tattoo removal cost?

In the UK, private clinics may charge from £150 for removal of a small tattoo, to up to £800 for a larger one per session. It depends on the individual case: the size of the tattoo, the location on the body and how many sessions are required for removal. Prices vary in different clinics.

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